Death of the Critic

Death Doesn't Matter Anymore

Written by: Tom Blaich

Movies have raised the stakes. We have started to aim bigger and bigger. No longer are our heroes in any danger, or a simple building, plane, or even airport. Now cities are cast aside as fodder as the entire world is targeted, or even more. Each blockbuster feels like it needs to one-up their predecessor. It has created an ever increasing arms race of destruction, a spiral with no end in sight, and in doing so,
it has made death and disaster cease to matter. X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and so many more.

We watch as our villains wipe out entire cities with a wave of their evil hands to prove how powerful and merciless they are. When they do, we are supposed to empathize with the victims and fear for the lives of our heroes. Instead we find ourselves feeling bored and eating for the writers to brush these events under the rug by the conclusion of the film with no one, except for the big bad, any worse for wear. Except for all of the dead civilians but hey, who cares about them.

This is different from movies like Independence Day, which did an amazing job at showing the destruction that the aliens caused on the world and how close to the edge humanity came. It wasn’t visuals of cities being destroyed from afar. You felt like you were in the middle of it, in actual danger, with a giant wall of fire singing the hairs on the back of your neck as buildings crumple in the background like they were made of matchsticks. It was the power of the attacking aliens and showed how effective good practical effects can be at moving an audience.

But now, with an over reliance on CGI visuals, the destruction does not feel real anymore. They have also pulled the audience back from the site of the action. Instead of being “in danger” you are an observer of danger, and that simply doesn’t cary the same impact. The victims become abstracted. We know that hundreds of thousands of people die when a city like London is destroyed, but if we don’t actually see it or feel it happen, then what does it even matter?

Look at the scene of Magneto terrorizing the wold in X-Men: Apocalypse. We see him destroying ships, bridges, and cities all over the world as debris arcs gracefully through the air. But the closest we get to actual victims is a scene of several men on a boat that tilts a bit as they watch the sea, and one of an office full of people watching a port ravaged, but again they seem strangely unaffected. Yet when massive bridges and office buildings are ripped apart, and cars that appear to be full of people are thrown through the air, we don’t see anything happen.

The destruction that we can see on screen is awful, even if they try to make Magneto out to be a good guy. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people had to die, not to mention the lasting economic damage and fear in the populace. Countries could go bankrupted overnight, and the entire face of the world would change. 9/11 cost the world almost $2 trillion dollars. Yet we are shown an event that dwarfs that in magnitude and effects the entire world. Yet we see none of these effects. Because at the end of the movie, Magneto needed to still be a good guy, and singlehandedly causing the downfall of the free world and killing hundreds of thousands of people isn’t the right way to do that.

Compare this to the beginning of
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is one of the few things that that movie did right. You see Bruce Wayne in the midst of Metropolis during the fight between the superhuman gods, Superman and General Zod. It sets up his distrust of superman, and shows a ground level view of what two battling god-like creatures can do. People died. Buildings were crushed, and they drew strong parallels between the destruction there and Ground Zero. The air clouded with dust, debris falling in the street, people stumbling around in fear. It was a great visual, and it was better than any major super hero movie that we’ve seen this year.

Suicide Squad had The Enchantress destroying military bases all across the country with a twitch of her arm and terrorizing an entire city. Captain America: Civil War had a conference of world leaders blown up, and seemingly only one real character was killed. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is probably the worst offender, blowing up an entire set of planets, killing billions in what felt like a moment, with nary a second thought.

It is endemic among blockbusters. We don’t need to go bigger. There are better ways to show a threat. Because the more people you kill, the less it matters. “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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