The Avengers is a huge blockbuster film. Reviewers are raving about it. It’s a cultural phenomenon now. How should a Christian take the movie? Is there anything of value to it, or is it just another action flick? Here, I’ll offer less a review [short review: it was amazing, probably my favorite hero movie other than “The Dark Knight”] than a survey of some thinking points Christians can use to engage with the culture as they interact with the movie. There will be spoilers.
I Need a Hero
Consider the overall theme of The Avengers. Earth is in trouble from outside (alien/demigod) forces. But, in a way, the humans brought this plight upon themselves (they messed with powers they should not have–this theme is found throughout the entirety of the film). How can we be saved? We must look to our hero(es) and utterly rely upon them. Think about it. That is exactly the human condition now. We need a hero. I can’t help but channel that song by Skillet, “Hero.” We aren’t superhuman, we aren’t superheroes. Ultimately, we have to rely on someone else.
The overarching theme of The Avengers is therefore very reminiscent of the Christian story. Christianity holds that we have a plight: we’re under assault from our own sinfulness, into which we were tempted by Satan. We tried to mess with that which we should not have attempted: sin. And now, because of that, we are under assault. We have no way to save ourselves. We need a hero. We can’t escape from it ourselves. Like the civilians on the streets of the cities as they come under attack in the film, we must rely utterly upon that hero. We are powerless.
Yes, I do think that this theme resonates deeply with Christianity. Jesus Christ is our hero. He gave his life for us, willingly. He rose again. He came despite having no need to do so, and saved us from that from which we cannot save ourselves.
Another way to look at this theme is the deep human need for help. We realize we are floating in this gigantic universe and we feel insignificant. What meaning is there? We look to heroes–we fictionalize them and make them into “superheroes.” Even the previews before the movie showed two more hero flicks coming up: The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spiderman. We are obsessed with this theme. Yet the real story of Christianity is even more compelling: we’ve already been saved. God has already acted. He sent us our hero, when we needed Him most. Death itself has been defeated. The human urge to look for a hero, to look beyond ourselves for help, is satisfied poignantly in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God Doesn’t Wear That
One of my favorite lines in the entire movie came from Captain America: “There is only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.” [Author’s note: I found several references to this quote and they all varied slightly, however if my memory serves me, this is the correct version.]
What can Christians think about this? Well clearly just saying there is “one God” doesn’t do much, but what is interesting is the context he says this in. Captain America has just met Thor (a demigod/superhero), yet he still affirms there is “only one [true] God.” Sure, Thor can play with lightning, but ultimately he is not God. There is but one God, and He’s infinitely greater than Thor or any of the other “gods” who turn out to be little more than powerful beings from Asgard.
More importantly, I think a Christian could use this pop culture reference in a dialog as one notes the importance of anthropomorphic language about God. God “doesn’t dress like that!” Too often, when we speak of God, we have this picture of some old guy with a beard. But God “doesn’t dress like that.” He’s transcendent, beyond. Yet He chose to come into the flesh to save us (see “I Need a Hero” above)! I found this quote very thought-provoking.
Another theme of The Avengers is the fact that we aren’t alone. Humanity is thought of by some in the movie’s universe as a helpless, defenseless planet which will certainly fall at the slightest attack. Humans are but one amongst many powers in the universe, and not the most powerful.
Again, this theme resonates with Christianity. We aren’t the most powerful beings in the universe, and we are not alone. There are angels and demons, gods, and God. I can’t fully develop the layers of meaning in the Bible in regards to all the powers of the universe, but a great discussion can be found in Gerald McDermott’s God’s Rivals. God is supreme over all things and unchallenged, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t powerful forces who seek to subvert His divine plan.
The Avengers was a fantastic flick. It has everything a huge summer blockbuster needs. It’s worth seeing for the action alone, but the story resonates deeply with our strongest urges. It informs us of our need for a hero/savior. It affirms that we are not alone. I can’t help but say I strongly encourage Christians to see the movie and take note of the themes which resonate with our worldview; they are there in abundance. As we seek to engage with the culture, we can point out how our own story–the True Story of Jesus Christ–satisfies the needs felt in the movie, and more.
The Avengers: Sin, Salvation, and Jonah– There are even more themes in the movie that I think really resonate with the Christian worldview. Check out my other post on the topic.
Drew Zahn also raves about Christian themes in The Avengers. [Major spoilers at this link.]
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