May 25, 2010
How to survive a summer blockbuster
Summer is here and with it comes sun and laughter, unless you have that rare sun allergy and you’re kind of depressed about it. But also movies! Summer is traditionally the time for the biggest, eventiest event movies the studios can partner with Wall Street to make.
They just happen to take place in worlds where human life has very, very little value. The civilian death toll in Man of Steel was calculated by actual scientists to be between 130,000 and 380,000 civilians (and the cook from Wet, Hot, American Summer).
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How do you live through these carnal nightmares? Here are a few tips:
1. Be Essential to the Plot.
Dinosaurs eat people. They just love eating people. It’s like their favorite thing to do. The second you lose control of one, somebody gets eaten. In Jurassic World, they ate an entire amusement park. Your odds of surviving even one encounter with these guys are very small.
Your best bet here is to be essential to the plot. The more the plot is about you personally learning something about yourself, the better chance you have. Of the top ten highest billed characters in Jurassic Park, eight of them survive. And it’s the same 80% in Jurassic World.
Your only other choice is to be somewhere that dinosaurs aren’t. But, really, what’s the fun in that?
2. Be Absolutely Inconsequential to the Plot.
Hey, you know who dies in Hamlet? Hamlet’s father, Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, Laertes, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Yorick (who had the good sense to decompose before anyone could kill him).
And it’s not just Shakespeare. Every main character dies in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Easy Rider, The Grey, Sunshine, The Perfect Storm, and Cloverfield. Almost everybody dies in The Thing and nobody except the cast of A New Hope makes it through Rogue One.
The only way to live through any of this is to have nothing to do with it whatsoever. When the call to action comes, refuse it and refuse it hard. Let somebody else go reignite the sun or fish or ride around on motorcycles.
If you absolutely have to, limit your interactions to menial jobs done by people without names. Anybody remember Osric? Of course not, because he gave Hamlet a message and got out of the play. Remember Sam Elliot in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? You don’t? That’s because he just wanted to play cards and stay out of Redford’s eyeline.
3. The Special Cases of Superman and Batman.
Superman and Batman are both special cases because they’ve been all over the place, violence-wise. Superman started in the comics being pretty blase about killing people, or Kryptonians at least. Then there were the Richard Donner movies where he adopted a different code of ethics. And now we have the DC Cinematic Universe, where Superman will cause as much damage as he wants and screw you if you happen to live in New York or Metropolis or Smallville or Washington or anywhere else he decides to be.
And it doesn’t matter who you are: hero, villain, Jimmy damn Olsen, Zod, or Zod 2.0—If you’re in the new DC Cinematic Universe, you’re going to die. And Batman will get around to murdering you, just at a slower pace than Supes.
But let’s not let Zack Snyder ruin our day. If you’re in a Richard Donner Superman movie, or Smallville, or Lois & Clark, you have nothing to fear. Superman can’t kill you. He can’t even kill you by accident. You’re more likely to die of a heart attack while working on your farm. If General Zod throws your bus over Niagara Falls, you won’t get a scratch on you.
Batman (the good ones, Keaton and Bale) lives by a different set of morals that he basically makes up on the fly. He won’t use handheld guns (or let Anne Hathaway have one), but he’ll mount them on every vehicle he can find (and let Anne Hathaway drive them).
Still, you’re pretty safe in a Batman movie so long as it’s not in the DCCU. Batman can’t kill you; not even by accident. He can, however, let you die by your own hand. And even then, you have to be actively fighting him. Christopher Nolan’s Joker even gets to live.
How is this guy not still working?
4. Just Fucking Lie Down.
Confronted by an amnesiac assassin again this week? Hey, who among us hasn’t been? Jason Bourne can…
…tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking.
But Jason Bourne has a weakness, a huge you-get-to-live shaped weakness. He can only hurt you if you try to hurt him. Watch the absolute havoc he causes at the US embassy without a single non-security person getting so much as a paper cut.
Heck, when he’s running up the stairs, he politely stands aside so some staff can get by him.
There are a lot of action heroes who can only harm those who try to kill them. John McClane only kills bad guys. Every version of Captain Kirk really has to be pushed pretty far before he’ll kill anybody for anything. Katniss Everdeen kills a total of four people in two movies, all of whom were hunger gaming her as hard as they could.
Your best chance in these situations is to just fucking lie down. Be a threat to nobody. Take a nap while you’re down there. Sweet dreams. You’ll be fine.
4a. Also, Don’t Be on the Titanic.
Frankly, if you’re on the Titanic, this advice isn’t going to help you much. Being essential to the plot won’t save you. Being completely unnecessary to the plot won’t make a difference. Superman is not going to save you, whether he can travel through time or not. Captain Kirk can travel through time but he wouldn’t even keep Joan Collins from being hit by a car (on an otherwise deserted street). Batman won’t show up for another 24 years. I’d urge you to just fucking lie down but that won’t help your situation in the least.
The fact is that you’re looking at a 68% chance of freeze-drowning. If you’re a third-class male passenger, that goes up to 90%. Even the first class females lost 1 out of every 10.
Just don’t be on that boat.
5. Be in China, Maybe?
The real question regarding summer movies is how to survive the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not an easy question to answer. Certainly, Captain America will work to keep you alive (if you’re not a Nazi). Black Widow and Maria Hill will also try to spare as many people as they can.
But these guys run with a less-than-stable crowd. Stark is usually drunk and flies into buildings a whole lot. The Hulk honestly doesn’t care who or what he’s destroying. And Thor seems to be less than fully aware that humans aren’t as resilient as he is. Even being an Avenger isn’t a guarantee to surviving the Avengers: Quicksilver eats it.
Falcon gets his ass handed to him by Paul Rudd, of all people. And Coulson ends up in Tahiti (it’s a magical place).
The death toll in New York City is lower than Superman’s, but it’s still higher than zero. A town out in the middle of the desert isn’t safe from Thor and Loki. Doctor Strange doesn’t take it easy on Nepal or Hong Kong. Hulk makes Rio a bit of a mess before turning from Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo. Sokovia, somewhere in Eastern Europe, gets dropped on itself. Lagos, Nigeria isn’t safe from the Avengers accidentally blowing up a building. England gets hit in Thor: The Dark World. Washington D.C. gets a little messed up in Winter Soldier. Germany never gets off easy, either when Steve Rogers lights it up during WWII or when Rogers and Stark hold a contest to see who can destroy more of Leipzig Airport.
Leaving Earth isn’t really an option here. Outer space just seems very dangerous. Whole planets are wiping each other out. I just saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and the raccoon alone kills just everybody he meets. There’s also the immense property damage caused when all of the galaxy’s property gets damaged. I enjoy it when they paint Zoe Saldana as much as the next guy, but none of it looks at all safe.
So where in the MCU can you find any peace at all? So far, central China is your best bet. As Chinese market share grows, there will be more scenes set in China. But with any luck, they’ll be on the Pacific Rim, like in that movie Pacific Rim.
Settle somewhere towards the middle, like Shaoyang in the Hunan Province. It’s a huge city of seven million, but so far no superhero has rained pure death upon it.
Stay in China. Eat Chinese food. Climb what looks to a very frightening path up the side of a mountain. And live! Live the life you were always meant to!
Or just fucking lie down.