I recently had the chance to see “Iron Man 3,” and I must say it is a dazzling sight to behold. Here, I will briefly comment on a few themes. Be aware that there will be major SPOILERS in this post, so stop reading now if you do not wish to have major plot points revealed.
Science and Ethics
One of the recurring themes throughout the film is the notion that there is a real interplay between doing science (and other activities) and ethics. That is, the practice of science is more complex than abstract notions of lab work without any strings attached. Aldrich Killian is a disabled man who longs to transcend the body he was given. He wants to help others who have physical problems. When he is rejected by Tony Stark, he falls to extreme measures to finally cure himself and start “helping” others.
Many characters are seen raising this same issue. Their motivations start out pure: they want to help people, they want to save others, but they ultimately have that dream tainted. They don’t get the funding they need; they are rejected by the people they care about; their experiments don’t turn out as expected. One can see the human predicament here: we too often and easily let ourselves fall from our ideals. We are willing to make a compromise to get towards a “greater good,” yet once we look back, we discover a sea of wrongdoing.
The very brief discussion about scientific funding and the like is worth noting. It is often thought that scientists are some kind of demigods, doing their research and learning things just because they can. But the reality is that funding is very often an issue, that ethical considerations come into the research that is sought, and that people are involved in the scientific enterprise. These are important points to remember.
The Fall and the Human Predicament
The notion of a “fall” is intertwined with the discussion on ethics and science above. The “bad guys” all have aspects which are pitiable. The opening scene with Aldrich leaves one pitying him rather than seeing him as some kind of evil person. Thus, there is development from him as an object of sympathy to an evil man. The development is abrupt, but it can be seen how this development would occur. When someone makes the decision to choose evil rather than good, there is a very real “fall” which goes along with it.
Other characters experience similar difficulties, but perhaps the most interesting is that of Tony Stark himself. He is the billionaire hotshot who could get anything he wants, yet he suffers from bouts of panic and anxiety attacks. He is human, after all. The human predicament is aptly illustrated through the character of Tony Stark. I could almost hear the words of Ecclesiastes echo over his attempts to use his wealth and “charm” to get through everything: “Meaningless, meaningless… everything is meaningless [under the sun]” (see Ecclesiastes 1ff). No matter what heights we attain, we are ultimately grounded within our own sinful nature. We cannot get past it by our own power.
On a personal note, this part of the film was most disturbing for me. My wife was born without her left arm. In “Iron Man 3,” the “bad guys” almost all turn out to be those who are affected by disabilities. They go to Aldrich to get their missing limbs regrown; they are willing to betray their country to help a child who is missing a limb; Aldrich himself is motivated by his desire to overcome his disability. I couldn’t help but think that the film therefore presents a dim view of those with physical disabilities. There were no counterbalances given; it seemed that the operating assumption was if someone is missing a limb or suffering from other physical disabilities, they would be willing to go to almost any extreme to fix it.
Now, I’ll grant that some of these people seem to have been unknowingly used by Aldrich. I admit my personal feelings in this issue up front because I may be overly critical here. Yet I know of other superhero films in recent memory that use this same theme: those with disabilities often turn out to be the bad guys, and they are willing to kill in order to overcome them.
Here, I have only written up some very brief thoughts on the film. I believe those who go to see it will be able to come away with a number of talking points. The interplay between science and ethics was of great interest. The portrayal of disabilities was, perhaps, questionable, and there were moral issues raised throughout. Please leave a comment and let me know your own thoughts on the movie.
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A Christian Look at “The Avengers”– I examine a number of other themes in “The Avengers” which Christians and non-Christians can discuss.
Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies– I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.
Be sure to check out other looks at movies that I have written (scroll down for more).
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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.]
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.