I felt particularly metatextual this week, walking up Whitehall with a view of Parliament, while a double decker bus passes by me, the image of Big Ben being blown to pieces on its side. This was the advertising campaign for London Has Fallen, the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen where terrorists attack and blow up the White House. As with any creatively bankrupt franchise, the action has now moved to London.
Is a good way of working out social anxieties seeing your worst fears come to life on the big screen? I feel completely saturated in this lingering threat these past few months. If the media is indeed truthful, any day now the variables of Syria, ISIS, immigration, and the economy will come together to make things go boom. I know it is a duty to stay informed on world events, but it feels so sexed up by this point, that the world is utterly going to pieces, that I have taken to watching cartoons in the morning instead of the news.
Superhero cartoons at that, where fictional worlds come under threat and the Justice League is working hard behind the scenes to save the day. Even when things feel at their worst, they always save the day. I don’t expect any less of Gerald Butler, but do I really want to pay £20 to see my neighbourhood disappear in a cloud of smoke and fire? That doesn’t sound like much of a win to me. Whatever happens at the end of the movie, London still collapsed.
I remember for about a minute post-9/11, we removed any trace of the Twin Towers or terrorism from our entertainment. Ironically, while real-life Twin Towers and terrorism is all we saw on our screens for the remainder of the decade. The towers fell, again and again, on every television screen across the world, while someone decided it would be a bit too insensitive to see Spider-Man spinning a web between them in a feature presentation.
When that minute was up, however, things went back to normal, then stepped up a little more. Studios rushed to produce United 93 and World Trade Center The Movie (which felt like it needed a trademark on horrific world events at the end of it), and how long is long enough before we cash in on human tragedy is a different story.
Genre movies is what I’m interested in, and how violent they got. The greatest destruction I recall from the original Superman movie in the 70’s was a helicopter falling from the top of a building, saved just in time. Superman Returns sparked our deepest wish fulfillment in its inarguably best scene, Superman rescuing a doomed plane from crashing. If only.
Forward to Man Of Steel, and the entire city of Metropolis, a barely veiled New York City, is destroyed as collateral by the very hero we hope would save us. The Dark Knight Rises laid waste to Gotham City. The Avengers battled in the very centre of New York City. Age Of Ultron held to ransom an entire chunk of Europe, high above the ground.
Is this because an entire generation grew up seeing planes crash into buildings? Is it not enough to fight in outer space, or swing through rooftops with no casualties, least of all an entire city? Does this not seem realistic anymore? Hundreds of people die every day as a result of bombs, missiles, and guns. Spider-Man throwing out a web to save one human life doesn’t seem like enough anymore, when a dozen people below are going to be crushed by the wall of a building.
It just seems strange, to gravitate towards imagined destruction of the sort we are so terrified to avoid in real life, whether the threat is as close as the news would gleefully have you believe, or not. I would have thought film would reflect a more escapist attitude, where the stakes aren’t quite so high as three populated planets exploding in a ten second montage. Or closer to home, Westminster Abbey collapsing in a heap of smoke.
Maybe seeing it on screen is a way of seeing it happen, and being able to still walk out of the cinema alive and well. Like those people who are so worried about losing a leg they would prefer to have it cut off so they don’t have to worry anymore. Genre movies seem to me an interesting way to explore the idea of death and destruction. In such a realistic setting though, I’d prefer London remained intact, and Gerald Butler put down his gun.