After a while, an action movie can start to sound like a construction site. Kapow. Pshhhhh. Piu piu piu. BUH BAM…
Movies today bank so much on special effects that we’re practically immune to anything. And as buildings fall, people fly, and monuments descend in smoke, the wow factor becomes less reliable, where franchises compete with each other--and themselves--to make bigger, badder fights.
In fact, the last time I remember feeling truly amazed in the theater was during Doctor Strange, where warlocks making a mandala of the London landscape also turned my stomach. Any other time I felt truly, deeply impressed by special effects I couldn’t recall. It was routine to see people flying, people fighting, people dying epic deaths.
Last summer, Captain America: Civil War blew people’s minds like it blew up cars in the theater. But Cap’s dilemma stuck with me for another reason. The root of the film’s conflict was something I hadn’t seen before--that collateral damage has a cost. Although Batman v. Superman apparently had the same theme, as well as one Bond movie, I was shocked to see the Avengers called on by the United Nations. They were shown a montage of videos, to show all the people suffering, killed by the debris of their battles. Set in New York to Washington, we see footage from almost every Marvel film. And their damage in the country of Sokovia is no less condemning, where they messily battled a maniacal robot they created.
Now, more than a hundred countries in the world are setting down terms. Cap is unable to reconcile their document with his own beliefs, which limit the Avengers’ ability to operate independently. He simply can’t believe some loss condones inaction. The team falls apart.
Watching, I couldn’t get over how directors Joe and Anthony Russo pulled the rug out from under us. The Avengers were suddenly more real to me than ever, over an issue I never contemplated. It was during the movie, and not before, that I realized every person’s actions have consequences, superhero or not.
CGI plays a part in this, as technology allows people to film huge fights with even less materials even more realistically. We are able to see things that might not otherwise be possible, things that are cool, breathtaking, epic. What we often don’t see is the battered aftermath, people crushed under falling towers. With many new movies, this becomes normal, the decorations of a properly dressed action movie.
And because we know and love these characters so well, they become real to us. Watching them fistfight baddies, find love, and throttle evil creates a power fantasy without boundaries. Even in high school, it wasn’t too late for one film to change the way I see big battles. If we don't see accountability for the increasingly spectacular damage, we are quietly permitted to do the same.
CGI might not be the problem, but how it’s used. It should feed the shock and thrill people seek when watching action movies, but not take away from the fact fighting for the greater good is not always all good. That decisions have weight, victory comes with loss, and winning is rarely clean.
Even for the best of us, the superheroes in the sky.