When we talk about cities that major catastrophes always seem to gravitate toward, it’s New York, right? New York City, entertainment’s favorite home to heap destruction onto. The Big Apple (thought no one really calls it that) can rarely go a year at the box office without someone laying into it and tearing up enough streets to wreck the traffic pattern for a century, from The Avengers to The Day After Tomorrow to Watchmen to Planet of the Apes‘s iconic ending. Other cities have fallen prey to this practice too, of course: London’s not looking too great in Reign of Fire; Tokyo saw the events of Akira unfold and is always dealing with that pesky Godzilla problem; a T. rex stomped through L.A. in The Lost World; Washington D.C. has suffered its fair share of trauma from Olympus Has Fallen to Captain America: Winter Solider. But there’s another city that has been quietly attempting to tie New York’s record, through no fault of its own—
—what exactly do we have against Venice, Italy?
Some media simply features a quaint boat chase through the canals, a la The Italian Job, but that’s really just the starting point on a map when you try to catalogue the sheer volume of damage done to Venice by fictional heroes and villains alike. Sure, the city is very old and also sinking into the sea, and maybe we’re all trying to process how we feel about that with every gondola-ride-gone-wrong, but can’t we just leave poor Venizia alone? Having done a cursory headcount of the destruction inflicted, the answer would seem to be no.
Here’s a running count of general obliteration so far…
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Indy starts by breaking the floor at the church of San Barnaba, just to get to the catacombs below. (In reality, no such passages exist, but they definitely do in this Venice.) After burning said catacombs to a crisp by lighting the petroleum running under the church, he eventually gets into a boat chase with his treacherous buddy Elsa. While the Brothers of the Cruciform Sword care a lot about the protection of the Holy Grail, they don’t seem bothered at all by the infernos, explosions, and death they leave in their wake on the streets and waterways of Venice. That’s what you get for letting Indy in the country in the first place, I suppose.
The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers
Powers’s book is kind of like an even darker version of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (though the book came first, of course). In the early 19th century, a doctor named Michael Crawford makes the mistake of putting his wedding ring on a statue, binding him to a vampire-like creature called a nephilim, who then decides to kill his actual wife to have him all to herself. In order to get away from her, Crawford makes friends with some of the Romantic poets—Keats, Byron, Shelley, plus Mary Shelley and her step-sister Claire Clarmont—because that’s obviously the only logical thing to do when being chased by otherworldly powers. This leads them to all the nephilim activity going on in—you guessed it—Venice, where they proceed to have a battle for reality and free will against these magical beings. It’s supposed to be a metaphor for the Romance poets speaking against tyranny—specifically the historical Hapsburg occupation of Venice at the time—but it still leads to this poor fictional Venice going through the wringer.
This soft reset of the franchise didn’t just drop James Bond into Venice and have him take a quick sprint through Piazza San Marco (though he did do that)—they decided to mock up a model of an old palazzo “under renovations” for the sole purpose of sinking it into the sea once Bond wanders by. Okay, he doesn’t wander by, he follows a guy who captures Vesper, the woman he’s in-love-with-but-mad-at-right-now because he thinks she played him, and it’s all very complicated up until the point that Vesper dies, by drowning along with the building. Because in Venice, the city of romance, James Bond’s loss could only be communicated by METAPHORS… and also death, since there’s no guarantee the metaphor would have been received by an audience who isn’t used to James Bond having feelings other than irony and ennui. Poor palazzo.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Of course Jonathan Strange leaves England after he thinks his wife is dead. It makes sense to give oneself a fresh start, to try living somewhere that doesn’t remind you of the dearly departed. Of course he decides to go to Venice. What a lovely place to begin again and make new friends! And of course while he’s there is continues to practice dangerous magic in his search for the Raven King and, you know, gets himself cursed and trapped within a vortex of Eternal Night. So now there’s just a hurricane of darkness hanging around the city. That’s probably great for tourism.
Doctor Who, “The Vampires of Venice”
There aren’t any actual vampires in Venice during the Doctor’s jaunt to 1580 with the Ponds, just aliens who have a lot of the hallmarks of vampirism. Like the not showing up in mirrors and the sharp teeth and the cadre of creepy-yet-beautiful women. Signora Rosanna Calvierri turns out to be a Saturnyne who is converting women into suitable mates for the males of her species so they can repopulate on Earth. In order to do so, she activates a piece of alien tech that causes earthquakes and threatens to sink the whole of Venice to the bottom of the sea. She almost succeeds, too, so who knows what sort of collateral damage resulted from that particular alien plot.
Tomb Raider 2
This is more of a “it’s on you” scenario, since you’re the one making Lara Croft’s choices when you play Tomb Raider 2, but the game does take our heroine to a strangely deserted version of Venice to confront Mafia leader Marco Bartoli. If you personally have it out for Venice, then maybe you’ll get an extra thrill as Lara drives a speedboat through one of the city’s fancy bridges as she makes her escape—or as she uses another speedboat to blow up a gate blocking her path. Just please don’t let everything flood, Lara. You’re better than this.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Peter. Peter. You were supposed stay in New York, local boy. You are the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Bean. This is not the neighborhood, this is abroad, but all these trailers show you causing trouble in Venice, and I guess you just felt left out since all the other Avengers have brought catastrophe to varying parts of the globe while working solo. So you’re pitching in. By watching chunks of Venice plunge into its various canals.
Peter, I had such high hopes for you.