Two years back, Entertainment Weekly would release a weekly feature documenting the Summer Movie Body Count of films like Thor, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. It was an often interesting feature, less for how it brought to mind cool ways of killing off a character, but for how it raised the startling death toll of these summer blockbusters to mind. I have little doubt the death of this summer’s collective features would reach into the thousands at the very least, but audiences this year seem to be less interested in mortality rates than they are in their precious little condo.
All people would talk about after the release of Man of Steel and Pacific Rim was the clinical amount of property damage stacked up by these inner-city brawls between godlike beings. I mean spectacle’s fine and all, but not when the way viewers grasp human loss is diluted by collapsing structure of glass and metal. Much has been made of the 9/11 allegorical imagery in these films, but without mind being paid to the people who likely suffered as a result.
But to those who are desperately preoccupied by the imaginary dollars which will be spent covering the collective destruction taken part in this summer, fear not! We have tackled this summer’s major features and handily tabulated the damages so you’ll know exactly how much shit was wrecked this season. One trend I think you’ll notice is the direct proportion of a film’s quality is often congruous with lesser amounts of damaged property. Who’d have thought that a film all about mindless destruction was worse than a film that damaged more human individuals than it did luxury homes? Oh yeah, and SPOILERS AHEAD, but who really cares? If knowing these facts spoils the movie, it’s not very good to begin with.
Film Misery’s Summer 2013
Movie Property Damage Report
Iron Man 3 wasn’t so insanely about inner-city mayhem as a certain other metal based superhero this summer was, but it still worked off a very American, post-9/11 story. One might even say it was paying homage to the sort of Tom Clancy thrillers director Shane Black wrote in the past. Thus the damage was more specifically based, as mostly dictated by the Mandarin’s sinister viral messages. A military base in the middle east is hinted at in the first message, but we actually see one of his “followers” lay waste to the Chinese theater. I should add, that Extremis sub-plot was lifted directly from Fringe episode 2.03, and works as inelegantly here as it did there. Then Tony Stark becomes personally involved against the Mandarin, which pisses the evildoer off so he destroys Tony’s Malibu home in the most memorable, but still clumsy, action sequence in the film.
The next fight practically decimates a Tennessee bar, but c’mon. Nobody cares about that civilian destruction. Blow up Air Force One, however? Yep, that’ll cost a significant dollar to replace. Then the film defuses any real stakes by setting the climactic fight sequence in an isolated shipping yard. Plenty cranes and containers are busted and blown to pieces, but that can’t have cost much. For a film that cost over $200 million, there weren’t a whole lot of stakes in this one, were there?
The rare $100+ million blockbuster that doesn’t have its mind on blowing anything up. Miscellaneous objects in Gatsby’s mansion parties probably got busted up, not to mention that car crashed into the front yard fountain, but that’s all in good fun. That hotel room at the Plaza got a tray of liquor or two bashed against the floor in Gatsby’s manic fit of rage. Most devastating loss of the film, however, was that of Gatsby’s golden royce! Stupid ginger ruined such a beautiful car!
Star Trek being a sci-fi franchise with political allegories under the surface, most of the damages sustained were of political property. The Starfleet archives are destroyed in the first attack of terrorist K…er, kinda intimidating John Harrison. Then the Starfleet meeting room ripped out of Dr. Strangelove is attacked with bloody vengeance by Harrison. Flash forward about an hour later while nothing is destroyed in the meantime – a few dozen Klingons and miscellaneous Enterprise red shirts, but those are people. We don’t care about those – the U.S.S. Enterprise and U.S.S. Vengeance respectively blow each other apart, though Enterprise gathers its bearings in time not to crash to Earth like Vengeance does. Oh, and the captain dies, but again, no biggie. The Vengeance sets destination coordinates for Starfleet Headquarters in downtown San Francisco, and maybe takes out a few skyscraping apartment complexes as well. Mostly, though, the government ends up having its buildings as a result of their militaristic stupidity. Yep, seems about right.
Now here’s how you make an action film without distracting us by how many people are potentially killed in grand-scale collateral damage. The film’s first onscreen action sequence sees a parking lot blown up (good riddance!) and a couple London cop cars flipped into midair collisions via baddie Owen Shaw’s modified assault vehicles. No real civilian damages. Next major action sequence takes us to the highway, where a tank shreds Tyrese Gibson’s car and blows up a bridge, but gets taken down… with Letty flying off the roof. Instigate Dominic Toretto crashing his car into the bridge to catch her midair. Then the final set-piece brings the biggest feat of demolition in the shape of a huge cargo plane which is brought crashing down by the weight of enough vehicles acting as anchorage. All in all, only as much damage as the plot requires.
And here is where we get into the most notorious demolition of city structures this summer, even though World War Z (we’ll get to that soon enough) likely hit way more cities than Man of Steel‘s measly one. Still, it’s hard not to awe at how Snyder fetishizes the grand scale collapse of the literal Metropolis. There’s little breaking it down into individual buildings either. As soon as the world engine (is that term just the highlight of the film, or the entire summer?) is released, downtown Metropolis is reduced from what little identity it had as a city to a dusky post-9/11 wreckage. That image of Superman and Zod amidst a field of vast rubble isn’t merely devastating, but dishearteningly flat and vague. The most defined element of that scene is Superman himself, rising triumphantly in spite the mass destruction that’s been let loose because of him.
Other than that, there are a few locations that are reduced to veritable nothingness in the 2.5 hour expanse of this film. Um… oh, Krypton. Yeah, that blew up, and in quite spectacular fashion, I must admit. Still, nobody had any monetary investment in the planet, whose value decreased when they depleted the planet’s core (Geek points + real estate lingo point). More investments were lost by that oil tanker that inexplicably exploded (Aquaman film on the way, maybe?). A tornado tore wrecked several cars in Kansas, but thankfully only one person died. Yeah, nice job “Superman”. And while quite a lot of Smallville torn apart, it’s mostly important to note that they destroyed the IHOP. Kryptonian savages!
Like Man of Steel, the carnage and destruction in this film is handled with incredible vagueness. That’s mostly by studio design, a PG-13 zombie film already calling for a certain bloodlessness. It’s implied that several cities and hundreds of lives are taken by this viral invasion, but few structures are demolished by this horde and most human lives are taken rather perfuntorily. The most certain act of destruction is that of a plane crashing, but other than that the film remains a hazy, unintelligible fog.
Given Roland Emmerich’s penchant for widely-dispersed destruction, only building gets busted up during the entirety of this film. Sure, Air Force One also plummeted from the skies for the 2nd time this summer (see Iron Man 3), but it was mostly just one bit of Washington, D.C. property. Reasonably simple work for the reconstruction crews, and Emmerich gets maximum destruction value from minimum square footage.
For as much negative feedback as the film has received, its action is actually quite restrained in comparison to the more contemporary blockbusters this summer. More trains wreck than buildings get blown apart. First is the one that brings John Reid into town, but it’s only the engine that goes off the rails. Then wait another 90 minutes of non-explosive action and we get to… another train sequence, and even then, the damage is kind of minimal until the head of the train flies off a blown up bridge. Oh, and a bunch of Comanche Native Americans get killed, but we don’t care about… oh, wait. You mean we do care? Huh, remind me again why this film is so despised, because it seems to be correcting many faults in today’s blockbusters.
Inner city throwdown, part deuce. Many cities are taken down in the opening montage of the film, including the golden gate bridge. An undesignated Japanese city is shown being destroyed in Mako’s childhood flashback. The film’s primary (and only) act of mass city destruction is that mid-film Shanghai sequence. Two Jaegars are double-teamed and destroyed by Kaiju, and then Gypsy Danger enters the battle to take down a Kaiju and box with the other in the middle of the city. Many buildings are destroyed, but humans were thankfully evacuated beforehand, unlike the reckless behavior of Man of Steel‘s Metropolis citizens. And then the final action sequence sees two Jaegars nuke themselves to ensure the survival of humanity.
The summer’s last real blockbuster before Elysium, the big blow-ups were wisely kept to a minimum, which is perhaps the subtlest thing about the film. Sure, Nagasaki is obliterated in the frank opening statement, but I assume we’re factoring out historic events. The next two action sequences are more about mortality than demolition, with a funeral siege taking many lives, but few vases. Then the much buzzed about bullet train sequence, which I still find absolutely ugly in spite its conceptual creativity, only scratches up the face of the train with claw marks. For all the scuffle at the Yashida home, very little lab equipment there is totaled. It’s only in the film’s infamous denouement that the acts of crashing metal take sizeable damages. Still, it’s all contained within one building, so we’ll factor it down to industrial deficits. Admittedly, the film’s style can also be factor away as such.
Epic‘s a kids film, which usually means it doesn’t partake in acts of violence or destruction. In this case, though, Christoph Waltz’s villain wants to cause the forest to rot into death, and shows that intent by smiting an entire tree with one hit of his staff, so at least there’s some threat. I didn’t see Hangover Part III, so I can’t say if they broke anything significant. It’s honestly not worth the pain to find out. And then there’s After Earth, which takes place after civilization has ended on the planet, though they still manage to crash a plane so that’s some kind of damage.
The plot of The Purge implies that much of the United States is destroyed each year, but off screen. The only onscreen damage we get is of one rich family’s house. We only really see James Franco’s house become reduced to a dilapidated form in This is the End. The world ends too, but mostly James Franco’s home. Monsters University, and Despicable Me 2 can be factored down to zero destruction because of their kiddie film natures, with a little more in Turbo because of all those crashing vehicles. The Heat also dials down the crass explosives, only submitting to such for two well timed shocks/jokes. Wait, you want specifics? See the movie! I’m not going to spoil it for you.
Like White House Down, the damages in The Conjuring are condensed down to a single home, again to maximum effect. I did not see Red 2, R.I.P.D., or 2 Guns (all four-letter titles), so feel free to fill me in on what explodes in those films, because I’d really rather not spend money on any of them. As for what was destroyed in Grown Ups 2 and The Smurfs 2? Um, the reputations of everyone involved? I’m pretty certain that’s well beyond repair.
Well Elysium is set after Earth has already gone to shit, so I suppose all that’s left to destroy is Elysium itself. Hope that one turns out a more human focused actioner than this summer has often supplied us with. I’d be surprised if Kick-Ass 2 mustered up expansive property damage, but I’d expect something more in line with the Hard-R bloodshed of the first film. Probably the most annihilation still set for this summer rests in the aptly titled The World’s End. It’s soothing to know this rockem’ sockem’ summer will end with us all kicking back a pint.