By Kevin Rogers
If you want to make a film to thrill throngs of nerds, dazzling them with epic battles of good versus evil, you’ll need a lot of firepower. For some directors, this involves access to military hardware, extras and consultation.
Some directors of battle-heavy science fiction blockbusters have successfully solicited some form of aid from the Defense Department to bring the director’s vision the big screen.
The Pentagon’s Film Liaison Office is the body that passes out the big guns directors so desperately crave. The body has a simple rule; the military needs to look good. And even if a film has some (or mostly) fantastical elements, the Pentagon can give it the go-ahead.
But what causes the Pentagon to back the Transformers series and reject The Avengers?
Why back blockbusters?
The Pentagon’s motivation for backing blockbusters is simple. It grants the military a large audience to showcase battlefield technology and grants the opportunity to showcase members of the military in otherworldly, heroic situations.
It’s a logical recruiting and propaganda move. If the Pentagon picks the right blockbuster, it can guarantee millions of viewers see the military fighting to save earth.
Alien Robots? Works for us.
The military had a bit more success in supporting Michael Bay’s high-grossing, yet critically abhorred Transformers series. Based on the popular cartoon and action figures, the giant-robot action series features the military fighting with the noble Autobots against the tyrannical Decepticons.
Despite a history of derided films, Bay successfully courted the Defense Department, obtaining military hardware and extras to create sweeping robot-versus-robot smack downs. Bay calls himself a “world-class ass kisser” when it comes to winning military support.
Transformers hit one snag. The office expressed concerns that two of the films’ robotic villains took the forms of U.S. military vehicles. The office came around and made the argument that the tyrannical robot warlords would want the best military weaponry available.
The Avengers conundrum
Like Transformers and Battleship, the film features alien invaders. But the office declared the film too unrealistic to offer support beyond a few shots of military Humvees. Avengers director Joss Whedon had to look to computer graphics to get his military hardware.
The office didn’t take fault with the Norse gods Thor and Loki or the raging green Hulk. It took fault with S.H.I.E.L.D., the global espionage and peace-keeping group that brings the film’s superhero squad together.The Pentagon simply couldn’t determine its place in this new order. Did they answer to S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Of course, the unrealistic argument is a bit silly given the Pentagon’s support for Transformers and Battleship. However, it can also be noted that the military doesn’t play much of a role in The Avengers compared with the other alien-warfare films. Spare a few police officers and National Guardsmen, the Avengers take down the invaders themselves.
Better luck next time?
Given The Avengers’ success, the Pentagon should hop back on the bandwagon and back superheroes for The Avengers 2 in 2015. A $1.5 billion box office is too big a recruiting move to ignore, even if it means navigating the bureaucracy of S.H.I.E.L.D.