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.
Please check out my other writings on movies and books. For starters, if you liked The Avengers you may want to check out John Carter.
Drew Zahn also raves about Christian themes in The Avengers. [Major spoilers at this link.]
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I totally agree with your assessment of this film. I recently took my daughters to see it in the “cheap” theater (all seats $2.50), and we loved it (the movie, not the theater). And like you, our favorite part of the film was the part that you described, “There’s only one God,…and I don’t think He dresses like that.”
But what really made my day was the reaction from my 12-year-old daughter. Sometimes I wonder about her faith, then at other times I am blown away. When she spoke of the above scene, all she could talk about was how she was going to remind her sifu (Wing Chun instructor) of it.
Even though she is the smallest and one of the youngest, she is the bravest and most dedicated at her martial arts dojo, which has earned her a spot in the adult class. There, without fear, she speaks of the One True God, even in the middle of a bunch of pluralists. And when Captain America said what he said, nothing was going to keep her silent.
Movie tickets, $7.50. An emboldened little girl, priceless!
Fantastic story! Thanks so much for sharing!
I think it is so important to be able, as Christians, to discern the themes in movies and draw out the implications for Christianity. In that way, we engage our culture. To hear of a 12-year-old doing so is just phenomenal.
Hi there, I am involved in my christian union at university and we are doing an evangelistic event, inviting people to come and watch the film with us and then explain the links to Christianity. May i use some of your ideas? Many thanks x
Feel free to use the ideas. Please just mention where you saw the article/ideas. Also, you may want to check out my other post on the Avengers: The Avengers: Sin, Salvation, and Jonah, in which I provide more discussion on the movie.
Will do! Thank you so much (:
Hello! I very much enjoyed your post. I do have a question though. 🙂
I love the Avengers and the Captain America movies. I have seen the Iron Man movies with ClearPlay (filters out bad language and inappropriate scenes)
I really do love these movies, but I came to a conflict. As a Christian, watching those movies that have cursing and blasphemy to God, I felt that it was wrong. So my question for you is where do you stand when it comes to movies with cursing and blasphemy? It desensitizes us to cursing and blasphemy. Take Philippians 4:8,
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
This is clearly telling us to think on things that are pure, lovely, honorable, and so on. How do you fit these movies with blasphemy and cursing in?
Lillie, that’s a great question. Considering how the Bible itself ( as well as Christian classics such as Pilgrim’s Progress and The Chronicles of Narnia) portrays plenty of examples of sinful things, I would say it’s not the presence of these things that would be problematic as much as how they are portrayed. If I understand the Philippians passage correctly, it has to do with what we dwell on as a course of habit. If Paul had meant that we never see or hear anything with sin, he would have been calling himself out since he quoted from Greek poets and philosophers, including at least once from a hymn written to Zeus. That’s not to say anything goes! But if Paul can be used as a model in this area, it would seem we can be engaged with our culture in a way that does not compromise our faith – and perhaps use what we find there for our good and God’s glory.
My response would be very much along the same lines as that of Anthony Weber’s.
Sadly in order to have God in our lives, we must take the good with the bad. Jesus Christ knew this, we also need to take this under great consideration. I strongly agree that this world is getting dis-moralized by society’s example, this is not only true but strongly evident. In order for God’s people to persevere, we must take a stand in what we believe, as Jesus would’ve wanted us to be as His living example. Once more to take what lessons from everything around us as a learning experience, nothing more. Remember man created what we are taking witness of, some good, some bad but in general its creation. May the Lord bless you, your family and this world. For his light will shine upon all. Amen