Somewhere else in super hero films. Because the world is not America.
Batman vs Superman, is a battle between Metropolis and Gotham. It’s like a haughty hipster New York vs a brooding, damaged Jersey, kinda. Until the main characters realise they’re on the same side, it’s like Great Gatsby, but with capes and more money.
But the real somewhere else in BvsS was the hot and dusty ‘Nairomi.’ I laughed out loud at that. It was meant to evoke ‘Nairobi’, but it highlighted ‘stupid’. It took me out of the film and for those minutes we were there I couldn’t take it seriously. That and the ‘Desert Bat’ sequence left me thinking the writers just put ‘insert tropy African/Middle Eastern war zone’ on the script and left it at that. I don’t even remember the ‘local bad guy.’
The other ‘Other’ place in Dawn of Justice, was Mexico where Super Man is all wind-blown and heroic and worshipped with supplicants holding up their hands. So. Bad. It felt like stock footage of missionaries taking their religiosity to whoever they assumed the poor, uneducated masses were. Messianic, colonialist even, definitely condescending and no.
I imagine Super Man rocking up somewhere in ‘Outback’ Australia. He lands, one knee bent, head bowed, in a whirl of dust and noise. A picture of nobility, until the flies gather around and he waves them way. A dog raises its head from the shade of a spindly shrub, before it settles, bored. In the front bar of the local pub, a FIFO miner on a sickie and some older locals turn from their lemon, lime and bitters, so cool the condensation beads on their schooners, before they get back to the last day of a test cricket match with shrugs. The bar staff languidly washing glasses – just another tourist completely lacking in appropriate clothing and supplies for the region. Out the window they can see he doesn’t even have a hat and it’s midday, and too hot and bright for super-hero-dom.
But I digress.
In ‘stark’ contrast we have Captain America: Civil War where places become central to the plot, not just backdrops. Wakanda is a more acceptable location than Nairomi. This is because firstly, it’s not just scenery, as we meet characters from there who become central to resolving the plot, and part of the long, long back story for Steve Rogers and the Starks. Black Panther has an arc and a mission and a home that are significant, purposeful and even relatable. His goals, his home and story are all interrelated, as they should be, and for an introduction his story was satisfying, even if a lil obvious. I was worried, though. Introducing new characters can either work, or can be given short shrift with little back story and no arc, like say, Wonder Woman in BvsS.
The other place is Siberia, because this is a sequel to the Winter Soldier and stuff needs resolving. And it works. While the extended cold war is over, each of the avengers recognises its legacies are not.
As in almost all of the Iron Man films and also the Avengers, Stark’s military industrial complex legacy comes back to bite him once more in Civil War, this time, through events based in Sarkovia and also Wakanda. Again, place functions as an emotional driver of the plot for the central villain and the likes of Wanda and Black Panther too.
In the first Iron Man film the other location is Afghanistan. It’s more in the spirit of a realist action military story but it’s more crucial to the plot than ‘Nairomi’ is for BvsS. Afghanistan is where Tony Stark sees the results of his actions and it’s also the locale of his physical transformation and inspiration to work for peace.
The advice is, where ever you put your characters, make the place meaningful for them as well as central to the plot. Otherwise you too may end up in Nairomi.