The Cost of Superheroes

The Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Warning: There are some spoilers in this, so proceed at your own risk!

It has been exactly one week since the Mysterious Mr. C and I saw The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and while I wouldn’t classify it as one of my favorite Marvel films (that’s still Captain America: The Winter Soldier), I haven’t been able to completely put it from my mind either. In particular, I keep thinking about all of the wanton destruction in the film and the sheer cost of cleaning up and rebuilding in a world of superheroes. 

If you ask C, he will tell you that I have long been interested in doing a study about what the real-world cost would be to repair a city – most often New York – in the wake of an attack such as the one in the first Avengers film. And apparently, I’m not the only one! In 2012, the Hollywood Reporter reached out to the Kinetic Analysis Corporation, one of the United States’ leading disaster-cost prediction and assessment firms, and they put the price tag at $160 billion dollars. But this was a single incident. The city that never sleeps is always being battered, as is Los Angeles (though that is usually by natural disaster) and a number of other internationally recognizable sites. As such, I would be curious to know what the damage assessment would be over the life of the storyline – e.g. all of the Avenger or Spider-Man movies.

Since watching Ultron, I have been intrigued by the number of reviewers who have argued that the way it depicts worldwide destruction is a direct counter to the climactic fight between Superman and (the evil villain) Zod in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Though I wholeheartedly agree with the folks who think that the final battle was completely over-the-top – Metropolis was pretty much leveled at the end – and that no real consideration was given for the civilians stuck in the midst of the fighting, I’m not sure Joss Whedon’s latest film got it entirely right either.

Man of Steel
Man of Steel

Yes, the Avengers spent a good amount of time trying to evacuate people from the town where Ultron was making his stand, but a significant amount of destruction that took place before that happened and I’m sure they weren’t able to rescue everyone. However, the only death that is really focused on is Quicksilver’s.

There was also the fight between Iron Man and the Hulk on “the African Coast” that ended up leveling a skyscraper under construction. Again, Whedon showed us helpless civilians running in terror from the Avengers fighting among them, but afterwards, all we saw was a guilt-ridden Bruce Banner (Hulk) and Maria Hill, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, urging the group to go into hiding until things died down a little bit. (Apparently the fight wasn’t so good for the Avengers’ image, but it didn’t seem to result in any real consequences.)

Though this was more than what we got from Snyder, it was still less than I was expecting from Whedon, who told Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan that: “We knew that we wanted to play with a lot of big, fun destruction, but at the same time, we wanted to say, ‘There’s a price for this.’” Yet I’m still not sure what this cost really was.

Personally, I think Esquire’s Nick Schager said it best when he wrote: “What these films all lack is a true human dimension – a sense of how mythic heroes and villains might impact the real world and its billions of inhabitants.” To be fair, these are fictional universes (and sometimes you just want to go see a big action blockbuster), but they have become such a large part of our popular culture, that screenwriters/directors shouldn’t be afraid to explore some of the weightier questions about what it means to be a superhero or what it’s like to live among them.

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