Now, I have to admit that this one has a pretty good excuse, compared to other Save My Baby Ladies in her weight class.
Your typical Save My Baby Lady has left her infant unattended in a flammable apartment building playing with a pile of oily rags while she goes out to the pachinko parlor, and she comes home just in time to realize that she’s going to need a superhero, tout suite. “Save my baby!” she cries, and all of a sudden it’s everybody else’s problem, as seen in Backdraft, Spider-Man and Hero at Large.
In this instance, the Save My Baby Lady has made the simple mistake of going out shopping with her baby, while three sky tyrants beat the hell out of a guy in aerial warfare directly overhead. One of them just got knocked into the Empire State Building, and the radio antenna snapped clean off, now plunging in the direction of down towards this formerly carefree consumer.
Everybody else has the good sense to scuttle for shelter, but Save My Baby Ladies have a strict stand-your-ground policy. “Oh, my god!” she screams. “My baby!” And then she tries to cover it with her body, which is sweet but not a lot of help.
I mean, I don’t want to blame the victim, although to be honest, they are trending super blameable right now.
Because these are superhero movie New Yorkers, who are notoriously chill about their own safety while standing on the fringes of action sequences.
For example, in the climactic street battle in the first Fantastic Four movie, the Thing throws a car, and the car hits a bus, and the bus hits a power line, which is snapping and sparking everywhere, and the people of New York go, whoa! and they back up maybe half a step. Superhero movie New Yorkers are for real.
So that’s why these clowns are standing around goggling at the pretty lights in the sky, as the world falls to pieces around them. They’ve been living for at least a few days under the tyrannical rule of a team of lunatic alien sadists, who have demanded — hang on, let me check the list — their lands, their possessions and their very lives to be given gladly in tribute to General Zod.
Apparently word hasn’t reached the citizens of Metropolis, who seem to be holding on to their possessions, and are currently in the process of obtaining more of them. I don’t know how many monuments you need to demolish to get these people to stop shopping and take cover, but they have not yet grokked the seriousness of their situation.
So as the übermenschen tussle overhead, we see vast crowds of well-wishers taking to the streets, reacting to the battle like it’s a boxing match at Metropolis Square Garden, as opposed to a humanitarian crisis with themselves in the starring roles.
We even see the taxi driver from the beginning of the movie who crashed his car into the immovable Clark Kent, looking up through a shower of rubble and saying, “Man, this is gonna be good!” These people are out of their minds. How many taxis does this guy need to destroy before he figures out there are healthier places to work?
But I have to admit, they keep up a delightful stream of outfield chatter. A lot of it is generalized crowd rhubarb, but every once in a while you get a stray “Come on, Superman!” or “Look out!” or “Get her!” which must be good for Superman’s morale.
Of course, once the monsters start making cars explode, things get a little more hectic at ground level. I assume at this point that life for that taxi driver has gone from “good” to “well done”. But there seem to be just as many gawkers and rubberneckers, well after the explosions should have chased them out of the area.
They go here, they go there, they flit from spot to spot, they redistribute themselves across the streetscape. It’s a fun party game, if you’re interested in apocalyptic party games, to look for shots like this one, where people are running in opposite directions. It’s possible that the Battle for West 34th Street is just an opportunity for aerobic exercise for these kamikaze health enthusiasts.
I mean, this shot is 87 seconds after the first car exploded on this block, and look at everybody, still clogging up the intersection. Firefighters are here, ambulances have arrived, but the foot traffic is at pre-pandemic levels. I don’t know what they’re serving at Mike’s Bar, but people seem very reluctant to get more than a couple hundred yards away from it.
That’s how you know it’s the same block, by the way; you see the same signs in all of these shots. The most visible are the neon signs outside Mike’s Bar, Aristo’s and JVC Electronics, but you also see a lot of the Laugier Trust, and the window display at Fiorucci’s.
And it’s not just the shoppers who are committed to a vibrant economy. When Non gets hurled through a building, he crashes through a full office staffed with five people, well after nightfall. The lights are always on at Sterling Cooper, I guess. These people are so blasé about their personal safety that they continue to have meetings during a raging superhero battle royale, right outside. Who are you on the phone with, right now?
And in this shot outside the Laugier Trust — where just two screenshots ago, we saw firefighters hosing down a burning car — the cleaning woman in the middle is actually yawning.
I’m not going to document every act of urban bravery that we see in this sequence, but if you watch this scene and just pay attention to the bystanders, it will refresh your lagging appreciation of the human spirit. These people are incredible.
And that is what makes this a great scene. As I said yesterday, the fight itself is just indestructible people throwing each other into things, and getting up again. If they were doing these moves in an empty arena, it would be repetitive and dumb. It’s the bystander reactions that give this sequence real energy.
That’s why they arranged crowds of people to fill every shot, cheering and pointing and reacting to everything that happens. This isn’t the planet Mongo, where squadrons of faceless Hawkmen fill the alien sky above nowhere in particular. This is New York, with real people doing things that we recognize.
The bystanders are explicitly demonstrating for the audience how we’re supposed to react to the onscreen action. They scream, they cheer, they buzz with excitement and anxiety, and it gives the scene real stakes.
Yes, it’s silly that there’s a bus full of people just arriving at this intersection a full six minutes after the onset of hostilities, but what good is an empty bus, dramatically? These people were all somebody’s baby, once. Let’s line them up, and save them all.
You might have noticed
a little product placement…
If you’re wondering why the Laugier Trust is so prominent in the sequence, a blog post by art director Paul Laugier explains:
“We were heavily involved in drawing up the New York street set that would be one of the biggest ever constructed at Pinewood. I was working on a block that got quite a lot of exposure because a ‘Greyhound’ bus crashed into it during a ferocious windstorm and other draughtsmen were drawing up the other side of the street. When we stopped to eat our sandwiches one lunchtime, someone suggested an alternative way of getting a credit for our work. It is thus that, if you concentrate really hard during the big action scenes at the end, you will see a little sign on one of the buildings which reads ‘The Laugier Trust’. I had finally got my name on a film!”
You might have noticed
a little product placement…
— Danny Horn