No More CGI Destruction of Cities Required, Please

 

“The more destruction you see, the more hollow it feels…” Zack Stentz (co-writer of Thor and X-Men: First Class) via The Hollywood Reporter

 

Michael Bay, Simon West, Roland Emmerich, Renny Harlin, McG… The list of filmmakers who love nothing more than to spend over $100m on blowing up cars and CGI cities is longer than those who like to make thought-provoking films about falling in love and friendships, etc.

This is to be expected in Hollywood, where a big budget blockbuster released at the right time of the year (May-July) and with the right star attached can make more money in an opening weekend than some countries make in a calendar year. People love to see carnage, big fights and explosions on screen, but how long can that last?

The case in point is the trend of comic book movies that have arrived in the last few years that all seem to end with the destruction of a city over the final third of a film. It’s not just comic book movies, either. The likes of the Transformers franchise seem to spend almost the entire screen time having robots throw each other through a building.

The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises were the two big comic book releases last year, and they ended in almost exactly the same way. SPOILER WARNING **AS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THEM BY NOW* In both films, a city is under siege by the “bad guys” and a billionaire playboy in disguise teams up with his friends to beat them to a pulp without showing anything too gratuitous or anything resembling any bloodshed before flying away from the city with a nuclear bomb and sacrificing themselves to save thousands of paid extras. Hooray!

At a time when movie violence is being talked about on an almost weekly basis – not helped by Jim Carrey’s recent denouncement of Kick Ass 2 following the events of the Sandy Hook shootings – and the likes of Quentin Tarantino are constantly being made to explain why there is violence in their films. What these people should be discussing are the ridiculous levels of violence in so-called “kids films” (films with a PG-13 rating), not films which have an R rating or above. Tarantino is yet to make a film that is anything less than an R rating, so should people get outraged when his films depict violence on screen? Of course not.

People will argue that The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises are OK because there is no blood and – in the case of the former – the bad guys are all aliens so there is no human cost. This is absolutely ridiculous. In The Avengers, and this year in Man of Steel, buildings are blown up, torn down and flown into by indestructible aliens at a seconds notice, and then the audience is sledgehammered with tiny snippets of humans running away from falling debris and blatant (and frankly disgusting) exploitation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It shouldn’t take an intelligent person very long to sit up and say: “That’s enough”.

Not only are these over-long and expensive sequences pointless to the story, they have become boring. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk might not have started the formula, but it definitely one of the guiltiest. The last 20 minutes or so are just two CGI beasts knocking hell out of each other. No story or character development, just pure popcorn carnage.

There is an ethic issue here that kids are influenced by what they see on screen and what they play on their computers and consoles at home, but even from a purely filmmaking standpoint: Is there not a more interesting story to tell using these kinds of characters that isn’t just 100% shock-and-awe tactics. How long is it going to be before kids shrug their shoulders at one of these films and the audience pulling power of a $200m blockbuster starts to wane?

Surely it can’t be too far away. Pixar paved the way (and Studio Ghibli in Japan before them) for animated films to stop focusing on amusing talking animal movies and focus more on story – in any form or genre – and animated film is now in a golden age right across the world. Hopefully the superhero genre and the giant budget film in general will take similar steps to tell stories on screen that entertain, shock and excite us without boring us to sleep with 45 minutes of CGI citywide destruction for the sake of box ticking and giving the special effects team something to do.

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