Special Effects Fatigue: When I know there must be a reason why that monster is punching that other monster, but I just don’t care anymore

I went and saw Batman vs. Superman the other day. Altogether, not as bad as I’d feared. But still not that great. And here’s the problem.

I’ve been noticing a peculiar thing lately, while watching summer blockbuster popcorn type movies. So often, I just stop caring. At the climax of the movie, the part that’s supposed to be the most exciting, I just go numb. My eyes glaze. I just want it to be over so I can check my email.

Too much punch.

And it’s not because there’s not enough action, it’s because there’s too much action. The most recent Godzilla movie was a particularly egregious example. The special effects were top notch. The cast was great. The production design was perfect. It all felt really…real. The feel of the originals with modern production values. But it was just too much. The first time the bad monster thing punched Godzilla through a building, it was super awesome. And the second time. And the third time.

Then it happened again and again and again, neither Godzilla nor the other monster suffering any visible damage. I had zero emotional connection to either giant monster. It got boring. This epic battle had all the dramatic tension of a six year-old banging two action figures together. By the end, I was just amazed that they could find any more buildings to smash each other through.

Same thing with BvS. Affleck was great. Henry Cavill was great. Everyone was great. The production design was perfect. Everything that went wrong, went wrong behind the camera and in the editing room.

Too many smashing.

I mean, think about it. When you can use millions of dollars worth of top-notch special effects to make a photorealistic Godzilla smash a giant bug-thing through a photorealistic skyscraper, and make people not give a shit that it just happened, something is very wrong.

And it seems to be happening more and more. I can remember feeling this way back during the Matrix and its sequels, watching Neo and Agent Smith take turns punching each other for 45 minutes. Batman vs. Superman was another offender. I felt like I was watching a .gif repeating.

I took a martial arts class a long time ago, and I remember the instructor saying that if you hit in the same place too many times, it would just go numb and your strikes wouldn’t really have any more effect. This is kind of how I feel in modern monster movies. Like I’m just getting punched in the face for 45 minutes. All the damage you can do has been done, and now I’m just thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner.

I think it all comes down to pacing. Scary movies are good at this. The tension. The slow, gradual buildup. Then a little faster. Faster still. Faster. Climax! Then they dial it down a little, let your nervous system JUMP SCARE! recover. Then it calms down again, for a while. If you really pay attention to it, the pattern gets a little repetitive. But it works, because the filmmakers understand that they’re playing a psychological game with you. They take their time building the tension and they hold a little something back, which makes it all that much more satisfying when you finally get it.

Far be it from me to make a sexual comparison, but…well, you gotta work up to it. Most of the time. I mean, I guess sometimes it works. Fury Road was like the movie equivalent of a lust-crazed quickie in the supply closet at work. But the operative word there is quick. Keep that up too long and there are cramps, chafing, co-workers start to wonder where you are… I digress.

Anyway, Fury Road came on fast and hard, but it still had great pacing and emotional content that made you care about what was happening on the screen. Not so Batman vs. Superman. When two (or more) invincible things take turns punching each other across the city for fifteen minutes straight, past a certain point…well, perhaps the director is engaging in another kind of sexual act. The kind you can do all by yourself.