I went into the theater with trepidation. So many summer comic-book movies have let me down in the past few years. Green Lantern was a CGI mess and Captain America and Thor left me wanting more. I have not truly been surprised by a comic-book movie since the original Iron Man. Avengers had a lot to live up to, especially since it involves the aforementioned characters, plus the Hulk, who has his own string of failed films. Lastly there are two characters who are relatively unknown; they have had very minor roles shoehorned into the previous Marvel movies. So, here is the good news (that all of America already knows because they have already seen the movie): Avengers is simply amazing. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who loves a thrill ride and a movie that will make you think, if you are paying attention.
Director Joss Whedon had a very important decision to make with these characters: Who should be the center of the film? Should it be the narcissistic, billionaire, genius, philanthropist playboy? Maybe the rage-weary scientist who can’t seem to keep a lid on his temper (and you won’t like him when he is angry)? There is the aloof demigod from another world who sounds like Shakespeare in the park. Or maybe the damaged spy with a thirst for redemption and salvation from a past filled with bloody mistakes. Penultimately there is the archer, silent and strong, but he was taken hostage by evil in the first 10 minutes. So this leaves us with the virtuous man out of time, Captain America (aka Steve Rodgers). Even his name harkens back to a bygone era where the name America did not engender hate, and being captain of it would be a badge of honor and courage. As the other “heroes” bicker and literally fight one another to prove that they are the most worthy, it is Captain America that serves as the voice of moral reason and sanity. Rodgers is able to stand between the other heroes and help them see that this is not about their petty differences and personalities; like a good soldier, he helps them to see the importance of the mission and teamwork to accomplish what none of them could do on their own. Rodgers gives us a picture of what has been lost to our past – a clear moral compass, a sense of duty and honor, and doing unto others as you would have them do to you. It is this heartbeat that that enables the team truly act as one in the end.
“Kneel before me. I said… KNEEL! Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.” – Loki
This is a huge part of the movie, this idea of freedom and subjugation. Loki says that all people are looking to be ruled and of course, as any good bad guy, he believes that he is the one best suited to do that ruling. He craves the adoration and the worship of others. He craves them because of the inferiority complex that he suffers because his brother is Thor, the biceped demigod of Asgard. In the end, Loki is as much a slave as we all are, driven by a desire to be loved and validated as a person. In his quest to rule he makes himself a slave to his need for control and power. Recently Joss Whedon made a speech in accepting the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism from the Harvard Humanist Society. He is an atheist and was talking about what the atheist response should be to the world. He said,
How do we codify our moral structure without the sky-bully looking down on us telling us what we’re suppose to do?…..The enemy of humanism is not faith; the enemy of humanism is hate, is fear, is ignorance, is the darker part of man that is in every humanist, every person, in the world. That is the thing we have to fight. Faith is something we have to embrace. Faith in God is believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. (From mbird.com)
What I am struck by is that this flies in the face of reason and plays out in the movie. Loki, who longs to be free and to rule, is driven by his fear and feelings of inadequacy. Each of the heroes is also a slave – slaves to narcissism, pride, guilt, shame, fear, anger and so many other things. In the end, the axiom is proved that we are all slaves to something. I like the way cinemagogue.com puts it,
We lose our joy in a mad scramble for identity by attaching it to something lesser, binding our hopes and dreams to a celebrity, a politician, a spouse, a fictional universe or hero, a national identity, a career, a co-dependent relationship, or vicarious achievements through our children. We “freely” soil our knees on these shifting foundations hoping these things will satisfy, give us purpose and worth. Worst, we effectively see ourselves as “god”, the center of our own life and universe, and find ourselves kneeling to an identity that is certain to let us down, shackled to our own fallibility and finitude.
Loki is right again: we crave subjugation and lose our joy, chasing a “freedom” (that is actually enslavement) and declaring it as our identity.
We are constantly waging this fight for freedom and like Wheedon says, the last thing we want is some cosmic sky-bully telling us what to do. Like Adam in the garden we want to be like God, to know it all and be our own master, captain of our own ship. Bonnie over at Mockingbird.com says,
I agree with some parts of Joss’ point. He considers the “dark part of man” to be the enemy of humanism. And every person has this dark part inside of them. I don’t disagree that there is evil inside all of us (we call it “sin” or peccator). What I am surprised (and a bit confused, to be honest) by is why he would still put his faith in humanism if the enemy of humanism is in every person, including every humanist?
Is not looking for something different even after you have seen it proved again and again a definition of insanity? The thing is, we are meant to live in freedom, freedom from living as masters of our own fate and in submission to the one who is truly Master, even over death. The apostle Paul reminds us of our place in his letter to the Colossians:
He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 ESV)
It is only by understanding our place in the universe that we can truly have freedom, and this brings us back to the heart of the story, Steve Rodgers. It is his belief in good, right and wrong, and the duty of a soldier to put himself in harm’s way to protect others that give us the clearest picture of the gospel. It also flies in the face of atheism and the glorification of humanism and self. In the end, it is all the other heroes that take on the characteristics of Captain America and become willing to lay aside their desires and even their lives for the lives of others. This is clearly seen at the end of the film where Tony Stark, the most egotistical and self-centered hero in the group, is willing face to certain death to save the world.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13 ESV)
It is only in letting go and thinking of others before ourselves that we truly become free. We are not slaves to serving others, we are freely putting aside our insecurities and self to make others a priority. I can be a slave to myself or freely give to others. Which will you choose: the way of Loki or the way of Captain America and the Avengers?
Really liked this video from Cinemagogue.