Monday, May 4, 2015

Man of Steel vs. Avengers: Age of Ultron - Let's talk about the destruction

Avengers: Age of Ultron is finally in U.S. theaters and comparisons to Man of Steel have already begun. In Joss Whedon's sequel to The Avengers, an especially big focus is placed on the Avengers doing everything they can to make sure innocent people aren't harmed during their explosive and crazy battles. Obviously, this is pretty different from Superman's struggle with Kryptonian forces who sought to terraform Earth -- a process that would kill every single human on the planet. Do I think Superman could have done more in his conflict and he made a few foolish decisions? Absolutely. However, I do think the handling of destruction was used to illustrate different points in both movies. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, it's there to remind us that being a hero is all about saving people. In Man of Steel, it's all about showing the seemingly unbelievable nightmare Kal-El had to overcome in his very first conflict as a superhero.
First and foremost, I feel obligated to point out differences that should be obvious. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the team is mostly full of experienced characters who have worked together and they follow Captain America, a guy who's just oozing hope and he makes you want to be a better person. When a train is speeding through a crowded area, would Quicksilver have saved civilians if Captain America hadn't given the order? If it wasn't for the super-soldier, would the speedster have focused on grabbing his sister, Scarlet Witch, and raced both of them to safety, only to then feel heartbreak as he realizes how many people were killed by that swift decision? With everything happening so quickly, I'd say it's a possibility and it's one worth thinking about. That just goes to show the influence Steve Rogers can have on even an inexperienced individual. In addition to being an experienced team led by a tactical genius with a heart of gold, it's worth noting the Marvel team had prep time and way more resources. As a battle with Baron von Stucker sent explosives into a city, Tony Stark had the means to order robots into the city and had them warn the people to evacuate. They don't listen to Stark's technology, but hey, A for effort, right? In the final conflict, the Avengers had time to warn the authorities about what's coming their way and did everything they can to help people evacuate. And then when everything did hit the fan, they still tried to save people while fighting plenty of Ultron robots. Each of them had their own task and they were often spread out. For many, the balancing act of saving people and defeating the immediate threats was fairly doable. They have experience in the field, many teammates, a whole lot of resources, and they even had time to prepare. DC's powerful hero didn't have any of those luxuries.

It's a pretty common misconception that Superman destroyed most of Metropolis. While Superman does make some errors in his fights -- don't worry, I'll address those in a bit -- it's the World Engine that's responsible for a vast majority of the destruction in the city. Some people called Zack Snyder's handling of those sequences "disaster porn." All of the violent madness didn't have me cheering or exclaiming "awesome!" It's not there to enthrall you; it's there to shock you. To me, it shows just how ridiculously formidable Superman's first challenge is. How can anyone hope to overcome something so disastrous? The movie didn't pull any punches; it showed us Zod's forces are heartless and they had no problem slaughtering humanity. They viewed us as ants and had no hesitation whatsoever crushing us under their absurdly strong and durable feet. This wasn't a threat that had me saying, "Yeah, Superman will obviously win and all will be well." It's a threat that had me thinking, "Superman needs to stop this right away because this is freaking insane and humanity has no chance stopping it on their own."
I would have loved to see a more inspiring big screen version of Superman, but instead what we did receive is one that I believe feels more appropriate for the DC Cinematic Universe's "realistic" tone. They're going for something different and, so far, I'm liking it. Clark spent his entire life holding back and avoiding conflicts. Now, his first day as a superhero is against characters who are just as powerful as he is and they're more experienced in combat. With civilians out of the way in the Smallville battle -- a luxury the Avengers didn't have -- this novice hero still attempted to move the fight twice (he failed both times as his enemies grabbed him). Even though the odds aren't in his favor, he's still able to save a few troops who are unlucky enough to be in the war zone. He obviously can't save everyone when two powerhouses are on top of him, but you can't really say he didn't try to, either.

"Why couldn't he fly Zod out of the city?" That's a question I often hear. It's just a one-on-one brawl, right? Well, I imagine it's for the very same reason that Iron Man couldn't take Hulk away from a populated region. Clark spends much of the skirmish getting handled; he's still new to using his powers against others and he's spent his entire life trying not to get into fights. He's the one who's knocked into orbit! During that encounter, much of the damage is caused by Zod's attacks. I'm not saying Superman didn't cause any damage, but it always baffles me how someone can watch the Battle of Metropolis with an open mind and say, "Yeah, Superman destroyed most of the city." When Zod throws Superman through multiple buildings, are we really blaming Big Blue for that destruction? Or what about when Zod takes down a building with heat vision? Or all of the damage the World Engine unleashed? When Superman does briefly have the edge, he's punching Zod between and around buildings. He's not smashing the villain through anything and everything he can -- a tactic that Zod used just moments later against the hero.

Look, I'm not saying Superman's actions are without blame. Stuff like his punch after the "you die or I do" line is obviously a big mistake. Part of me wonders whether that building was already empty. Seeing as that takes place quite some time after an alien ship started attacking the city, you would imagine most people have fled the buildings in that region. The first building the two go crashing into -- the one that Zod destroys with heat vision -- appears to be empty, after all. Honestly, it probably wasn't completely empty, though. Aside from that punch and Superman smashing Zod's face against glass (which is pretty minor damage compared to what we regularly see in comics), I think a huge portion of the damage done in that encounter is because of Zod's actions, and with the alien general being on top of him, Superman doesn't exactly have time to fly around and pull everyone out of the rubble.
When the LexCorp truck hits a parking garage and blows up, Superman is left gazing at the chaos. I'd say there's two possible reasons for this. The first: the dude is simply staring at the blast and would probably love Michael Bay's movies. The second: he's looking in the structure to see if anyone needs help. I'd like to believe it's the latter and it seems safe to assume so, but seeing as Zod comes rushing in, there's no way to tell for sure. That said, I absolutely think Clark's responsible for taking at least a few lives in the Smallville fight. I mean, I do get what Snyder was going for when Clark lashed out. The hero spent decades holding back, but now, someone who can withstand his punches has crossed a line by attacking his mother. After years of attempting to keep it cool, Clark finally unleashes. He tackles Zod all the way through what appears to be power plants and they eventually plow through a gas station and the location explodes. There was at least one car at a pump and you know there's at least one employee in there. So, Clark snapping (I swear that pun is unintentional) absolutely resulted in killing at least two innocent people in that scene.

While I do think Clark made a few mistakes, it's important to remember this is his journey to becoming Superman and the guy just learned how to fly -- that really goes to show just how new he is to all of this. To top it off, he's on his own against overwhelming odds. I view it as someone doing everything they can to stand up against the ultimate threat and they'll push themselves as hard as they can to make sure the villain doesn't succeed. It may not be a "cheerworthy" action sequence, but that's also kind of why I love it; it's offering something different. He may not feel like the comic book Superman many have come to know and expect, but he held his own against a threat that seemed impossible to overcome. He didn't destroy the city. Because of his actions, much of Metropolis is still standing. (There's several shots that reveal just how vast the city is.) You may not like how he saved the day, but in the end, he did indeed save the entire planet and there were certainly more than a few instances of him putting himself in danger to save others throughout the movie. So, I still view Man of Steel as Clark's path to becoming Superman. Now that he's made his debut and protected Earth from its first alien threat, here's hoping the dude shows more of the qualities you'd expect from him in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The first trailer shows how the world is reacting to him, but we've yet to see how he's responding to all of the praise and hatred. This will be a critical movie for the character.
If there's one thing both movies are guilty of, it's glossing over the ramifications of the destruction. In Avengers, the Battle of New York receives a little bit of follow-up, but it's mostly there to quickly say how the world feels about the team and then goes to offering more humor. In Age of Ultron, we see a statue is built that honors the humans who did what they could to protect each other on that day, but aside from a body count and talk of construction in Daredevil, the Battle of New York is basically forgotten before another large city (and in turn, the world) is put in danger. Tony Stark says he sends aid to the city ravaged by his fight with the Hulk and, in the big finale, the Avengers are able to get a majority of a city's population to safety. However, once the day is saved, it rushes to teasing the Marvel Cinematic Universe's future. We can assume Stark will once again send aid, but I imagine many people are now left without homes. A huge portion of the country was removed, after all. It would be fitting to see something like Stark saying he'll dedicate some of his resources to creating housing complexes and what not. You'd think he would feel a little guilty after his weapons previously caused so much pain and suffering to those people and now so many of them have lost everything they own.

In Man of Steel, we go from one of the most powerful scenes to a more lighthearted sequence. A major U.S. city just suffered a devastating attack and there's no follow-up whatsoever. There's no talk of Superman helping to search for people in the rubble or him helping them rebuild. It just jumps to business as usual. People are back in the city like nothing has changed! It's an odd move seeing as the world just witnessed such a colossal tragedy. Thankfully, it looks like the Battle of Metropolis will play a key role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice's story. Better late than never, yeah?

Watching Avengers: Age of Ultron and then saying that's how the destruction should have been handled in MoS just isn't an opinion I agree with. They're totally different situations with totally different tones. I do understand why someone would feel that way, though. Could Superman have made a few smarter decisions? Absolutely. Do I think the handling in AoU is more inspiring? For sure. But to me, the horrifying and shocking way the destruction is handled in Man of Steel fits the story's tone. It goes to show just how staggering the alien invasion is and illustrates just how far Superman must go to save humanity. It's a movie that shows us how just one man stands against a devastating, overwhelming, and terrifying alien invasion. If people that powerful are going to clash in a populated area and it's taking a more "grounded" approach, the battle's going to be devastating no matter how much the hero tries to contain the damage.

Avengers: Age of Ultron reminds me why Captain America and his allies are heroes that deserve our admiration. As the world around them crumbles, they want to make sure they use their abilities to protect the people who are trapped in the middle of all the craziness. Man of Steel reminds me that Kal-El went through a ridiculously daunting and frightening experience to save humanity from his very own people. Both movies involve a whole lot of destruction, and both involve heroes doing everything they can to prevent the death of more innocent people. They just go about presenting it in completely different ways.

20 comments:

  1. That was a really, REALLY in depth article Gregg! Very insightful, and I love the differentiation and correlation between the two movies made here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the really, REALLY nice comment, Uros!

      Oh, and thanks for reading the article!

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. THANK YOU.

    Thank you for pointing out what everyone who criticises MoS misses entirely when comparing it to the Avengers, which is the stark (pun maybe intended) contrast between a group of highly trained superheroes and their approach to circumventing civilian casualties, to a single being who has been taught all his life to hide his abilities, let alone not hone them.

    Clark had no SHIELD to help him, or billions of dollars to buy space and freedom to investigate himself. Here he was barely exposed to his new reality, when he was suddenly placed in a position to try and save the world he grew up in and loved, in direct opposition to the people he was genetically tied to and the world he actually came from. A place and people he never knew existed who now wanted to kill humanity and take over the only home Clark ever knew.

    But yeah, Superman should have been able to point to all available exits and remind everyone to move in an expeditious and orderly manner while fending off the greatest warrior his race had ever created. Right?

    (rolls eyes)

    Thank you, Gregg. I knew you wouldn't disappoint. I am bookmarking this sooooo hard. :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. (earlier comment deleted by accident, sorry!)

    ReplyDelete
  5. MadeinBangladeshMay 4, 2015 at 9:22 PM

    Nice article GRegg!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. MadeinBangladeshMay 4, 2015 at 10:58 PM

      You're welcome!
      and what yo think of this list?
      http://www.comicvine.com/profile/madeinbangladesh/lists/underused-heroes-dc-needs-to-push/57349/

      Delete
    2. Good stuff, MiB! My addition would be Tattooed Man. I think he's only had a brief cameo in the New 52 (he appeared on a monitor).

      Delete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Finally someone who understands the difference between experienced heroes and inexperience heroes of destruction without biases. That's why you sir are one of my favorite internet journalist writers. I totally agree with you on all accounts and I argued on this point on internet with a lot of my people even before Avengers 2 came out and they seem to never understand. I always wanted to write an editorial on why people have so much flack on Superman that they aren't seeing. But sadly I chickened out, I guess I wasn't confident enough about it. So, I'm glad you were able to write something that can challenge any argument about both movies out there. Oh and by the way, it seems like that twitter person doesn't understand that Superman being on 20+ on Earth does not equal the same amount of him being an actual superhero on Earth. Him fighting Zod was his 1st year experience fighting since there was no villain before Zod. Plus Zod was a military leader on Kyptron so he had YEARS of experience of fighting anyone. It's the main reason why Superman was so in struggle of battling Zod because he has no experience whatsoever. Also, the destruction in Avengers is almost about the same cailbur as the destruction in Superman/Man of Steel. I actually saw people dying as they are trying to save them in Salkovia. So, I don't know why people trying to compare with biases that its any different.

    ReplyDelete
  8. What's more inspiring:

    A team of highly-skilled and well co-ordinated heroes saving people from a world destroying monster and his army, that one of their own created?
    or
    A sheltered and humble man using his powers in combat for the first time, against a team of highly-skilled and well co-ordinated warriors bent on destroying the planet, and not once thinking surrender is an option?

    The former are risking their lives to clean up a mess they made.

    The latter is taking a 'leap of faith' to risk his life protecting people that don't trust him.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Excellent point, Stephen. Thanks for adding it.

    ReplyDelete
  10. The answer is obvious and there's no room for sympathising with Superman at all. His presence brought Zod to the planet, his actions resulted in the fight staying in Metropolis when it was shown he COULD have taken the fight elsewhere and his inexperience led to massive public property destruction and loss of potentially thousands of lives.

    You've tried your best but I simply do not agree, Superman is supposed to be the hero who prioritises saving lives over stopping the bad guy and MOS' failure to show that is a critical flaw that cannot be defended against in my eyes. The points in its defense fall utterly short of the reality that Superman's failure to stop death, destruction and deep seated mistrust demonstrate a critical flaw in people's thinking here. At least the Avengers showed they were willing to think of the casualties AND stop the bad guy. MOS showed how depressing and disheartening it could be when the symbol of optimism and hope was responsible for destroying parts of Metropolis, not to mention how he finished the fight.

    Louis

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hey Lvenger,

    Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, despite you obviously having the polar opposite opinion of the film. I've read your criticisms for months on Comic Vine and, simply put, we just don't see eye to eye. There are several points in your reply that I don't believe are facts, but to be honest, I see no point in us getting in the gazillionth debate over the movie because I see no one altering their view in the slightest. I don't agree with your strongest arguments, you don't agree with mine. And that's perfectly fine; I can live with you loathing the movie! So again, thanks for at least taking the time to see what I have to say and providing counter-points.

    ReplyDelete
  12. DAMMIT! My comment got eaten when I had to sign into an account to post T-T
    Love it. I find it perplexing when people gloat to me about how Avengers saved lives and then continue onto complain about Superman. It's like gloating about beating a game with a team on level 2, but then giving the guy who did it solo a hard time even though he did it on level 10. LUNACY! This same "friend" went on to say it's cus he holds Superman to a higher standard. I personally can't do that, I fell in love with the man, not the icon. So as you stated, there was reasons for the destruction and (we hope) it will play into his development. I for one am exited to see Clark's Journey from Farmboy to Superman, and I have total faith in Zack.
    The Wildcard Saint

    ReplyDelete
  13. This focus on destruction and consequences on these big screen films of late has made be watch the animated features and series of these heroes with different eyes, and the animated things a way, way worse. Yet nobody says anything about it, I've noticed. For example, in Justice League Unlimited, when Superman and Marvel (Shazam?) fight, holy crap! Building after building after building leveled..and this is two heroes fighting each other. Or Superman:Doomsday, when Superman grabs Doomsday from behind and flies straight up. He coulda done so many things. Doomsday can't fly; all Superman had to do is throw him at the Sun and all Doomsday coulda done is drift helplessly toward that end. But instead Superman chooses to reverse and slam Doomsday into the earth, and where? Into the very heart of Metropolis, of all places!! But I've never read anything criticizing that choice.

    ReplyDelete