Later, when Superman joins the fray, the movie turns into an orgy of gratuitous building-battering as Zod and Superman punch each other through several giant high-rises. It recalls a similar Metropolis fight between those two characters in 1980’s Superman II, only there, when Superman knocks a baddie into a building — an act that sends the skyscraper’s spire tumbling towards a crowd of people on the ground — Superman actually halts the fight to grab that spire before it lands, a quaint moment that still reminds us that the lives of innocent citizens are at stake. In Man of Steel, however, the superhero seems mostly unfazed by the people of Metropolis who are surely collateral damage to his big battle; similarly, director Zack Snyder seems to have waved it off. There is no acknowledgement that all of the buildings that are being destroyed might have people in them. It’s a bloodless massacre of concrete, 9/11 imagery erased of its most haunting factor: the loss of life.

Over at Vulture, Kyle Buchanan talks back to the major post-9/11 blockbuster trend of using massive, violent destruction of cities and faceless, nameless innocent bystanders as backdrop for superhero, action and various other Michael Bay-esque films. It’s a great takedown of the casual nature of the approach to destruction, where collateral damage is common and rarely fully acknowledged (how much of NYC died in The Avengers? how many died in the last Star Trek?). The connection to 9/11 imagery and the cheapening of the fear that accompanies the images of crumbling buildings in a terror-struck metropolitan setting is important, too.

(The point is not fully “ugh, violence in movies” although there’s that. It’s more about the fact the violence is actually largely ignored, unacknowledged and has surprisingly little long-term impact on plot. Once over, Earth or wherever usually seems to be restored. Just minus a few thousand or more people.)

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