By: Haley Littleton
I just saw The Avengers.
I know, I know, I’m a little late… It has been out for awhile but with finals and the price of movie tickets nowadays, it made more sense to wait until a good paid for family outing. I don’t usually jump at the chance to see action movies; I get bored with mindless explosions. I need something in a movie to turn over in my mind. But The Avengers was both surprising and enthralling at the same time. (And incredible in IMAX 3D).
As my family and I stepped out of the theater, it was apparent at the gaping differences between our movie going focuses. My dad and brother walked out commenting about the awesome visual effects, hilarious scenes with the Hulk, and the size of Hawk’s arms. I however, hopped into the car commenting about how philosophically fascinating the movie was on the nature of power, some of the religious comments, and the tried and true good versus evil binary. Typical. But really, I appreciated The Avengers because it gave us roving intellectuals (aka: nerds) various concepts to chew on: the religiously leaning assertions of a “new world”, the concept of what power is, what freedom is, and the fancy scientific jargon of gamma rays and nuclear energy sources. Along with some giant explosions to keep the rest engaged.
Aside from a few scant religious comments (“Ever heard of the story of Jonah” “There’s one God and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that”) the film is naturally quiet about the topic of religion. But is it?
I’m not sure if Hollywood producers realize this but… Superhero movies naturally (stealthily) lend themselves to the Christian Worldview. How can they not? A story about a Savior stronger than we are, evil more terrible than we could ever imagine, bondage, hope, freedom, and restoration after the rubble… Sounds a lot like the story in that ancient book sitting on my nightstand.
I think sometimes in our obsession over “religion” that we forget that Christianity reaches its branches into much much more. Christianity nestles itself into philosophy. And philosophy is everywhere. I guess that means we can’t avoid some sort of Christian comment… Really though, you just can’t avoid truth. On accident, it slips its way through the cracks into everything, like Superhero movies for instance. Though these movies make no religious comments, they certainly reach their hands deep into the putty of philosophy by putting forth ideas about power, freedom, overcoming adversity, hope, rebuilding, good and evil. It’s unavoidable.
Specifically in the Avengers, one particular scene caught my eye. Loki had just taken the Iridium (along with a guy’s eye) from the gala in Germany and was cornering the civilians in the street, boxing them in and forcing them to kneel to him. He goes into this philosophically twisted speech about the nature of man and freedom, commenting that this is what humans were made for: to be subjugated. He argues that freedom is not in the human nature and humans long for someone to rule over them. One brave elderly man stands up to Loki and says “There are always people like you and they never last” and Captain America rushes in, once again, to safeguard “freedom.”
Now obviously this movie is communicating to a postmodern culture both cynical about patriotism but simultaneously obsessed with personal liberty. The intended comment is that man isn’t meant to be ruled over by one powerful man. Accidentally, though, the movie has stumbled into truth it didn’t realize. I couldn’t help but thinking that, actually, what Loki said is in some ways true. While yes, man was not made to become subjects of an evil dominating man, we were made to bow. Our natural inclination is to worship and to be ruled over. But we were also made to rule with God and for God. Hollywood may not understand, but one day every knee will indeed bow (whether they want to or not) to a good King who has given his people the inheritance of the kingdom.
One other interesting subtle truth can be found in the character arc of Captain America. While he was seen as the most outdated and “naive”, when it came to heroism he was the one to take charge in the end and lead The Avengers to victory. It is Captain America’s definition of a hero as someone who will sacrifice themselves for others that leads arrogant Iron Man to sacrifice himself to save Manhattan from the nuclear missile. Without Captain America’s “honkey old fashioned” advice about heroism, Stark most likely wouldn’t have stopped the weapon. Perhaps director Joss Wedon is is making a comment about the need for us to return to the old hope we once had, the old morality we once stood for, and to an old hero that actually believes in sacrifice and morality. The movie stumbles upon the truth that sacrifice for others, self-humbling, is a noble trait.
Ultimately, The Avengers, along with all superhero movies, looks at the nature of power, at the promise of utopia, at the desire for someone to come and save us from evil and stumbles into Christian truth in the process. Tried and true thematic journeys. But The Avengers also looks at unity in our now dismantled country. It emphasizes the need for all facets and segments of the American culture to work together to create a better future. A sense of youthful hope and escapism found in childhood comic books weaves its way through the movie asserting that perhaps we can win. Perhaps good will win over evil.
And it will. Just not in the way they see it.