MMUHBOM - No Empathy for Empathy
So as I watched Star Trek Beyond this weekend I couldn't help but believe that something was off. Around the end of Act I things go poorly for the Enterprise and her crew. Namely an attack full of destruction, murder, and mayhem. While it does sell the danger and terror it might go too far, at least for me.
Let me rewind and show a trend I've been seeing over the years. People seem to be down on empathizing with film and TV characters. Not really main characters but side characters. We can empathize with serial killers, meth dealers, blue blood aristocrats, and all manner of anti-heroes. But the side characters, the opposing forces, the extras, are killed off with out a second thought.
I once was talking with a friend about why the zombie genre seemed so evergreen over the last two decades. We bounced it around but my conclusion was it was a response to globalization. We live in an age where it is more apparent then ever that with a small part of the 7 billion sea of humanity. The fantasy of zombies is found in our connection to the survivors. We can imagine ourselves as the heroes. We are still human. We still have our own mind. But they don't. They are a flock of mindless sheep. And we soak up the feeling of being a "real" human. While indulging the thought that those around us we don't know or care about are not as human as us. They don't have independent thought like us. In a world of social media posturing, corporate cultures, and political correctness, it's unsurprising we like to think that we are real but everyone around us are, well zombies.
Taking that along we arrive at Man of Steel. A movie (being upfront) I hated. I'll spare the diatribe and just focus on the destruction of Metropolis. It is straight up destruction porn. A vulgar gratuitous bath of blood and bricks. It seems the generations that lived through September 11th just never internalized the carnage of what a few buildings dropping did to a city, let alone a nation, and world. Because since 2001 Hollywood has blown up just about every major city in graphic fashion. By the time Superman gets a handle on the situation most of lower Metropolis is a mountain of charred ash and crushed concrete. You don't see them explicitly but there must be hundreds of thousands of dead in that rubble. But Supes just fights on in the populated area, and all of our principle cast survived so I guess its just a lot of property damage right? But I remember 9-11 and the stories of how no one was finding bodies. Desk, chairs, computers, and people where so pulverized but the falling buildings that only grey dust and ash remained.
In Jurassic World we saw it a bit closer up. At a certain point the story devolves into a set piece action sequence full of chaos and horror. One character whose only sin so far in the film was begin a bit self-absorbed and losing track of the kids left in her care is murdered brutally. Now this personal assistant is an up and coming 20 something who takes a call and doesn't notice the two boys in her care sneaking off. While I'm sure some parents feel resentment against any one losing their kids, this was not someone who was likely to be a good babysitter. So the film decides she should be swooped up by a flying lizard tossed between two of them each catching her in there beaks with a solid bite. And if this playing with their food routine is not enough to dehumanize her we then have her devoured alive by a giant sea monster. This kind of disgusting murder porn is usually reserved for the main villain after we have seen them commit acts of unspeakable malice. Not a two line extra thats is killed for what? As a warning to all other babysitters to watch my kids? And the most obvious villain of the movie? They get a classic hollywood death as in it mostly happens off camera.
These thoughts gelled together when watching Tommorowland. For a heart felt film focusing on the hopes of science and advancement, it didn't really show much regard to it's villian. He is not a great human being, but he is not all that directly involved with the mayhem happening. Robots he sent along tend to be the murderous ones. Even holding that in mind he had relatable point of view the he just made the wrong conclusion about. And even after the error of his ways begins to dawn he is killed summarily for being the bad guy. It just struck me wrong for tone. In the majority of films lately the villain bites it. These feels especially out of place for super hero movies. Comics have been havens for disappearances, robot doppelgängers, clones, and other ways to write the end with a question mark. Villains rarely die forever because people love to hate them. You want to see how they slipped the noose and return to terrorize the heroes. But in the films going back to Spider-Man in 2002, the villain dies. They are killed off mostly to make way for the next tent pole villain in the franchise. But often it feels more like directors and creative teams licking their left over food so no one else can eat it.
Which draws me back to Star Trek Beyond. For a film that captures the magic of the orignal series' chemistry and camaraderie, it fails to make a villain we can empathize with. And the majority of the crew die without remorse. Sure there are sad faces and throw away lines about the loss. But even the nameless red shirts usually got a name or heartfelt remorse from Shatner's Kirk. Too many die for us to relate to the murdered. After all they aren't us, they are the nameless others we can't relate to. And in a series so dedicated to the ideals of peace, inclusiveness, and hope, I feel the devastation comes more from a place of can we do it rather then asking if we should do it.
That said it was a fun film and you may not have the sensitivity I did to it. I'd just like to see some films come back down to scale. I don't believe San Fransisco, or London, or Washington needs to blow up before I feel anything.
Mac Updates His Blog on Monday, Mondays, or MUHBOMM is a weekly column highlighting one man’s view of the universe. Mac Purvis III, is a self described purveyor of amazing things and dabbles in many different mediums of expression.