Op-Ed: Did ‘Avengers’ Ruin The Superhero Film?

by Brett White

I’ll start this bad boy off with a massive SPOILER warning, as I’m going to be diving into “Man of Steel” and, yeah, “Marvel’s the Avengers” pretty heavily in this post. But everything before the jump will be spoiler-free, so feel free to stick around a little while longer. And spoiler avoiders, you should really bookmark Alex Zalben’s article at MTV Geek to read later before you dash away. It’s a great read after you’ve seen “Man of Steel,” and it touches on about a million points I whole-heartedly agree with.

So now, let’s jump into spoilers as I discuss the very eye-grabbing headline I saddled this op-ed piece with.

“Marvel’s the Avengers” is quite possibly my favorite movie of all time. I’ve yet to do the side-by-side comparison with “The Empire Strikes Back” to determine the real champ of my heart, but believe me, it’s up there. But after viewing every superhero film that’s come out after it, especially this summer’s crop so far, I’m starting to wonder if “Avengers” marked some sort of superhero film peak that no other movie will ever come close to topping. It proved that a superhero film could be emotionally real with fantastical elements, bring the pain as well as the laughter, and present a fairly airtight — albeit simple — plot that shows superheroes in the exact right way.

In my opinion (hence “op-ed”), the movie spoiled us, you guys. It ruined the superhero film by creating a film that no other can top. And if any one film should have come close, it should have been “Man of Steel.” It should have been the film starring the character that invented the superhero. The Avengers would not exist without Superman. In fact, so many of the Avengers capitalize on aspects of Kal-El. Captain America and Superman represent the inspirational and innate goodness of the human spirit; Hulk and Superman both embody unrestrained power and the struggle to use it for good; Thor and Superman are both outsiders who fiercely protect their adopted home after experiencing Earth’s kindness. “Man of Steel,” with all of that at its disposal, could have easily trumped Marvel’s team-up-stravaganza.

And it nearly did. Until the last 20ish minutes.

It’s almost as if the wrong lesson was taken away from “Avengers'” similarly climactic, and similarly destructive final sequence. The Avengers faced an invading alien army with a good chunk of New York City caught in the middle. It feels like “Man of Steel” saw the destruction and said, “Yeah, but if three times as many buildings are destroyed, the movie’ll be three times better!” And you know what, maybe that would be true if the other part of Marvel’s Manhattan melee was included in the Super finale.

Director Joss Whedon purposefully intercut scenes of terror, explosions and destruction with scenes of the Avengers saving innocent people. You know, like how superheroes do. You know, like the thing that Superman is almost exclusively known for. I’m admittedly new to the Superman game, but I learned from comics like “All-Star Superman,” “Superman: Birthright” and “Superman: Secret Identity” that Superman’s greatest threat is his own sense of duty. I used to write the character off because his incredible powerset meant that no villain could touch him; “Man of Steel” gets around this by squaring him off against actual Kryptionians. But those three comics showed me that where bad guys, even normal human ones, can actually touch Superman is if they put him to work. Because Superman doesn’t stop bad guys so much as he saves people. He doesn’t exert himself by punching bad guys, he exerts himself by catching every single person falling out of a crashing building. That’s what Superman is.

Thanks to Superman and his fight with General Zod, countless human beings died. Superman did not try to save a single bystander (which he really should have, considering that none of them knew how to run away from a very obvious path of destruction). He was never even tempted to. He kept pummeling Faora on a Smallville street, destroying every IHOP and small business in sight instead of taking her to one of the many neighboring giant farms. How many people were hurt? How many people’s livelihoods destroyed? How little did Superman care?

Compare that to “Avengers,” where we saw scenes like Hawkeye helping people evacuate from a wrecked bus, with the help of the bus driver. The bus driver was helping! Whedon took great care to show humans fleeing, running and helping. Everyone on screen was proactive!

“Avengers” even had a scene that out Superman’d everything in “Man of Steel”: Captain America saving the corralled humans from the Chitauri in a bank. Cap selflessly saves them from a disintegration bomb, knocking him outside and injuring him greatly. That level of heart and care made the sheer catastrophe around them palatable. There was none of that in “Man of Steel.”

You know what’s the real bummer here? When “Fast and the Furious 6″ unleashed a tank on a busy highway, Vin Diesel (that’s his character, right? “Chronicles of Vin Diesel”?) made it part of his team of criminals’ plan to get it away from bystanders. Are you kidding me? Vin Diesel did something Superman couldn’t do! That’s just wrong.

Alex Zalben unpacks the other big moment in “Man of Steel’s” finale expertly over at MTV Geek, and I’ll touch on it here as I show, again, how “Avengers” ruined hero movies for us. Yeah, the Avengers nuked an entire Chitauri warship, and we overlook that because they weren’t people like us (which is… problematic), but look at what they did to Loki compared to what Superman did to Zod.

Both Loki and Zod unleashed terrifying destruction on Earth and had devastating longterm plans for our planet. And both of them could claim kinship with a hero (Loki being Thor’s brother, Zod being the only other surviving Kryptonian). Yet the Avengers took the high road with Loki, even though they had him pinned and outnumbered. Even though he’s the god of mischief and it’s in his nature to constantly stir things up. They made him face justice. Superman snapped Zod’s neck.

Granted, the scene in question played up the dilemma well. It definitely affected Superman for the remainder of that scene. They convinced me that he had to do it, even if saving bystanders wasn’t his priority for a good portion of the preceding movie. But I seriously question that any Superman movie should even put the hero into that position to begin with, without having him come up with another way.

I wanted to see more superheroism in “Man of Steel.” The man created the genre, and he really should have showed the Avengers how it’s done. He didn’t, and now I’m wondering if any film will really hit the same heroic highs of “Marvel’s the Avengers.”

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of MTV Splash Page.