Avengers: Age of Ultron, A Thoughtful Review
Disclaimer: These are my impressions of the film as I remember them. I’m just a thinking Christian; I’m not a film critic and don’t play one on TV.
I’m a sucker for anything and everything superheroes. On a personal level, they inspire me and make me feel like a kid, and on a cultural level, they allow us all to celebrate heroes who stand for something, and we need that given our pop-celebrity culture of worshipping those who really aren’t worship-worthy.
This movie is quick. I found myself wishing it would slow down and let me breathe, but, that is what the public likes, and the movie delivers in cinematically astonishing ways. It’s unreal. Surprisingly, there were deeper themes at play, a couple of which I will openly consider with you.
To Fight or Not To Fight?
The use of Hawkeye’s family provides an inner look into daily life. Questions are asked that we may be asking too. How long can this go on? How much can one man give, and when is enough enough? How much do I matter to the fight, anyway? In the midst of all this action we have this quiet moment to consider life “back at the ranch” where mom is cleaning dirty diapers and protecting hearth and home from other enemies. But there is one main problem which I found incredibly stimulating.
The Main Problem
It’s deeper than you think, and it’s unresolved. The problem the Avengers are fighting isn’t just Hydra or the rogue computer program; it’s death. There is a powerful conversation between the last robot powered by the rogue computer and the savior figure where they exchange worldviews–they discuss humanity. Do humans deserve to live? Are they (we) innately valuable, or are their constant failures indicative of their value, which is to say, are they doomed to always be failures?
These are moving questions, and they are extremely powerful in the movie because we get the chance to ask them from the outside. We get to see us from a non-human’s perspective–two perspectives, to be exact: a rogue Spock-like computer program and a dreamy Romantic who merges the hyper-rational Spock with Shakespeare. Spock says no, humans are worthless and should be expelled for all the damage they have done and will do to creation. The Romantic, the savior figure, disagrees, and his reasoning is interesting.
The Savior Figure
The savior, amid all his shortcomings, gets some things right. He stands up for humans and their value, despite their evils. He believes humans are worth the effort, baggage included, because we can be beautiful, because we can love and be loved, because beauty always comes with pain. The savior isn’t fully a savior because he can’t save us all from ourselves, but he’s savior enough to believe in us and help us when we fall. He is recycling the old worldview of Epicureanism.
And here is my central beef with the film. As you probably know, art tells us more about the artist than the subject of the art. Art is a form of self-exegesis, and on a cultural level, our art tells us who we are. We create the stories we tell, and we are shaped by those same stories. The point: Americans don’t know what a Savior is anymore. Heroes stand up for the afflicted, they protect the weak and avenge the wronged, but a savior–a savior saves. He is fundamentally other and unique, unparalleled in function and power.
A savior removes the need for heroes because he removes all evils; he redeems people from their wrongs and removes the potential for harm. A savior doesn’t just stand up for us poor humans; he perfects us. We modern humans can’t imagine that one man, one single Savior, who lived a small, largely insignificant life, could forever change history and redeem humanity. That one man could save the entire world-order is a story too epic to tell, and yet, that is the story of the Gospel, of Jesus Christ.
The Avengers are heroes we can look up to, and they are worthy of our acclaim. We need honorable heroes who fight for the weak and believe in humanity. But we need a Savior. One so glorious we can’t even construct a story big enough to match His. Yes, humans are destructive, evil, and hopeless, but we don’t submit ourselves to a veiled hope that things will turn out ok in the end, we confront that evil within ourselves as real, and we embrace the Man who set us free.
Hawkeye’s problems are real. He is just one man who is very un-super. And the savior’s observations are correct: we are a wretched mess. But what neither can imagine is that that is ok. We aren’t supposed to work our way back into shape. No amount of heroes can ever overcome our human condition and restore us to some form of glory. We can’t get there by self-improvement. We need an overhaul, not a tune-up. The Gospel is a story that makes sense of the entire cosmos, and at its core is one Man, one epic Savior who not only sets things to rights, He completely restores our brokenness, through no works and efforts of our own. And that, undoubtedly, is a hero bigger than our dreams and worthy of our worship.
Long gone are the days of real-life heroes of that rare combination of humility and bravery. Instead we get manipulative, selfie-taking Obama, corrupt capitol-hill (Clintons, etc etc etc), sleezy TV stars and sex scandals (Cosby). ↩
Epicureanism began in the centuries before Christ as a means of explaining the gap between God and His creation. Epicurus believed that if there was a god, he was far separate from his creation, and so it didn’t matter to us if he existed or not. All we have is what we see, and so we “eat and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” ↩