Some interesting news this week about the impending production of Man of Steel 2, or what has become known on the internet as Superman vs. Batman. While rumor had it that the production would film in Vancouver, producers have changed course and decided to bring their millions of dollars to Detroit instead. The ostensible reason was financial: according to a press release, the production was “awarded an incentive of $35 million on $131 million of projected in-state expenditures.” In other words, they are bringing $131 million in revenue to the state, while providing hundreds of jobs, so the city is giving them back $35 million of it.
This is standard practice for Hollywood productions. Many cities, including New York and Vancouver, offer similar deals. But it begs the question: if Vancouver was offering similar money, why did they move elsewhere? What tipped the scales in favor of Detroit? Maybe they thought it was just wrong to make a Superman movie in Canada. Or maybe not. Director Zack Snyder offers his take:
“Detroit is a great example of a quintessential American city, and I know it will make the perfect backdrop for our movie.”
Well, now we’re getting somewhere. If you consider Detroit a quintessential American city at this moment in time, you must see America as a broken place. The city is in a state of economic disrepair. The current unemployment rate there is over 18%, a full 10 points above the national average. 60 percent of its children live in poverty. And, oh yes, the city itself just filed for bankrupty.
So what is it that Snyder sees in Detroit? Maybe it has something to do with the ending of Man of Steel. If you’ll recall, critics and fans howled over the climactic fight scene in that film. They claimed that it went on too long and that it was boring to see two essentially invincible beings duke it out. But some also took issue with the massive level of destruction, and the filmmaker’s apparent indifference to human suffering. As Superman and General Zod fight, they seemingly destroy half of Metropolis. Buildings fall, and thousands of nameless, faceless individuals die. The film makes no comment, and no one grieves for the loss of life. Instead, we are asked to feel bad that Superman has to kill somebody. Because he really hates that.
But if Snyder is looking to Detroit to place the role of a decimated Metropolis, then maybe he plans to address the fictional city’s destruction in a more meaningful way. It is clear that the city won’t be rebuilt in this new film and that the mass destruction in Man of Steel will play at least some role in the sequel. If it were otherwise, they wouldn’t use Detroit. Kudos to Snyder for lingering on that destruction and addressing the affects of it, instead of brushing it under the rug and continuing our mass desensitization to human suffering.
When we talk about the destruction of Metropolis, usually what we are really talking about is 9/11. Most critics identify the escalation of movie violence in summer movies as a way of reflecting our post-9/11 trauma, but I wonder if, in time, we will see it as a metaphor for our crumbled economy. Bringing Detroit into the mix certainly suggests that connection. Still, the better question is: what does it say about our nation that one of our actual cities makes a perfectly acceptable stand-in for a movie city that has been destroyed so thoroughly by an alien battle? Will Superman vs. Batman draw attention to the problems in Detroit? Will it force a willfully ignorant nation to deal with it? And how will we rebuild it? Hopefully, either Batman or Superman will provide a few answers.