Arguing against Captain America is always wrong
May 17, 2015 3:06 AM   Subscribe

At a certain point during the critics’ screening of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”—I believe it was when Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) decided that it was more important to grab three people out of a collapsing tenement than focus on the world-ending event only he had the technical know-how to stop—I wrote “Oh, [expletive deleted] the civilians, get on with it” in my notebook.
In the Washington Post, Sonny Bunch argues Man of Steel had a more realistic, mature view of superheroics than Avengers: Age of Ultron with its focus on protecting civilians.

Steven Attewell disagrees:
And I think this gets to what I find so frustrating about Bunch’s implied argument that “gritty and realistic” is a better way for superhero movies to go. Yes, it’s probably true that Man of Steel is a more realistic depiction of urban combat than Age of Ultron – but superhero movies, should be better than just depicting reality, because they’re superhero movies and not military action movies. What makes a superhero different from a private detective or a gunslinger or a war hero is that they’re allowed to be larger-than-life both in terms of their abilities, but also in terms of their moral characters, and of embodying certain ideals.
posted by MartinWisse (109 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Only a bitter little adolescent boy could confuse realism with pessimism", to quote Flex Mentallo.
posted by Artw at 3:46 AM on May 17, 2015 [29 favorites]


Ultron was a turkey. We're just going to have to cope.
posted by colie at 3:56 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


I get that the movies are based on comic books, rather than being hyper-realistic. But there is a point when the unreality and silliness are too much for me -- I'm fine with the superpowers, but the fake CGI fight scenes and the moral unreality that the article talks about are both steps too far.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:06 AM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Tired-plan, Tired-plan,
Does whatever a writer can
Spins a plot, way too big,
Treats its viewers like a prig
Look Out!
Here comes the Tired-plan.
posted by Fizz at 4:06 AM on May 17, 2015 [18 favorites]


I'm not sure it is the job of super heroes to make us feel good about the status quo. Just because we decided that unprincipled warfare is now okay again, doesn't mean our Super Heroes movies have to be all like "It's just inevitable. See? We're doing it too".

Also I thought the purpose of smart bombs and precision-guided munitions is to prevent wars from getting bad press.
posted by Ashenmote at 4:24 AM on May 17, 2015 [18 favorites]


Ashenmote, I have a very easy solution: *ahem*
posted by Fizz at 4:26 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


...a galactic jellyfish made of rockets? I like your solution a lot, but I'm not sure I understand it.

(I haven't seen Age of Ultron and Man of Steel yet. I would totally understand if I had, right? Did somebody steal all our rockets again?).
posted by Ashenmote at 4:44 AM on May 17, 2015


Ashenmote, That's the solution to world peace as envisioned in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

*spoiler*
Following the news that the United States and the Soviet Union may engage in nuclear war, Clark is conflicted about how much Superman should intervene. After receiving a letter from a concerned schoolboy, Superman travels to the Fortress of Solitude to seek advice from the spirits of his Kryptonian ancestors. They recommend that he let Earth solve its own problems, or seek new worlds where war has been outlawed. After asking for advice from Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), Superman attends a meeting of the United Nations, announcing to the assembly that he will rid the planet of nuclear weapons. Various nations fire their nuclear warheads into space, which are collected by Superman into a giant net and then thrown into the sun.
posted by Fizz at 4:46 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm fine with the superpowers, but the fake CGI fight scenes and the moral unreality that the article talks about are both steps too far.

I'm not sure "moral unreality" is really what the second article is describing, and I think it's rather creepy that the first article's author has no problem writing, "“Oh, [expletive deleted] the civilians, get on with it." That's not an argument that collateral damage inevitably happens, it's an argument that collateral damage doesn't matter.

Is the argument that there is no place for ethical aspiration in fiction, or that anything other than a realistic depiction of the present status quo is "silly" and "unrealistic?" Why, exactly, is it ridiculous to imagine a character who successfully makes the sorts of ethical choices we wish actual leaders and people of power would make, and has the power to actually make those choices that we ourselves often feel that we lack?
posted by kewb at 4:51 AM on May 17, 2015 [18 favorites]


Oh, that is great. Thanks! I like this Superman so much better. He should definitely break the neck of the other Superman and take over.
posted by Ashenmote at 4:55 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Man Of Steel's Superman kills the bad guy because THE BAD GUY MADE HIM DO IT. It's a movie that says, "It's okay to abandon your principles if the bad guys make you do it. Don't worry, you're still the Good Guy; you might have done a few bad things but you didn't have any choice." The perfect message and the perfect Superman movie for modern America.

If that's "a more realistic, mature view of superheroics", you can have it.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 5:00 AM on May 17, 2015 [64 favorites]


>That's not an argument that collateral damage inevitably happens, it's an argument that collateral damage doesn't matter.

It's not the rationalization we deserve, but it's the rationalization we need right now.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 5:03 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


What offended me most about the climax of Man of Steel was how the screenwriters had clearly marked off every possible outcome other than Superman snapping Zod's neck and carefully arranged circumstances so that no other option was possible.

Maybe Zod can be convinced his crusade to resurrect Krypton is pointless? Nope, the conventions of the genre make this one impossible.
Maybe they can all be thrown back into the Phantom Zone in an ending that symbolizes the "prison" of living in past triumphs and tragedies? Nope.
Maybe the military and Daily Planet staff can contribute in some meaningful way, representing the value of Kal-El's new human connections and the power of community action? Nope, humans are nothing but cannon fodder and Dr. Hamilton dies pointlessly.
Maybe they can both be exposed to that Krypton atmosphere generator and duke it out at lower power, with Clark's victory representing embracing his human side? Nope, massive death and destruction all around.

If it was only poor screenwriting, that would be one problem. But the methodical way the movie pruned back all other possible outcomes tells me that it was always destined to end that way.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 5:35 AM on May 17, 2015 [35 favorites]


Man of Steel took a lot of flack, and I thought deservedly so, not just because of the collateral damage but because of the complete lack of concern for the collateral damage. Poor Supie was forced, I say forced to snap the bad guy's neck and this was somehow more important to Supie than the fact that they had done hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and almost certainly killed tens of thousands of innocent bystanders.

While Marvel's solution to that problem may not have seemed realistic (actually the whole final boss sequence in Ultron was so ridiculous I couldn't take it very seriously at all) I think they were just paying at least lip service to the idea that, while it's cool for the superheroes to whale on one another spectaclewise, it's not very good guy behavior to leave a pile of civilian bodies in the wake of the battle.

As for being forced, there is another thing to consider. In Chris Reeve's original Superman II the villains were set loose from the Phantom Zone by a nuclear bomb detonated in outer space -- something the non superhero humans did. In both Man of Steel and Ultron the threat is ultimately created by the heroes themselves. (OK Kal-El was a baby and had no agency in his ride to Earth, but it was still his presence here which attracted the bad guys.) Marvel's concern for the innocent bystanders probably reflects an understanding of that part of the dynamic, but I think the makers of Man of Steel were just purely tone deaf.
posted by localroger at 5:37 AM on May 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


Man of Steel was just ridiculous. Pa Kent "yells" at Clark for using his powers to save the bus of kids. Then he tells Clark not to rescue him in front of crowd of strangers, in order to keep his powers secret, and then Clark listens to him.

Imagine that, you have the power to save one of your parents and they tell you not save them and you listen them. What kind of bullshit is that? No wonder you wind up trashing a city, you haven't been taught to value life!

As to the WaPo article, it's just shoddy thinking dressed up in a fancy shirt that it thinks makes it look sophisticated, but everyone is just rolling their eyes at it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:51 AM on May 17, 2015 [20 favorites]


What offended me most about the climax of Man of Steel was how the screenwriters had clearly marked off every possible outcome other than Superman snapping Zod's neck and carefully arranged circumstances so that no other option was possible.

As depicted in Tom Godwin's short story, "The Kryptonian Equations".
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:51 AM on May 17, 2015 [25 favorites]


With regard to the collateral damage in the Marvel Universe: it's worth noting that there are government and private institutions in place to help mitigate that destruction. Tony Stark often uses his wealth to create industry/economy, and I'm hoping he uses some of that to with clean-up relief, etc.

And I also think that the destruction/collateral-damage in the Marvel cinematic universe is working towards a larger goal: Civil War & government mandated mutant/hero registration. I am guessing that all this destruction is taking its toll and the government is getting to that point where the cons are starting to outweigh the pros.
posted by Fizz at 5:57 AM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have to agree that the mayhem and carnage in superhero movies has really gotten to the point where I really don't have any interest in them. Sure, they don't show (for the most part) bystanders getting killed, but when entire sides of skyscrapers are peeled apart, and because the CGI is implicitly striving for such realism, my brain automatically tallies up a bodycount. I have no interest in AoU, but the fight in Manhattan in the first Avengers movie probably "killed" more innocents than did 9/11. Mayhem just isn't all that entertaining. It's pretty predictable and formulaic, actually.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:57 AM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have to give Marvel credit for not ignoring the longer term consequences of their mayhem. Fallout is still raining down in the MCU from the Battle of New York; one could argue that Stark's PTSD is what caused him to make the bad decision to create Ultron, and the rebuilding of NYC is the entire backstory of Daredevil. Whereas Man of Steel seems to want to pat Supie on the back and say "good job" for making that hard, hard decision to kill Zod.
posted by localroger at 6:09 AM on May 17, 2015 [30 favorites]


seek new worlds where war has been outlawed

How would that even work? That is, without a benevolent entity with enough power to unilaterally shut down any military action? The only way you could outlaw war is if you have a Superman type around to enforce that law. Other humans trying to enforce it would just be, well, war.
posted by El Mariachi at 6:21 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have to agree with localroger. There was also the scene in the carrier where they were talking about whether Banner/Hulk was going to get arrested for Hulking out badly. They're at least nodding (I haven't seen Daredevil yet) at the fact that it's not all happily ever after.

Whereas, I've seen Man of Steel, and I don't even remember Zod's death, is how little impression that made.
posted by joycehealy at 6:22 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why, exactly, is it ridiculous to imagine a character who successfully makes the sorts of ethical choices we wish actual leaders and people of power would make

But we don't wish they would make those decisions, at least not as they're described here (I'll likely wait for video for Ultron). If there's a large-scale problem with killer robots, then GO DEAL WITH THE KILLER ROBOTS and leave the rescuing to the folks who are highly trained in the arts of rescuing but not so much in the dealing with killer robots. I want the leaders or superheroes or whatever focused on the problems that are on their scale, and don't want them being distracted over and over again by whatever individual's problem has captured their border-collie-on-crack level of attentiveness. Saving one or two people while your adversaries are killing ten or twenty or hundreds is just counterproductive.

In Chris Reeve's original Superman II the villains were set loose from the Phantom Zone by a nuclear bomb detonated in outer space -- something the non superhero humans did.

Naw, the nuke was on the Eiffel Tower and Supes totally threw it into space to get rid of it; oops.

I don't see why killing Zod is such a Thing in Man of Steel when the whole plan beforehand, that he had been an enthusiastic participant in, had been to throw his babyrocket at the mothership and thereby murder everyone on it. Anyway, Superman in any media incarnation spends most of his time deciding that humans aren't worth saving. We know this because we watch him play-act at being a journalist while he could be pulling living people from burning things, etc. We can actually watch him value any vast number of other things higher than saving humans.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:23 AM on May 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


It's a movie that says, "It's okay to abandon your principles if the bad guys make you do it. Don't worry, you're still the Good Guy; you might have done a few bad things but you didn't have any choice." The perfect message and the perfect Superman movie for modern America.

Sure, but by the same token the Marvel movie universe is one where murdering zillions of living creatures and allowing shit-tons of humans to die as a result of the choices you've made is okay as long as you save a couple of sufficiently charismatic people in the process. It's okay to burn down the village because, look, here's a puppy you saved! Also a good message for modern America.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:34 AM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's a movie that says, "It's okay to abandon your principles if the bad guys make you do it. Don't worry, you're still the Good Guy; you might have done a few bad things but you didn't have any choice."

Um, yes, you are indeed still the Good Guy if you are indeed forced to kill a genocidal maniac in order to save Earth. Man of Steel is a bad story poorly told, but there was nothing unethical about killing Zod. Indeed, refusing to kill him when necessary would have been an act of vanity, of false righteousness.

Maybe you don't like the fact that the story calculated a scenario in which killing Zod was the right thing to do, but within the universe of the story itself, Superman did nothing wrong.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:39 AM on May 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


Although I mostly enjoyed Age of Ultron, I found myself agreeing with folks who argued that the evacuation goes on too long. But then I also always think the battles go on too long in...well, everything. My perfect Avengers movie would consist almost entirely of them sitting around bantering. There's a reason why Matt Fraction's what-Hawkeye-does-when-he's-not-an-Avenger comic is my favorite, and why my favorite single issue in the entire sprawling Civil War storyline is one that consists entirely of Iron Man and Captain America meeting up in an abandoned building to talk about their feelings.

That said, I found the conclusion of this article silly and overwrought: the idea that the differences between the movies can be summed up as "soothing falsehoods" versus "harsh truths" seems laughable to me. Not in a reductive "They're comic books! You can't expect them to deal with real stuff!" kind of way, because I think comic books do deal with real stuff, and I like it when they do. It pleased me immensely that Tony Start had PTSD in Iron Man 3, for instance, rather than just rolling with the action-movie trope that the violence heroes commit doesn't hurt them. But rather in that "what these movies say about the way we wage war" is a very specific and narrow lens to look at them through, and it's a hell of a leap to assume that it is this aspect of the films that drives viewers' decisions to see them or not.

My own reason for not seeing Man of Steel is that I'm burned out on Superman re-boots. See also: Spiderman. And Batman. I'm pretty well tired of origin stories in general. I don't know how widespread this fatigue is, but I can't imagine I'm the only one.
posted by not that girl at 6:40 AM on May 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


And, I mean, in the real world, people sometimes very much do have to defend themselves and/or others. "Bad guys" do, indeed, force people to do things that they would not otherwise have to do. I'm flabbergasted by the idea that this is a new idea, or an unusual idea, or even a bad idea.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:41 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty well tired of origin stories in general. I don't know how widespread this fatigue is, but I can't imagine I'm the only one.

It's not just origin stories but comic/super-hero adaptations in general. It's just too much and its not just in film, so much television: Arrow, Flash, Agents of Shield, Gotham, Daredevil, Supergirl....ugh.
posted by Fizz at 6:45 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would happily endure an eternity of superhero movies if it meant not having to put up with another movie, or series, which is nothing more than hitting all the familiar points of a superhero's origin. I don't need to see Uncle Ben die again. I'll take your word for it that he's dead. Just show me Spider-Man doing cool stuff.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:52 AM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


Sure, but by the same token the Marvel movie universe is one where murdering zillions of living creatures and allowing shit-tons of humans to die as a result of the choices you've made is okay as long as you save a couple of sufficiently charismatic people in the process.

In what MCU property did this occur? Because I think I've seen them all and I can't recall anything remotely like this.

As ridiculous as the MCU can be at times, they have been forthright about the cost to ordinary people of the superheroes' activities. In fact that's probably heading for center stage with the Civil War arc. And let's not forget the Guardinas of the Galaxy risking their lives to save an entire world of total strangers who had done nothing much for the Guardians except put them in jail.

Also, on the origins thing, I was very pleasantly surprised when I went back to watch the MCU Hulk movie that it totally skipped the origin story even though it was significantly different from the car crash / gamma rays canon, and let us infer Banner's updated history from hints and flashbacks in the course of a new and more interesting story.
posted by localroger at 6:58 AM on May 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


Maybe Zod can be convinced his crusade to resurrect Krypton is pointless? Nope, the conventions of the genre make this one impossible.

Actually, it's Zod's genetics that make it impossible. He says so right in the movie.

It ruins it for me, because his compulsion to conquer the world and pave the way for Kryptonians, no matter the expense to the native wildlife, is written right into his DNA. He doesn't have any moral agency at all! I mean, he does have a particularly evil... idiom... but his basic behavior patterns were bred into him. It's not possible that he could be reasoned out of conquering Earth, because he wasn't reasoned into it.

Zod was a wild animal that had made its way into the city, killing innocents, smashing buildings, and generally running amok. Killing him was the moral equivalent of euthanizing a rabid dog. Lame!
posted by mrbigmuscles at 7:00 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


This far in the thread and no one's linked to this SMBC? (Or either of these?)

As that first comic I linked gets at, if you want "realism" in the ethical considerations of superhero movies you're pretty much always going to be disappointed. Superman is, by his very existence, ethically problematic. So are the Avengers, of course, but at least the Avengers seem to show some level of awareness of that, without being so hyperaware of it that the movie has to be a boring but realistic-about-saving-the-most-lives piece about Tony Stark trying to get FDA approval for his life-saving medical inventions and/or fight Big Oil's anti-arc-reactor propaganda while Cap runs for political office (and probably loses!) and Quicksilver delivers vaccines in Africa. In my opinion Marvel's found the better balance between the two.
posted by mstokes650 at 7:01 AM on May 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


It ruins it for me, because his compulsion to conquer the world and pave the way for Kryptonians, no matter the expense to the native wildlife, is written right into his DNA. He doesn't have any moral agency at all! I mean, he does have a particularly evil... idiom... but his basic behavior patterns were bred into him. It's not possible that he could be reasoned out of conquering Earth, because he wasn't reasoned into it.

Bio-Domes for Kryptonians? Terraform Mars, or Venus, instead? I forget if they had handwaved away those alternatives.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:03 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


The "civilian-saving" aspect of Avengers felt too reactive to the criticism of Man of Steel. It would have been okay with a lighter touch, but it was so clearly pandering it kind of took me out of the movie.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:03 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I hear you Sticherbeast. I'm ready for stories from different perspectives or moments in the traditional hero arc: maybe a hero at the end of his ropes, ready to give up, passing on the torch. Or a hero who turns bad because fuck it. Anything but mom and dad are dead and I have deep seated issues or I'm a teenager and life is hard. We get it.
posted by Fizz at 7:04 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Part of the point of Iron Man III was Tony Stark dealing with the trauma of what happened to him in the first Avengers movie and the amount of civilians killed. So what happens in Age of Ultron is a natural progression.
posted by Ber at 7:16 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


You do all realize there are hundreds of non-supermovies that have been doing these things for decades?
posted by bittermensch at 7:16 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was once a technical consultant for a thriller and a friend of mine was the model for the kick-ass heroine. When I was given the final manuscript, I saw that the kick-ass heroine, faced with the destruction of humanity, dropped everything to try to save her boyfriend's life. I emailed the author and suggested that *possibly* the heroine would sacrifice her boyfriend in order to save humanity? Nope. I later asked my friend "Would you stop saving the world to try and help your boyfriend?" She said "No. Of course not". I think this book is optioned for a movie, so you may get to argue this out later.
posted by acrasis at 7:24 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


If superheroes can't do a better job of fighting than regular people can, why have them?
posted by Legomancer at 7:28 AM on May 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


You do all realize there are hundreds of non-supermovies that have been doing these things for decades?

Well, sure, there's a larger discussion at the back of this about the contest between realism and aspiration. Is it better to present things as they are and treat the idea that "there's always a way out" as escapist, a dereliction of the duty to morally engage with a world where that's not true?

Or is it better to present the idea that there might be a better way after all, and that by seeing an imagined world where it is possible we might refuse to accept, even act to change a world where the better way currently seems impossible?

Is the superhero there to magnify the causes and consequences of real decisions to make these things more readily visible, or is the superhero there to magnify the moral positions involved by giving us an aspirational vision of a set of virtues (and in the villains, vices), a sort of moral argument about the world we should try to build rather than the world we have been given? Is or ought?

Taken too far, realism becomes a sort of pessimistic determinism, as noted by that Grant Morrison quote Artw posted at the top of this thread. But aspiration can become merely compensatory, a sort of willful refusal of contemporary reality rather than a critique of it or a proposal to change it.

Looking over my own and others' responses, I'm reminded of our fellow Mefite Frowner's old post about "cozy" and "vicious" politics. Another way to think of it, if you have the taste for highfalutin' theory, might be realism vs. romanticism, or description vs. negation.

In some ways, centering this argument on superhero films is inherently limiting because they are hyperbolic, allegorical, and concerned with the impossible. I tend to favor the "cozy" version there, mostly because I think the superhero is already a profound, genre-bound negation -- or perhaps I would say, transcendence -- of real norms rather than a "hard" speculative fiction. I guess I agree with Legomancer: "If superheroes can't do a better job of fighting than regular people can, why have them?" If all we should imagine is a bigger, louder version of the shit we already have, then what good is imagination?

And then there's the argument that superhero movies, whether "gritty" or "shiny," actually reduce moral problems to mere spectacle. I'm not sure that's not really more their function, and that these arguments are just differences over which spectacle of violence we'd like to pay for on any given weekend.
posted by kewb at 7:31 AM on May 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


The short version: Aren't we're really arguing about just what politics we should bring to superhero movies, and more generally to movies that contain spectacular violence?
posted by kewb at 7:32 AM on May 17, 2015


Well that pull qote about "fuck the civilians, get on with it" certainly sounds like the reaction Ayn Rand might have had.
posted by localroger at 7:33 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well that pull qote about "fuck the civilians, get on with it" certainly sounds like the reaction Ayn Rand might have had.

I think Bunch's article is pretty poorly constructed, and folks like ROU_Xenophobe and Dip Flash seem to me like they're making better arguments.
posted by kewb at 7:42 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


"What offended me most about the climax of Man of Steel was how the screenwriters had clearly marked off every possible outcome other than Superman snapping Zod's neck and carefully arranged circumstances so that no other option was possible."
Age of Ultron carefully arranged circumstances so that saving the world from superhuman scale disaster and saving the life of every individual (including villains) was possible. I want to see the movie where the earth is destroyed because someone couldn't let a puppy die.
posted by idiopath at 7:52 AM on May 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


Superman is supposed to be a moral fantasy. He is someone for whom morally correct action is easy. Man of Steel didn't give us that ever, it was just angst the whole way through.

If they had set it up with some unambiguously good heroism where Superman didn't inexplicably feel guilty about it, the moral compromise of killing Zod would have actually mattered, instead of just being the next thing to angst about.

But that would have required depicting a single moment of human happiness onscreen, which is forbidden for DC movies.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:55 AM on May 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


saving the life of every individual (including villains)

Not sure what movie you watched, idiopath. AoU had a body count.

And there is a difference between a film where characters disagree over moral quandaries with incomplete information, and a film where the screenplay greases the chute towards a single ending without even acknowledging the question.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:58 AM on May 17, 2015


Bio-Domes for Kryptonians? Terraform Mars, or Venus, instead? I forget if they had handwaved away those alternatives.

I don't remember either. That sounds like the premise of a HISHE vid: "Why don't you just rebuild Krypton on Venus, Zod?" "oh yeah" then he flies off, nobody dies, and the movie ends. Ha!
posted by mrbigmuscles at 8:12 AM on May 17, 2015


>Maybe you don't like the fact that the story calculated a scenario in which killing Zod was the right thing to do, but within the universe of the story itself, Superman did nothing wrong.

Sure, I just think it's gross that this is the Superman For Our Times. I think it's sad and telling that we can't even manage not to pollute our hero stories anymore.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 8:20 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


maybe a hero at the end of his ropes, ready to give up, passing on the torch

Well, there's a little movie out now that has that kind of hero. It's called Mad Max: Fury Road.

And I can't believe I'm defending Man of Steel here, but doesn't the Batman v Superman movie out next year deal with the consequences of Superman's actions?
posted by FJT at 8:22 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not just origin stories but comic/super-hero adaptations in general. It's just too much and its not just in film, so much television:

I myself an really worried that this glut if superhero stuff might crowd out the next police orchestral or sitcom about a dysfunctional but loving family.
posted by happyroach at 8:24 AM on May 17, 2015 [17 favorites]


The "civilian-saving" aspect of Avengers felt too reactive to the criticism of Man of Steel. It would have been okay with a lighter touch, but it was so clearly pandering it kind of took me out of the movie.

What I found way more frustrating is that they clung so hard to the whole "save the civilians! They didn't ask for this war!" angle but didn't deal at all with the whole "for every person Iron Man saves, a half-dozen innocents are killed by a Stark shell" moral issue... despite setting that issue front and center.

By the end I found myself hoping that Scarlet Witch would just explode him and call it a day.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:27 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yesterday, I was reflecting on G.E.M. Anscombe's essay, Mr. Truman's Degree (pdf). Somehow, it seems relevant to this thread.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 8:30 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


FJT, I have tickets for later this week already set up. I can't wait to see Mad Max. But, I was speaking specifically to a super hero movie that would be set in a different time during that traditional hero arc.

And I want to believe in Batman v. Superman but I don't know....
posted by Fizz at 8:35 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


The civilian evacuation was the only part of the movie I really liked; I thought it was great that it focused on that instead of just letting the collateral damage build up for drama, which always really bothers me.
posted by NoraReed at 8:38 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


It was pretty clear to me (but not so much to anyone else apparently, so maybe I'm projecting) that the collateral damage and civilian casualties weren't really confronted directly in this film purposely, but were shown to help set up the Civil War storyline.

To me, Iron Man doesn't rescue two or three civilians because the script was balancing any kind of moral compass or whatever, it was because the script needed to remind the viewer that all this destruction is causing lots of people to die, completely randomly (not in a war zone, etc.). Especially the Hulk's rampage, which was clearly framed to show the horror of the civilians having their city suddenly, unexpectedly attacked by a raging behemoth for no reason other than rage, the aftermath of which is just left hanging.

My instinct is that subsequent Marvel films will absolutely refer back to the destruction we saw from the fighting in Age of Ultron. The carnage in the film--mostly unremarked upon--was still pretty vividly shown; so in the next film, it will make sense when there is rising populist anger and fear toward the superheroes from all over the world. Civil War wouldn't make any sense if there were not massive, random destruction and loss of life coupled with only a fig leaf of regard for civilian life and property protection as context.

Critics need to stop reviewing these movies as movies, and start reviewing them as what they are: episodes. Big, long episodes in a slow-motion cinematic series that is mostly one narrative now.

Not that Ultron isn't chock full of things worth criticizing, it's just that it's not really a self-contained film or narrative.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:51 AM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


In what MCU property did this occur?

Our Heroes kill zillions of living creatures:
*Iron Man, but that doesn't count because they were brown and talked funny
*Captain America, but that doesn't count because they were Nazis
*Thor, but that doesn't count because they were ice giants and ice giants are uniformly evil
*Avengers, but that doesn't count because they were whatever-those-aliens-were and those aliens were uniformly evil, even the flying whale things
*Avengers II, but that doesn't count because they're just AIs

Our Heroes let lots of people die as a result of their choices:
*Iron Man 2, when Russian kills all those people mostly because Stark won't admit that his dad was an idea-stealing asshole
*Avengers, when debris from the destruction Our Heroes are wreaking falls from great heights and squishes people even if they don't show it
*Avengers II, where I gather the whole thing is Stark's fault
*Winter Soldier, when flying aircraft carriers that must mass 50-100,000 tons fall on metropolitan DC and squish however many innocent commuters

Well that pull qote about "fuck the civilians, get on with it" certainly sounds like the reaction Ayn Rand might have had.

I think you have that exactly backwards. Rand would say that the superhero should do what he wants and save who he wants to save, because he doesn't owe anything to anybody. It's fine for the hero to save one person while a hundred others die if the hero values that person's life over the other hundred people's. And then charge his clients an appropriate fee of course, because altruism is wrong.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:55 AM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty well tired of origin stories in general. I don't know how widespread this fatigue is, but I can't imagine I'm the only one.

I'm definitely tired of seeing the origin stories of white male superheroes, that's for sure.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:55 AM on May 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


Itaxpica: What I found way more frustrating is that they clung so hard to the whole "save the civilians! They didn't ask for this war!" angle but didn't deal at all with the whole "for every person Iron Man saves, a half-dozen innocents are killed by a Stark shell" moral issue... despite setting that issue front and center.

To be fair, Tony Stark got himself out of the military contracting and (non-Iron Man) weapons manufacturing all the way back in the first Iron Man film, after he escaped from the Afghan caves. The bomb that nearly killed Pietro and Wanda happened well before Tony's IM1 change of heart. I do wish that the twins had interacted more with Stark in the film, just to bring it full circle.

Fizz: It's not just origin stories but comic/super-hero adaptations in general. It's just too much and its not just in film, so much television: Arrow, Flash, Agents of Shield, Gotham, Daredevil, Supergirl....ugh.

Nobody said you had to watch everything. Maybe it's a good time to take a step back and only watch the stuff you enjoy and ignore the rest. I'm keeping Flash and Agents of SHIELD around because they're both fun for me, and I might add the DC Legends of Tomorrow if it lives up to the trailer.

I'm probably dropping Arrow because its past season did nothing for me, although I may be back if I hear about things picking up. Gotham's first season was a total incoherent mess from start to finish, so I won't be back for season 2. Supergirl looks like some pretty typical CBS procedural dreck in superhero clothes, so I'll be bypassing it entirely.

This year I've been pretty ruthless about dropping shows mid-season (Oh hai, Last Man on Earth), so I have zero compunctions about doing the same next year. Don't feel compelled to watch something because you're waiting for it to "get good" -- just watch what you enjoy and let that be that.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:18 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I do like the theme in Age of Ultron that most of the action in the film is The Avengers trying to clean up their own fuck-ups. If they'd all just stayed home and partied and not done anything, the world would have been a lot less destroyed by the end.
posted by octothorpe at 9:22 AM on May 17, 2015


*Winter Soldier, when flying aircraft carriers that must mass 50-100,000 tons fall on metropolitan DC and squish however many innocent commuters

However many innocent commuters were in the middle of the Potomac, as I recall.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:34 AM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't understand any of this hate. You all seem to want to go back to the early 70s, before blockbusters showed up and started having the wrong kind of fun that didn't fit into your precious worldview and, you know, entertained.

Forget it, Jake. It's MetaFilter.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:37 AM on May 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


If they'd all just stayed home and partied and not done anything, the world would have been a lot less destroyed by the end.

I agree. A more ethical or moral movie would have heroes find some way to prevent, or avoid, or at least mitigate the violence from even happening. But then it wouldn't be a superhero action movie. I think that's a central dilemma. The use of violence has to be pretty much the only tool used to resolve an issue, but violence is more like a failure state. It's the result when people can't resolve their issues through other methods.

I think the genre is also about epic scale of destruction, so fights have to take place in a city. This is a failure too, because a more proper choice would be to try to avoid battles in cities or at least move a major battle outside of a population center.
posted by FJT at 9:41 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


"STARTLING SHOCKS! SPINE-TINGLING TWISTS! WaPo comes down on the side of overwhelming violence and post hoc rationalizations of same - FACE FRONT TRUE BELIEVER, THIS ONE HAS IT ALL!"

Here's some more realistic, mature superheroing for Mr. Bunch. Superman did what he had to do, okay? Only Supergod can judge him.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:39 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Strange Interlude,

I get that I'm not forced to watch these shows but there is just so much comic book saturation happening right now. It's kind of yawn-worthy.

I gave up on Arrow this season as well. I enjoyed Daredevil, but wasn't really interested in Flash. I'm thinking of getting back into Helix. Orphan Black is also a show worth watching for those who are tired of the comic hero adaptation.
posted by Fizz at 10:40 AM on May 17, 2015


If there's a large-scale problem with killer robots, then GO DEAL WITH THE KILLER ROBOTS and leave the rescuing to the folks who are highly trained in the arts of rescuing but not so much in the dealing with killer robots

It's worth pointing out that the situation in which they were both saving civilians -and- fighting killer robots was such that the rescuing could not realistically be done by other people at that moment.

When it became possible, they did, in fact, leave the rescuing to those other people, largely, and get on with killer robot fighting.

(This post carefully sanitized for potential spoilers)
posted by Archelaus at 10:45 AM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


I was very happy to see the focus on protecting/saving civilians shown in AoU...but it did indeed get to a point where it seemed like Joss was just twisting a knife against MoS.

That's not to say we should've seen the Avengers abandon any civilians. If someone wanted to see that happen, then they just don't get superheroing as a genre. A little less time could've been spent on that with the implication that the civilians were out of the way, but not abandoned for the sake of "grittiness" or angst or drama. The real moral of the Sonny Bunch article is that I don't want to go see movies with Sonny Bunch.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:47 AM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I want to see the movie where the earth is destroyed because someone couldn't let a puppy die.

SPOILERS:


You want The Cabin In The Woods.
posted by asterix at 10:58 AM on May 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


*Captain America, but that doesn't count because they were Nazis

I'm intensely curious now as to your alternative solution to WWII: huggin' it out?
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:16 AM on May 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


My perfect Avengers movie would consist almost entirely of them sitting around bantering.

Me too.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:24 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sure, I just think it's gross that this is the Superman For Our Times. I think it's sad and telling that we can't even manage not to pollute our hero stories anymore.

And yet the funny thing is that Superman apparently kills Zod in both versions of the story. Superman II doesn't make a thing of it, but a powerless Kryptonian is basically a human and won't last long if you drop him into an arctic crevasse even if the fall doesn't kill him.

Nowhere is it shown that any of the Kryptonian villains are retrieved and imprisoned; I'm certain we are to understand that they're not only dead, but dead and cheerfully forgotten in a moment. What's more, living in the Fortress of Solitude thereafter would be like living in a house where you'd buried the corpses of your enemies under the floorboards.

The tone may be from a sunnier time but it is notionally actually a lot darker: at least NuSupes agonized over killing.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:46 AM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'd like to bring up on the slaughter/subjugation versus puppy debate, the beginning of Thor 2, where they were literally stamping out a local rebellion to Asgard's power.

Why is Loki a villain again... Oh Right, he's trying to conquer earth.
posted by pan at 12:28 PM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


The apparent death of Zod & co. is one of many reasons why the theatrical Lester cut of Superman II is widely deplored. The extended version does include a shot of the trio being put in a police wagon. (The Donner version goes with the turn-back-time solution that ended up getting transplanted to the first film instead.)
posted by Shmuel510 at 12:32 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


What's more, living in the Fortress of Solitude thereafter would be like living in a house where you'd buried the corpses of your enemies under the floorboards.

Look, just say it. You don't want to come to my BBQ. Fine, you won't hurt my feelings. But the corpses are all under the north side, and the backyard deck is over on the south, so you won't even be near them...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:36 PM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


My feeling about Zod's death in Man of Steel was that it was a good dramatic beat that showed Superman's anguish at having to use his powers to kill. This is fine to include in a Superman movie made for a 40-year-old. I guess my question was: Why was a Superman movie made for a 40-year-old?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:43 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


The thing with Supes not killing was a late development after an early story that racked up a distressing body count. Making killing off limits also helped a little to counterbalance his increasingly ridiculous powers. It's glaringly obvious MoS was going for the shock value of subverting the trope.
posted by localroger at 12:48 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why was a Superman movie made for a 40-year-old?

Two thoughts:

1) Thirty years ago, when that 40-year-old was in elementary school, there was a second renaissance in comics (after the Silver Age 60s) with regard to thematic elements and character portrayals. So, there's an element of artistic nostalgia.

Similarly, Raiders of the Lost Ark was created by two middle-aged guys nostalgic for their experiences with movie serials from the 50s.

The Donner/Reeves portrayal in the 70s was itself nostalgic for the period thirty years prior -- the Golden Age of the 30s-40s.

2) It's an American trope that comics are supposed to be exclusively for children. You don't see the same approach to the medium in Europe and Japan. The latter heavily influenced comics in the 80s.

This is why there's hate -- cognitive dissonance between audience cohorts using different lenses of nostalgia, and different expectations for the medium.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:57 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I tried to give MAN OF STEEL the benefit of the doubt. No, he's not saving anyone, and yes it would make for a more interesting action sequence if he were at least trying. But maybe they're aiming for something there.

Nope. The villain is killed and then Supes makes out with his girlfriend on top of the flat surface of gravel that used to be downtown Metropolis.

Later he takes down a military drone and a soldier says he's hot. I don't think the film itself realizes how screwed up this devastation was, and that they appear to be addressing this in BvS feels like ass covering to me.
posted by brundlefly at 1:24 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Your ideal Avengers movie would be bantering? My ideal Avengers movie would probably be "Avengers: A Triple X Parody" but with the same cast and fx/costuming budget of Age of Ultron. Joss Whedon could still write but I'd want someone with a better visual vocabulary directing.
posted by elr at 1:57 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I want to see the movie where the earth is destroyed because someone couldn't let a puppy die.

I was trying to think of movies where neither happens. That the world doesn't get destroyed and the puppy doesn't die, because the good guys actually think, plan, and are pro-active.

The modern Mission Impossible series fits this, and I think it is interesting to see them as the anti-Avengers: a team of normals that manage to prevent the third-act big action set piece from even happening.
posted by FJT at 1:58 PM on May 17, 2015


ROU_Xenophobe, all those guys the heroes killed were soldiers, except for Ultron. They signed up for it.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 2:13 PM on May 17, 2015


That the world doesn't get destroyed and the puppy doesn't die, because the good guys actually think, plan, and are pro-active.

Really only works when the immediate stakes are small-scale and the effects are oblique. The Mission: Impossible analogy is a good one. Others:

Ripley keeps the Alien from making it back to Earth, where it would be weaponized, and saves Jones the cat in the process. She does the same thing again and saves Newt. In the third movie, she does it again and saves the prisoners. Let's ignore the fourth movie, 'kay?

Indiana Jones keeps Hitler from using the Ark and the Holy Grail, keeps Mola Ram from using the Sankara Stones and frees all the enslaved children, and keeps alien tech out of Soviet hands while saving his wife and kid.

James Bond stops Dr. No from disrupting the U.S. space program and escapes with Honey Ryder, starting a long career of disrupting the bad guys plans while making off with the girl.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:40 PM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


"STARTLING SHOCKS! SPINE-TINGLING TWISTS! WaPo comes down on the side of overwhelming violence and post hoc rationalizations of same - FACE FRONT TRUE BELIEVER, THIS ONE HAS IT ALL!"

Yeah, my take on this article was something to the effect of "the WaPo isn't even pretending it cares about the bloodless part of bloodless war any more, is it?".
posted by immlass at 2:42 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


What's more, living in the Fortress of Solitude thereafter would be like living in a house where you'd buried the corpses of your enemies under the floorboards.


TIL 80's Supes was metal as fuck
posted by mrbigmuscles at 2:48 PM on May 17, 2015


The first Christopher Reeve Superman movie started slow, yeah. But who could forget how when he finally debuted to Metropolis in his red-and-blues, in an action-packed sequence, he smashed a helicopter, tore the wing off a 747, sank a boat full of fleeing robbers and hurled a catburglar off a skyscraper. It was kewl! Gritty! Dark! Realistic.

No, wait -- Superman flew around Metropolis saving people, including the catburglar. Which is why, to paraphrase Serendipity in Dogma, Reeve's superman deserved the heroic John Williams fanfare, and the new one is a schmuck.
posted by Gelatin at 2:56 PM on May 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


You do all realize there are hundreds of non-supermovies that have been doing these things for decades?

That is what we are discussing over in the FPP about hundreds of non-supermovies somewhere else on MEtaFilter.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:58 PM on May 17, 2015


What's more, living in the Fortress of Solitude thereafter would be like living in a house where you'd buried the corpses of your enemies under the floorboards.

This is not nearly as bad as Poe would lead you to believe.

Or... so I have heard.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:59 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


The first Christopher Reeve Superman movie started slow, yeah.

This is one of the greatest things about it. An old-skool Americana intro without irony or grimdark and yet didn't get into either Main Street USA Shriner schmaltz or sub-Bratz CW teen glurge. The first part of the film was great. I particularly admired the matter-of-fact way they shot his kicking the football into infinity, in one shot without any musical or cinematic flourishes. It was perfect.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:08 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


My perfect Avengers movie would consist almost entirely of them sitting around bantering.

You're looking for The Specials.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:20 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course, the best reason for Superman's no-killing rule is that, once he breaks it, what's to stoop him from breaking it again? There are no end of evildoers who could stand a good neck-breaking -- humans who have killed, by direct action or order, more people than most of the Kryptonians did in that film, and who are equally likely to go on killing, so, why shouldn't Superman kill them? For that matter, climate change is threatening to everyone, why shouldn't Superman enforce a 0 carbon emissions rule, busting up anyone who disagrees?

A killing Superman is the ultimate slippery slope; he might as well be Ultron.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:46 PM on May 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


The trailer for Batman -v- Superman seems like they may be playing with that idea. FALSE GOD and so on.
posted by Justinian at 4:59 PM on May 17, 2015


Why was a Superman movie made for a 40-year-old?

Because Snyder really wanted to film Allan Moore's MIRACLEMAN?

None of that silly kid's stuff for us- comics movies are Seriousss Businesssss
posted by happyroach at 6:00 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Naw, the nuke was on the Eiffel Tower and Supes totally threw it into space to get rid of it; oops.

True, but Superman didn't build the nuke, and he was throwing it away from a place he knew it would do terrible damage. You could question his knowledge or judgement there but if humans hadn't built the nuke in the first place, none of it ever would have happened.

Whereas in MoS Zod and friends come to earth primarily because Kal-El is here. If Kal-El wasn't here, they would have never come here. Thank you Supes for saving us from this problem that totally wouldn't ever have existed if you had just simply not come here.

Also, in the MCU, the alien invasion of New York is not really the Avengers' fault, unless you count Thor who mainly showed up to fix what he knew was something he'd helped cause. And in fact this goes to a thing I really like about Marvel's take, which is that motivations are complicated and fault isn't always black-and-white.

Whose "fault" is it that Banner/Hulk wigged out in AoU? Before all this shit began he was in hiding -- where he presumably is again now -- but he has also played a pivotal role defending the Earth from things that weren't his fault, which is why he has been willing to answer "code Green." Marvel isn't ignoring the moral ambiguities of things like that, it's putting them front and center as plot elements.

Again, show me where one single tear is shed for any of the thousands killed by Supes and Zod in MoS. And then look at Ultron, where Stark takes time to try to buy the unfinished building he knows he's about to trash in the Iron Man / Hulk battle.
posted by localroger at 7:17 PM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Everyone talking about other things superheroes should be doing ought to be reading this webcomic. The thing in issue 3 is exactly up your alley.

maybe a hero at the end of his ropes, ready to give up, passing on the torch

The next Marvel TV show is called Jessica Jones, it's on netflix in novemberish, and it's about a superhero that "never got the hang of landings" who gives up on the life to be a private eye/drunkass fuckup. I'm pretty interested.
posted by sandswipe at 7:38 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


>> My perfect Avengers movie would consist almost entirely of them sitting around bantering.

> You're looking for The Specials.


Also The Tick, live action TV version, in which almost nothing superheroic or requiring any powers (apart from the occasional super-mishap of breaking things not usually considered breakable) actually happens on camera.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:04 PM on May 17, 2015


Trying to fix Man of Steel is a waste of time (but that hasn't stopped me from trying)

1) Superman is taught from a very early age that he is incredibly powerful, and must maintain control of his power. Even simple things, like stretching when waking up, or turning suddenly when surprised, can have terrible consequences. Superman is the embodiment of total control of his physical self.

2) Superman has been absorbing yellow light for most of his life. He is a battery of power.

3) Zod and his budies are newbies to their power. Sure, they have all the military knowledge, but they aren't prepared for what happens when, say, they throw a punch and it leads to them literally flying through the air past (or through) what they tried to punch. Sure, they'll adapt, but they won't have all the experience that Kal El has had, and they will have difficulty with their powers, and they won't be as strong as Superman.

4) The big point: Superman gets his ass kicked because he stops fighting to save people. He's not losing because he's outclassed, he's losing because he is too busy saving people. He flies civilians to safety and gets punched in the gut for it. He saves a school bus, only to get hit with a car, and so on.

5) Superman has been studying the whole history of Krypton, thanks to dad. He's a genius. Red Son style. Bit by bit, he is slowly maneuvering the Kryptonians to an empty space. Antartica, for example. Once there, he gives a variation on the 'world of cardboard' speech from the animated Justice League movie, and HE BEATS THE EVER LIVING SHIT OUT OF THE KRYPTONIANS. He beats them so badly, (yet never kills or maims) that they plead for mercy, and agree to leave and never come back.

6) Superman fixes the damage and rescues those trapped or hurt by the fight.

The End.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:52 PM on May 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


Tony Stark often uses his wealth to create industry/economy, and I'm hoping he uses some of that to with clean-up relief, etc.

There's at least one reference to him doing exactly that in Ultron. Part of the fight with Hulk has him saying something about mobilizing the Stark Relief Foundation or whatever the heck it's called. I could swear he also says that it's something Pepper is very busy with in the scene where they handwave away why she's not in this movie at all.
posted by sparkletone at 10:04 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


The big point: Superman gets his ass kicked because he stops fighting to save people. He's not losing because he's outclassed, he's losing because he is too busy saving people.

YES! This is what I love about Superman, and what Zach Snyder / Gritty Sonny Bunch misses completely. Superman isn't cool because he can throw a punch but because he would really, really, really rather not. The Superman battles I like the best are the ones where he isn't a millimeter more violent than he needs to be, where he smacks Metallo or Bizarro just hard enough to buy himself the time to save that dangling bus full of kids or all the workers trapped in the steel mill. When it's time to finish the villain off, he does it by bending a girder round their arms or something gentle like that. He could wipe the floor with anyone in seconds if he wanted, but he doesn't. That's not what he's there to do. He's into rescues because he's a superhero.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:07 PM on May 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


I didn't see Man of Steel. But I have read Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman, which is one of the most beautiful, humane comics ever. And in that, Superman is explicitly a moral examplar. He's something better than us so that we can try and be like him. He's a model.

So maybe Age of Ultron isn't 'realistic'. Or maybe some soldier watches it and spends a bit more time trying to avoid civilian casualties because he has that example.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:00 AM on May 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


All-Star Superman is the best Superman story to me. The scene of him talking the young woman down from the ledge, telling her that her therapist is coming, and that she's not alone is pretty much perfect. That the rest of the story is him trying to balance his personal desires with the things left undone, and the need to do them because literally no one else could, that's the Superman worth movies.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:41 AM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Though I would love A Red Son movie. Pretty please?
posted by Ghidorah at 3:42 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thirding All-Star Superman-- the girl on the ledge scene is amazing, and the Superboy issue is maybe my favorite story ever told about Clark Kent.

I actually read AoU's emphasis on civilian-saving as a fairly clever piece of writing, but I'm also being pretty Watsonian about it. Look at it this way: having noticed the emphasis on containing damage and protecting civilians in the Battle of New York, Ultron deliberately created a scenario where he could distract his enemies by endangering a huge number of civilians. He could have levitated any old chunk of land, but he chose a heavily populated one. Every minute spent evacuating was a minute spent not stopping Ultron, and he wanted it that way.

However, Marvel Studios understands that superhero movies should be about characters who are superhuman enough to make moral choices AND beat the bad guy, so the Avengers won anyway.
posted by nonasuch at 6:56 AM on May 18, 2015


Everyone talking about other things superheroes should be doing ought to be reading this webcomic.

So the "this webcomic" link is to Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag, and it is indeed awesome. It's about a young woman in a world where teens started getting superpowers about 5-6 years before the story and the main character is her world's Superman (more like the original Superman -- leaping tall buildings, being bullet-proof but not flying and invulnerable) who became a superhero at 14 and about 18 realized that it wasn't helping with any of the important issues like poverty and hunger. So she's going to college and trying to figure out how to be a moral person when she can crush a tank and also how she can make a real difference.

There a a bunch of believably-flawed characters trying to figure out how to live their lives and a lot of discussion about what it takes to "make a difference" and how you can disagree with someone without them necessarily being "wrong." And the usual stuff about growing up and making mistakes (Alison points out that super-accuracy is not one of her powers). So, check it out!

There is a collection of the first four chapters (Kickstarted, but available in stores, I think), but it's all free online, too. (If the art puts you off at first, check out some later pages -- Ostertag improved rapidly over the first few chapters (although they still have a charm, I think).
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:51 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


SFP is pretty amazing, and well worth reading. It's definitely starting to get into some very interesting territory, too, regarding what good superheroes can actually do.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:58 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the main reason DC's movies suck so much compared to Marvel is this: For everyone who cares about Superman the character (as defined by their favorite subset of all Superman comics, movies, and/or TV shows), there are at least a thousand people who only care about Superman as a concept.

Whether it's "You don't tug on Superman's cape," proverbs or Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex thought experiments or "You're a real jerk when you're drunk," jokes, for most people "Superman" is a placeholder for the idea of having superpowers rather than a particular orphan raised in Kansas. The same is true, to a lesser extent, for Batman and Wonder Woman. Give a director the Superman or Batman license, and they probably don't want to make a movie about a particular comic book story. They want to make their Superhero Story or Costumed Vigilante Story or Who Knows What Terrible Wonder Woman Fantasy.

Marvel, on the other hand, has taken characters most people had never heard of or cared about and built movies around particular portrayals of those people. People show up for RDJ's Tony Stark, Chris Evans's Steve Rodgers, Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, more than fantasies about Super Armor or Patriotism or Relentless Healing.

DC hasn't done anything to make audiences want to see Brandon Routh and Christopher Nolan eat shawarma or Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill bantering at parties about how Superman's powers really work.
posted by straight at 8:36 AM on May 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


People show up for RDJ's Tony Stark, Chris Evans's Steve Rodgers, Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, more than fantasies about Super Armor or Patriotism or Relentless Healing.

That is incredibly insightful.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:49 AM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think the main reason DC's movies suck so much compared to Marvel is this: For everyone who cares about Superman the character (as defined by their favorite subset of all Superman comics, movies, and/or TV shows), there are at least a thousand people who only care about Superman as a concept.

I'd only amend this to say "...DC's movies suck so much for fans of the comics..." For people who aren't fans of the underlying comics, I wouldn't be confident that Man of Steel or the Nolan Batmans suck at all.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:47 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


My main reaction to Man of Steel was of the "You Had One Job" variety: the principal takeaway from "Superman Returns" is that audiences aren't inspired by a gray, murky, ambiguous, in some ways puzzlingly guilt-ridden and frankly not even fun Superman movie, particularly not as the first film out of the gate on a reboot.

So when that one didn't win a lot of enthusiastic fans and the franchise tanked for a couple of years as a result, what do they do? They make another one. Way more spectacular, sure, but tonally even bleaker in every way. Only this time they cast Kevin Costner as Pa Kent, just to make sure you know in advance that there'll be nothing to smile about from beginning to end.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:49 AM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Jerk Superman and Batfleck fighting Juggajoker and Lex Zuckerberg might be the heroes we deserve right now, yeah. I don't want to think too hard about how much money Snyder's neck-snapping space jesus movie made; it's too depressing. It's a movie where fucking Jor-El throws more punches in the intro than Superman did in the whole running time of Returns. It's a cold, violent, hopeless movie and general release audiences ate it up.

Only this time they cast Kevin Costner as Pa Kent, just to make sure you know in advance that there'll be nothing to smile about from beginning to end.

I was thinking about this last night: the curious case of Pa Kent and how it relates to Man of Steel. Pa Kent is interesting in that he's not Uncle Ben or Thomas Wayne or Battlin Jack Murdock - that is, his fate is not so sent in stone as that of other superhero father figures. Throughout the multiverse, Pa Kent sometimes dies and sometimes doesn't. The cause of death is most often a heart attack that Clark is too far away or occupied to save him from. But unlike Uncle Ben, Superman writers can place the death of Pa Kent pretty much anywhere they want in Clark's life, if indeed they want to include it at all. What is done with that choice often says a lot about what sort of Superman we're reading about. The Superman I read about for most of my life had a living father, who he could turn to for advice and comfort, and lost to a heart attack because he was off busy with a summer crossover. (Our Worlds at War, I think?).

The point is that Superman's commitment to truth and justice, to protecting the innocent and the fragile, costs him. That's usually what losing Pa Kent boils down to - doing the right thing, even when it costs you. Jerk Superman lost Pa Costner for barely any reason at all. It's like they knew killing his Dad was an option but couldn't think of anything bigger than Keeping Sekrits as a reason.

Ugh, I don't know. I'm an aging dork and trying to convince middle America to be anything other than awful is a losing game. My parents took me to see the first Christopher Reeve movie when I was five and it blew my mind. I'm pretty sure that "Superman is cool" is the first opinion I ever had about anything. I remember watching Superfriends and loving the scenes where he'd bust into the Bad Guys lair, bounce a bunch of bullets off his chest and then just kind of cruise across the room and leisurely round them up after they got it out of their system. Power and kindness. What Grant Morrison called "the idea of a man who will never let us down."

I don't doubt that Superman will endure beyond Drone Strike Jerk Superman's window of influence, but it sucks to be in the position of believing in the character more than the filmmakers charged with telling his story to the world. Their embarrassment about him is palpable - it manifests in the juvenile, insecure grimness of their work. A Superman movie that unabashedly embraced the dorky, unaffected, cornfed warmth and goodness of Clark Kent and how he sees the world, that openly defied the cruelty and cynicism of our age? That would take guts that Snyder and Warner Brothers do not appear to possess.

Anyhow. Happy Miracle Monday, everyone.
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:14 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


For people who aren't fans of the underlying comics, I wouldn't be confident that Man of Steel or the Nolan Batmans suck at all.

That's me! My DC comics experience is as follows: The Dark Knight Returns. That's the list.

I liked Man of Steel and the Nolan Batman films.
posted by Justinian at 3:35 PM on May 18, 2015


I was wading through a bunch of Miracle Monday posts on tumblr and I remembered that there was a article on Metafilter where some guy was arguing that it was good to have Superman kill the bad guy and let innocents die.

He couldn't be more wrong if he tried.
posted by ckape at 6:26 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


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