-->

– by Joseph Jammer Medina

“Destruction porn.”

That phrase has been thrown around a lot in recent years. Ever since the latest wave of advanced CGI techniques hit Hollywood, directors from Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg, Zack Snyder, Jonathan Liebesman, Joss Whedon, and- the granddaddy of “DP”- Rolland Emmerich have used them to create sequences of mass destruction. While some of the films that have included these amped-up images of chaos have been adored and embraced by general audiences, others have been written off as empty, soulless messes. So what’s the difference? What differentiates a good movie with destruction porn from a crappy one?

Joss Whedon believes the answer lies within the humanity of the movie.

Are the characters interesting? Do the human stakes feel real? Does the violence serve the story being told? These kinds of questions make all the difference. 

In a chat with the Huffington Post, Whedon explores this topic. “People have made it very clear that they are fed up with movies where entire cities are destroyed, and then we celebrate,” he says. The Avengers director then acknowledges the tough balancing act that comes with trying to make a “big” movie that still resonates with audiences. “You’re in a constant state of being pulled both ways at all times. You’re trying to make a populist film with fascist iconography that is just bigger, and better, and longer, and trying to break that down and find a weakness and humanity,” says Whedon.

Him bringing up weakness calls to mind another important question: Do our heroes seem vulnerable? Whether it be physical, or emotional, do we have a reason to worry about the hero’s peril? That sort of issue is among one of the things that made The Matrix an instant classic, while it’s sequels were widely panned. Our protagonist, Neo (Keanu Reeves), was shown to be human, vulnerable, and relatable in the first film. He was our way into the story. We were able to step into his shoes and experience this crazy story together. In the sequels, he was a cold, kung fu mannequin that was never in any real danger, and didn’t convey any true depth of emotion. 

But where is Hollywood with all of this? While audiences have voiced their vocal displeasure with movies that depict mass destruction and have zero heart- just ask Michael Bay’s multitude of detractors- people are still throwing money at them. A film like Man of Steel, which divided critics, and left many fans numb from the way the leveling of Metropolis was handled, still made a ton of money. Meanwhile, a film like Avengers also featured plenty of violence, yet managed to be adored by audiences and critics alike, and went on to be one of the highest grossing films of all time. So it’s hard to say where we’re at as a film-going public. Are we still at the beginning of the destruction porn phase of Hollywood blockbusters? Are we nearing the end, and films that don’t have the right balance will start to tank? 

Whedon doesn’t know the answer to that, but all he can do- according to him- is focus on keeping the humanity in the films he makes. “People come in with a certain amount of emotional baggage,” he says, “So, whether we’re in our larvae stage or our decadent stage, I can’t really say, but I try to make my superhero movies as if there’s either never been one or there’s only ever been them,” he added. Whedon then concludes. “I work with the idea that it’s just a natural way for people to be, so that you still make a movie about people.” In essence, he’s saying that when it comes to the larger than life elements in these types of films, he just strives to make them a natural extension of the narrative, as opposed to “look how cool this looks!” bombasity. 

I can’t say I disagree with his approach. How about you?

Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.