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"There were plenty of extra-diegetic similarities as well"
February 7, 2013 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Overthinking It!: The Nuclear Option: Batman, Iron Man, and Attitudes Toward Power
What happens is this: in both Avengers and Dark Knight Rises, there’s a nuclear bomb threatening the city (in the former it’s New York; in the latter, Gotham). In both movies, the hero, a multibillionaire industrialist empowered with absurdly futuristic equipment (Iron Man and Batman respectively – I’m going to be using the word “respectively” a lot in this article, aren’t I?), uses their rocket-powered technology to fly the bomb away from the city and save the lives of millions of people. In both, the hero is apparently killed in this act, but actually survives.

It’s a pretty remarkable resemblance. And it definitely says something about the nature of superheroes tropes and what we want and expect from our society’s protectors. More interesting, though, at least to me, are the ways in which these very alike denouements diverge.
posted by the man of twists and turns (47 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've seen Dark Knight Rises two times, and both times I've been struck by the following thoughts:
  • The politics of the movie seem completely incoherent.
  • Oh god are there people who actually think this way? Like, is there anyone out there who watches DKR and thinks "hey, this makes a cogent comment about how the world works"?
  • Seriously is Catwoman the only person in the movie with any sense whatseover?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:49 AM on February 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Does this article mention either Alan Moore or Watchmen? I did a quick search on that article and saw neither, instantly making the article suspect.
posted by vhsiv at 11:49 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


uses their rocket-powered technology to fly the bomb away from the city and save the lives of millions of people. In both, the hero is apparently killed in this act, but actually survives.

And they both totally ripped that from The Iron Giant.
posted by xedrik at 11:52 AM on February 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


The synchronicity of the endings is indeed interesting, but the author has a really uncharitable reading of Dark Knight Rises - which, while it was certainly a flawed movie, isn't quite as fraught as Rosenbaum seems to believe.

The "99%" thing...while the cops-as-cavalry part is certainly there, it needs to be seen in part as a bookend to the same police force's depiction as a corrupt, borderline-villainous organization of Batman Begins. It's a statement of the effect Batman (and Dent) had on Gotham, not something that's supposed to stand alone, contextless. Plus, Bane's army is composed of criminals he broke out of Blackgate, not ordinary Joes. The ordinary Joes seemed to be mainly hiding in their houses.

Later on, "It’s implied that John Blake takes over as Gotham’s protector, that’s not because Bruce has done anything to pass the cowl to a protégé; apparently he decides that he’s done enough for Gotham, and leaves it to its fate" is just not correct - Bruce explicitly wills Blake a map (GPS-ified, but still) to the Batcave. Bruce's final achievement is that he democratized Batman - the cape and cowl become a symbol that can be wielded by anyone, rather than tools that can only be trusted to a single man.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:52 AM on February 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Watchmen doesn't end with somebody flying a nuclear device away from a major metropolitan area, seemingly dying in the attempt, and surviving. I think trying to hammer it in there would have been pretty ham-fisted.

Actually reading the article might also prove to be a source of enjoyment, and a way to contribute constructively to this conversation.
posted by Shepherd at 11:52 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


This was NEAT.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:53 AM on February 7, 2013


I was really hoping that the Overthinking It! logo would be a big plate o' beans.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:53 AM on February 7, 2013


Seriously is Catwoman the only person in the movie with any sense whatseover?

Pretty much, yeah. I was surprised by how little she seemed to actually, y'know, be in the movie. I think, perhaps, because more Catwoman screen time would probably have resulted in even more opportunities for the audience to be prompted to reflect on how everyone else acts like an idiot.
posted by axiom at 11:58 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The politics of the movie seem completely incoherent.

The underlying philosophy of the movie came across as "let's see if we can cram The Dark Knight Returns and Knightfall and No Man's Land and the League of Shadowsassins and a Catwoman subplot into two and a half hours without the script literally exploding." That's plenty incoherent without reading any politics into it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:00 PM on February 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's even more similar than TFA points out. In both cases, the bad guys pervert the "clean energy" initiative of the good guy industrialist. (I think the 'spoilers' ship has sailed here, so I won't even warn.)

The McGuffin in the first half of The Avengers involves trying to figure out where Loki's going to find power to kickstart the portal in some gobbledygook way. It dawns on Stark in a rather amusing way what power source that must inevitably be, largely for psychological reasons.

(A difference between the two is that in The Avengers it is admitted right up front that the bad guy is batshit [not Bat-Shit, which is one of Wayne's less talked about field weapons] from the git-go. A rather clever move to shut down objections that the plot is idiotic. Of course it is. The villain is an overpowered assclown -- a fact that someone else in the deep background finds more plausibly useful.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:09 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


(It's also worth mentioning that in the comic book continuity the relationship of the Avengers to democracy and centralized authority is even more complex than in it is in the film. I've been catching up lately and the story lines of the last five years or so are pretty much all about that. What's really interesting is how completely unexpected some of their choices are given what we think we know about them.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:33 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously do we get an Anne Hathaway Catwoman movie now?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:46 PM on February 7, 2013


George_Spiggott: Where, if anywhere, should someone who doesn't really know that much about superhero comics start on getting caught up on the stuff you're talking about? The only Marvel-universe anything I've ever read is Brian K. Vaughn's Runaways, which I enjoyed... though I think I'm maybe like the only one who did...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:50 PM on February 7, 2013


Besides Captain America, the Avengers are all civilians and have very different ideas of what is necessary and what is permissible when it comes to protecting the homeland – or in this case, the home planet.

'cept for Hawkeye. And Black Widow. And Fury. And Coulson.

I really think the only skeptics here are Stark and a little bit of Banner.
posted by butterstick at 12:53 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The world of Avengers, on the other hand, is in a sense democratic, viewing power as a dialogue between more-or-less equals


I'm curious what the author thinks about the whole "Tony Stark is his own private army" subplot from Iron Man 2. Hardly democratic, Tony is pretty meritocratic in his views that only he is competent enough to build and use the suit.


Bat-Shit

Please. The term is "guano", and how else are you gonna make gunpowder?

posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 1:01 PM on February 7, 2013


YCTaB: Reading a lot of back issues, helpfully curated for me by a comic-book-geek friend in order to track the storylines as they cross over titles. It's a significant commitment of time, really.

butterstick: and Thor. Also, Banner isn't ambivalent at all, there's nothing but bad blood between Hulk and the military.

For that matter, the film makes it clear that Fury draws a line in a very different place from his masters, as the Captain does from Fury (cf Hydra weapon scene). Nah. Even inside SHIELD there's a shortage of agreement on means and ends.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:11 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really think the only skeptics here are Stark and a little bit of Banner.

The only reason Stark is a skeptic is because that's his exact character arc: he's the guy SHIELD would have called to make those fancy new Tesseract weapons three movies prior.
posted by Amanojaku at 1:17 PM on February 7, 2013


Well, you guys are just gonna force me to rewatch DKR and Avengers during the snowpocalypse.

JERKS.

not really
posted by butterstick at 1:29 PM on February 7, 2013


Dark Knight Rises is pretty fascist. It starts with Gordon talking about how great Dent's 'tough on crime' laws are, goes on to have the villian literally Occupying Wall Street, presents poor people squatting in rich folks homes as an act of evil and ends with the heroic cops busting the Occupiers heads. It was also written by David S Goyer, who wrote the Call of Duty game with the evil Occupy leader that was endorsed by Ollie North.

OTOH, The Avengers ends with a hero committing genocide in the same way Ender does in Ender's Game, only he does it knowingly. They're both bloated and a bit boring.

Watch Dredd, which at least knows its fascist.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:01 PM on February 7, 2013


Please. The term is "guano", and how else are you gonna make gunpowder?

NO GUNS
posted by axiom at 2:05 PM on February 7, 2013


The article didn't really point out one of the main parallels that I noticed while watching TDKR: the use of Tony Stark's arc reactor technology and Bruce Wayne's fusion technology. I remember comparing Bruce unfavorably to Tony when it came to their respective uses of their new energy technologies. Tony's introduction in Avengers is him using his arc reactor technology to power Stark Tower, with the implication that if it's successful, he'll roll it out elsewhere and make it commercially available. Bruce has his fusion technology sitting under a river gathering dust.

I think this points out a very interesting contrast between them. Tony Stark is out as being Iron Man. He has essentially publicly said, "If you misuse my technology, you answer to me. Iron Man is the only who gets to be the weapon." Tony is up front about the potential misuse of his technology, because accounting for that misuse is basically his whole character arc and purpose.

Bruce Wayne on the other hand is not out as Batman. There's no real comparable, extra-governmental mechanism for Wayne Industries to put the smackdown on anyone misusing their technology. At least, not unless Bruce is willing to have Batman publicly act for the benefit of Wayne Industries. Sure, they can litigate away to their hearts' content, or rely on the government, but that's too little too late when it comes to the potential danger of the fusion reactor. So Bruce has to conceal the fusion reactor along with his identity as Batman.

Basically, they're both different kinds of authoritarian control freaks when it comes to their technologies. It's an interesting contrast, and reminds me why I was thrilled when the first Iron Man movie had Tony Stark gleefully give up on having a secret identity. It's a lot more interesting to see him openly negotiate his responsibilities as Tony Stark, head of Stark Industries, and Iron Man.
posted by yasaman at 2:38 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, over-thinking superhero movies? Yes please!

I took a different view of the two movies:

TDKR was the final act in a story about a man who steps up after "authority" fails and how he, eventually, becomes just as fallible. In BB, Gotham is a hotbed of crime and corruption, including the ultimate authority of the police and court system. Armed with the pathological rage and resources only he possesses, he weeds out the corrupt individuals in Gotham and tries to restore the city of his childhood. There is a reason why Ra's goes on endlessly about his motivation: it shows that intent is the only difference between Batman and the League of Assassins. Batman is an avenging angel protecting the people of Gotham.

In TDK, Bruce comes to realize that his actions have far-reaching negative consequences. Rachel/Dent/the Joker's victims are all directly linked to Batman's activities. Even the implausible cellphone sonar shows that Batman is starting to balance "necessary" evils to try and accomplish his goals. This time the goals are much more personal and he accepts his fall from grace to try and protect Gotham from itself.

In TDKR, Batman is a broken in both mind and body. He is a villain to the citizens and he remains absent as his enemy holds the city hostage. He is haunted by his past actions and decides to sacrifice "himself" (since he has been working at his revenge career trajectory since childhood) to try and live life as just a man. Gotham has lost all its symbolism and is now just a place.

He lost faith in Gotham's people as he lost faith in himself. TDKR, with all of its failed government and Occupy overtones, wasn't about assuming authority. It was about how every authority failed, including Batman. Everyone loses their heroes/support/family and suffers as they learn they can't rely on anyone. It really felt like the same kind of "life/reality sucks" message that most Nolan movies exhibit.


Avengers felt completely different. Each of the Avengers has a reason to not give a fig about humanity: Stark is impossibly wealthy, Thor is an immortal, Steve is the poster child for Aryan superiority, Hulk hates humans, Natasha is a world-class assassin, and Clint always gets the short stick (jerkface Hank and isolated-royal T'Challa also fit the theme). However, they each have a deep well of empathy and caring that gives them passion and purpose (except the Hulk). Fury is able to team them up because they each have the same goal - to protect humanity. Coulson's "death" helps clear away their personal disagreements. They don't take orders so much as ally with SHIELD's similar goals.

The Avengers don't reject authority, they all answer to a unique authority. They are each acting on their own personal reasons to protect humanity. They tend to keep each other accountable, but only because someone's moral compass disagrees with another. Fury defies the Council because it offends his sense of right, not because they are evil or power-mad.

Avengers is more like having raucous older siblings who protect you from the neighborhood bullies and your parents. Their motivations are pure and unquestioned (Even the Hulk, which was a huge waste of a good inner-dialog between him and Banner). Right and good prevail in Avengers, which really doesn't say much about authority.

Whedon's style of complicated characters and found families shows through here because he doesn't really have another layer beyond "God-like characters are actually quite human and most are basically good but a few are evil. Observe."
posted by Vysharra at 2:39 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


OTOH, The Avengers ends with a hero committing genocide in the same way Ender does in Ender's Game, only he does it knowingly.

The invading army in The Avengers is a still a threat, the race in Ender's Game is not. The megadeath in the Avengers is intentional, the one in Ender's Game is not - in fact, it's core feature is that it is unintentional. So in what way are they the same?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:44 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The invading army in The Avengers is a still a threat, the race in Ender's Game is not. The megadeath in the Avengers is intentional, the one in Ender's Game is not - in fact, it's core feature is that it is unintentional. So in what way are they the same?

It's somebody deciding to commit xenocide against a race they know little about. The Chitarui could have been good, evil, or something in between. They had less characterization than The Locust in Gears of War.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:58 PM on February 7, 2013


There is no implication that the race is being destroyed, just the invading force that is controlled by that base-star or whatever you want to call it.

I think destroying the entire invading force that has shown no indication of ceasing to come through the portal they're coming through and blowing all your shit up is as morally unambiguous as any violence can be.
posted by flaterik at 3:05 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


yasaman I think you might enjoy the Batman INC storyline, in which the resources of Wayne Enterprises are publicly put behind Batman.
posted by butterstick at 3:17 PM on February 7, 2013


Yeah, the whole point of Enders Game (ERE BE SPOILARS!) is that he is tricked into that horrible act; it's nothing like Iron Man nuking a battleship.
posted by butterstick at 3:22 PM on February 7, 2013


But the ACT is the same, and I'm not comfortable with the hero doing that. Especially since its the Marvel Universe, where lots of allies started out as enemies.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:24 PM on February 7, 2013


I am still not seeing how the act is the same.
posted by flaterik at 3:27 PM on February 7, 2013


Just pretend that marauding army is actually the pimp from Taxi Driver. All moral ambiguity gone.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:27 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Utterly destroying an invading army is not the same act as obliterating the home planet of an alien species that invaded you in the past but is currently minding its own business.

It's still morally grey, sure - the portal was closing, Tony could have just sent the nuke harmlessly into space. But bad acts are not equivalent merely because they both fall under the heading of "bad."
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:35 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm still not comfortable with a big budget, fun summer movie using a careless act of genocide - one pretty much thrown away as an epilogue in the last act - to tie up loose ends. Would Captain America have approved that? Hell would any of Whedon's other characters approved that?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:40 PM on February 7, 2013


Why do you continue to use the word genocide? That's not what happened. The invasion force was devastated, but there's no evidence that that force was the entirety (or even a significant percentage) of the invading culture.
posted by Uncle Ira at 3:46 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


But we saw nothing of that species except the invading force, and for all Tony Stark knew that was their homeworld. And they could have been mind-controlled by Loki or Thanos or whatever. It just seemed like a strange note to end the film on.

Its still not as bad as the messages in Dark Knight Rises, though.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:51 PM on February 7, 2013


It was a spaceship, not a planet. You have to get a lot of exposition to start thinking a spaceship or series of spaceships is the entirety of a species. It's not like they were presented as being Quarians. You're making a very strange leap that I don't even want to apply the word "logic" to.
posted by flaterik at 4:12 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


  • The politics of the movie seem completely incoherent.
  • Oh god are there people who actually think this way? Like, is there anyone out there who watches DKR and thinks "hey, this makes a cogent comment about how the world works"?


I thought the politics of the movie boiled down to "Bad guys will tell whatever story they need to to whoever will buy it." There's a difference between incoherence and talking opportunistically out of both sides of your mouth. And the police being the good guys vibe was a counterpoint to Batman Begins when almost all the police were corrupt.

  • Seriously is Catwoman the only person in the movie with any sense whatseover?


Alfred? Beyond that I got nothing.

And we definitely need an Anne Hathaway Catwoman movie and a Scarlett Johansen Black Widow movie.
posted by Francis at 5:25 PM on February 7, 2013


But we saw nothing of that species except the invading force

Right. So we would assume the invading force is the whole race ... why?

and for all Tony Stark knew that was their homeworld.

For all Tony Stark knew, they're not even sentient, but some kind of sophisticated bio-mechanical weapon. There's really nothing in the movie to support either interpretation, eh?

Anyway, the scene during the credits indicates there are at least two more Chitauri.

I'll give you the bit about Goyer, though. That dude no es bueno.
posted by Amanojaku at 5:30 PM on February 7, 2013


Yeah, it was a forward base for a mercenary army, an army that may not even have been sentient given that they all fell down when their base blew up. That was no more genocide than the sinking of the Bismark or the Yamato.

Besides, any race that hires itself out to conquer Earth and can be wiped out by exactly one human-tech cruise missile is in the wrong line of work.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:31 PM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Batman, Iron Man..

Amateurs.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:46 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the fact that the surviving Chitauri take time out to complain to Thanos about just how tough those earthlings are without ever once indicating that Stark's missile wiped out most of their species suggests that no, this was not genocide. It was a far, far better scripted and presented version of what happens to alien invasion forces in Battleship and Battle: Los Angeles.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:20 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just pretend that marauding army is actually the pimp from Taxi Driver. All moral ambiguity gone.

Peter Boyle was great in Young Frankenstein he would have made a great Hulk. So Cybill Shepherd is the Black Widow.
Albert Brooks as Thor?
*Readies hammer.* (to Iron Man): "When I die, if the word 'thong' appears in the first or second sentence of my obituary, I've screwed up."
posted by Smedleyman at 8:29 PM on February 7, 2013



Whedon's style of complicated characters and found families shows through here because he doesn't really have another layer beyond "God-like characters are actually quite human and most are basically good but a few are evil. Observe."


Good reviews, Vysharra.
posted by Sleeper at 10:59 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


So... am I the only one who thought the climax to The Avengers was almost identical to the one in Independence Day?

...just me?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:10 AM on February 8, 2013


Well, in the sense of "fly into the unprotected hole and blow it up from the inside", it's not terribly dissimilar to 50% of all Star Wars movies either. Though in the SW cases it was always a back door, not the front.

And come to think of it it's pretty incredible that the Chitauri had such poor intelligence that they didn't know we were a nuclear power and that they were totally unprepared for anything whatsoever to come in the entrance they were using. Talk about deserving to lose.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:10 AM on February 8, 2013


That's on Loki, not the Chithauri. Their entire goal in this affair was for Loki to deliver them the Cosmic Cube/Tesseract, and his price was footsoldiers for an invasion of Earth. The strategy was all him (and MeFi has covered ad nauseam the argument that he never seriously intended to win).
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:22 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hm. I missed that discussion. But you mean like 'accidentally' leaving the key to the portal lying around forty feet away from it, in plain sight of the guy who knows how to use it and whose fragile fealty can be undone by the kind of clock to the head that everyone's getting now that the fists are flying? Or only sending in one terrifying giant flying armored planarian at first, and give the Avengers plenty of time to play with it and work out that they can cope with it before sending in the rest? Like not actually having a meaningful military plan of conquest other than dole out the Chitauri army through a bottleneck right into the lap of the most effectively defended yet militarily unimportant spot on Earth? Are you suggesting that he actually wanted the Chitauri army -- whose leader we see abusing and threatening him -- slaughtered and taken out of the picture? Nonsense, you're talking rubbish.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:53 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


And his defeat led directly to his return to the homeland he was exiled from at the end of Thor, which is obviously terrible for him and could in no way be considered a superior outcome to being stuck on Midgard.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:28 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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