It's "Superman II." General Zod and his renegade Kryptonians have seemingly put Superman down for good. The Kryptonians are all powerful, but this doesn’t matter to the Metropolisians re New Yorkers caught on the streets of the DC Comics version of the Big Apple. They ain’t gonna' let this happen in their town.
They pick up broken pieces of debris, pipes, rolled-up newspapers—whatever they can find that resembles a cudgel, and they bum rush Zod, Ursa and Non. This attack is totally futile. All Zod and co. have to do is exhale their super breath and the substitute New Yorkers go flying back several blocks, yet this is the most inspiring scene in the film (and makes it even more dramatic when Superman shakes off several tons of rubble and a city bus to return to the fray).
So inspiring in fact that Sam Raimi gives us a similar scene in his first "Spider-Man" movie. Spider-Man is hanging by his web to the bottom of the Queensboro Bridge, using every last shred of his spider-strength to suspend Mary Jane Watson and a Roosevelt Island tram car filled with school kids over the East River until a barge can make its way to assist the superhero.
The Green Goblin, not about to let Spidey save both his lady love and a bunch of kids, swoops in on his jet-propelled glider for the kill. The Web Slinger is barely hanging on. He’s defenseless against even the slightest attack from the Goblin, but the New Yorkers again rise up against the Goblin despite his high-tech weaponry and mastery of flight. They ain't gonna' let this happen in their town.
"You mess with Spidey, you mess with New York," an African American man with dreads yells as he hurls garbage into Gobbie’s flight path.
"You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us," a pissed-off white guy with a Queens accent says before tagging the villain with more junk.
Cinematic New Yorkers have been giving monsters and villains the what-for ever since Bela Lugosi met a Brooklyn Gorilla, the Bowery Boys met the monsters and Bogie united a gang of Runyonesque characters against the Nazis in "All Through the Night" (1942). And Uppity New Yorkers are an intrinsic part of the Marvel Universe as well with the Yancy Street Gang throwing banana peels at the Thing from the Fantastic Four on a regular basis—and he's one of the good guys!
But as cool as it was to see Thor battle the Hulk on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hellicarrier (!) or Cap taking command and deploying Hawkeye and the Black Widow against Loki’s space army in "The Avengers," I kept waiting for New Yorkers to pitch in during the climax of Joss Whedon’s new superhero record breaker. Admittedly, I may have even jumped on Whedon a bit (at least to my meager Twitter following) if he had done something so predictable and derivative, but that didn’t stop me from missing this scene when I didn’t get it.
Instead of giving the bum’s rush to super-powered beings, the New Yorkers in "The Avengers" huddle fearfully in their high-rise office buildings as creative destruction descends upon Wall Street from a rift in the time-space continuum. Earlier in the film, we do get one old German man defying Loki's Zod-like orders to kneel before him, but his act doesn't rally his fellow Europeans, who remain bowed with fear like the Manhattanites of the movie's conclusion.
There are all kinds of potential reasons why Whedon didn't include defiant citizens tossing dirt clods at Loki even though his blockbuster cries out for it, but I can’t help but wonder if the sight of disgruntled mobs rising up against a demigod wouldn’t make overpaid Disney execs and film industry financiers a little bit nervous with Occupy Wall Street and even the Tea Party going on. It’s also worth noting that both "Superman II" and "Spider-Man" are pre-911, while "The Avengers" isn’t. ("Spider-Man" was released in April 2002, but shooting wrapped in June 2001, with extensive post-911 editing taking place to remove all visuals of the World Trade Center.) And lastly, there’s always gentrification to think of. It's just more realistic to depict today’s Manhattan dwellers sitting back and waiting for Captain America to bail them out.
Inserted somewhere amongst all the senses-shattering cataclysms in "The Avengers," a skull-faced cosmic bad guy says that Earthlings "are unruly because they cannot be ruled."
But from watching the movie, I’m not so sure.
Bob Calhoun is the author of the punk wrestling memoir "Beer, Blood & Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling" (2008, ECW Press). He is currently working on a book on conventions and tradeshows. You can follow him on twitter at @bob_calhoun.