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2012 was supposed to be the year the world ended, but you wouldn’t have thought so judging by some of the cinematic offerings this year. Call it an apocalyptic hangover or a mass cultural death wish, but 2013 brought out more than the usual amount of movies concerned with the end of the world — there were even two comedies explicitly about that very subject (not to mention two separate movies about life after apocalyptic scenarios in After Earth and Oblivion).
Bearing that in mind, here are the five best apocalypses from this year’s movies, offered with a slight hope that, come 2014, we’ll have moved on to other subj — oh, what’s that? Godzilla destroying America and time-traveling X-Men messing with the very fabric of reality? OK, maybe not then. For now, just be glad that this is all we had to deal with over the last 12 months.
The World’s End: If there was a movie with a title that offered quite so many readings this summer, you’ll have to point it out to me (it’s not Men in Black 3, is it? I’m pretty sure there’s only one level for that one). Personal worlds collided in Edgar Wright‘s wonderful comedy/action/disaster/science-fiction movie, and multiple world(view)s ended as a result — and then (spoiler alert), they just went and pushed the world back centuries in terms of technological advancement, just to add another end-of-the-world scenario in there. Was there a literal oh-no-Earth-is-destroyed scenario on display anywhere in the movie? Well, no. But given how many other ways in which the title rang true, did there need to be?
This Is The End: Now, this is arguably more like it. Unlike The World’s End, the equally comedic This Is The End didn’t mess around with any science fiction nonsense — it’s “just” the Biblical rapture, instead. And to the movie’s credit, it entirely follows through with the idea and ends the world as we know it. There’s no last-minute save, or even a “but then, everything continues as it did before, only different” coda a la The World’s End: The lead characters die, and that’s the end. If nothing else, you’d have to give them credit for that if not for the fact that we’d all be dead too in that scenario. Ah well, as the saying goes: you win some, you get raptured and stop paying attention to that kind of thing altogether.
Thor: The Dark World: It was far more than the end of the world as we knew it in this year’s second Marvel movie. Instead, it was the end of the universe itself, as part of a scheme by dark elf — nope, still sounds more ridiculous than scary, even now — Malekith. How this plan was supposed to work out (wouldn’t the destruction of the entire universe also destroy Malekith? I mean, it’s a universe we’re talking about here.) remained unclear, but ultimately any problems with the mechanics were moot, thanks to Thor and his Amazing Friends taking care of business. Of course, now that this trouble has been dealt with, you have to wonder how Avengers: Age of Ultron is going to be able to raise the stakes in 2015 …
Man of Steel: Depending on how you look at it, the cinematic revival of Superman was either a low-scale saturnalia of destruction — only Metropolis and Smallville were really impacted by the invasion from the Phantom Zone — or one of the most apocalyptic movies of the year, because lest we forget, the movie starts with the destruction of Krypton (Well, after some Russell Crowe beardy heroics, of course). Normally, such apocalyptic scales tend to be balanced on how affected “we” have been by everything that’s happened, but, seriously everyone: This is a movie that destroyed a planet and a bit, just to bring us the greatest superhero of them all — who might have murdered his major nemesis right at the end because he didn’t think, “Hey, maybe I could just knock him out instead.” As Laurie Anderson once put it: Oh, Superman.
Ender’s Game: Much like Man of Steel, this is a movie in which the biggest apocalypse isn’t for the humans, but for the other guys — while the Formics may have attacked the Earth and done untold (or, perhaps, “pretty much glossed over” would be more appropriate) damage, they ended up getting their entire planet blown up in response, thanks to the overachieving Ender Wiggin. For many, Ender’s Game is a story about prejudice and the overcoming thereof. On a far more basic level — and in light of the various other movies offered this year — let’s just consider it a story that reminds us that interplanetary genocide is bad, and apocalyptic scenarios are more than just massive special effect excuses. Well, until next summer requires even more impressive visual effect sequences, of course.
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