Thor: Ragnarok – What Does The End Of The World Mean For Us?

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Rating: 4/5

What would you do if your home comes under threat of destruction? For Thor, it involves a journey to alien planets, squabbles with family and friends, and letting go of some of the things he was once so attached to.

In Norse mythology, Ragnarok spelt the destruction of Asgard—home of the gods. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the same narrative is brought to life with a distinctly comedic flavor. With the impending doom and destruction of his world upon him, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is stranded on an alien planet. Thor has one goal throughout the movie: get back and save his homeland.

Thor: Ragnarok represents a bold development in the progress of the series. It’s clearly heavier on comedy, but also a lot more enjoyable. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s what makes it so fun. Director Taika Waititi’s previous work in smaller scale indie comedies means the tone of this movie was always going to be different from its predecessors. And the result is a movie that is exceedingly self-aware, bordering at times on parody. The actors, Hemsworth in particular, seem to revel in the looser, more improvised tone.

The dynamics between characters are richer for it too. There’s a charming road trip-buddy feel to Thor and Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo) partnership. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki also develops from the anti-hero of the past movies; the sibling rivalry and bickering he shares with Thor is both compelling and humorous. Driving the evolution of these relationships is Thor’s commitment to being a hero and preventing the end of Asgard.

Similarly, the Bible tells us that our world will eventually come to an end, and how we respond to this defines our adventure now. We all tend to get caught up in the invincibility and seeming permanence of this world, working as hard as we can to wring the value from each activity. Be it career success, performing well in school, or just enjoying life, we work hard to relish the fruits of this world.

But it’s these very things that entice us away from the purpose that God has for us. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster perfectly encapsulates this sentiment—a slave owner who tells his slaves that he loves them, all whilst making them fight to the death.

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

However, the Bible warns us about getting too absorbed in the things of this life, that hold no eternal value. The constant reminder throughout the New Testament is to look forward to the new creation, and everything that it holds in store for us. This has real implications for the way that we live now and should shape what we work for and what we are willing to give up. The plain fact is that all the things of this life will be swept away without a trace by the arrival of the new creation.

In the end, being a hero is very different from what Thor expected. The circumstances call for some hard decisions to be made, but these are the very decisions that make Thor a hero.

What about the decisions that will define us as Christians? What are the things that we will pursue in light of God’s plans for eternity, and all that they hold for us? They vary from individual to individual. But the common denominator has to be the Gospel. It is the one thing that carries eternal value, and whilst its consequences may not seem apparent now, they will certainly be felt at the return of Christ.

This means that it is not just about whether we accept the Gospel, but what we do with it after. We must continue to grow in our conviction and commitment to the Gospel and what it means for us. At the same time, we are commissioned to work for the Gospel, advancing it in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

It’s always worth sitting to the very end of Marvel movies to see what surprises the directors have for us. But for Christians, there are no surprises about the end; our world has an expiry date. God will destroy it as he ushers us into the New Creation. So how should we live now, given the temporal nature of this world? Work for the things that carry true eternal value. In light of eternity, everything else will seem insignificant.

Seeking Détente in the Battle of the Sexes

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Written By Simon Moetara, New Zealand

Rating: 2.5/5

Battle of the Sexes is the latest movie to weigh in on the ongoing discussion on gender equality. It centers on the highly publicized 1973 tennis match between 29-year-old female tennis star Billie Jean King and 55-year-old past-his-prime former champion Bobby Riggs.

King (played by Emma Stone) was one of the United States’ first public personalities to live openly as a homosexual; the first part of the film focuses on her struggle with her sexuality as she enters a relationship with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) despite being married to Larry King (Austin Stowell). The film addresses a number of big topics, perhaps biting off more than can be properly digested in a running time of just two hours, but one key issue, inherent in the film’s title, is that of gender equality.

King battles for pay parity for women, who earned eight times (and sometimes 12 times!) less in prize money than their male counterparts. Second wave feminism was well underway by this time, focusing on issues such as workplace rights and sexuality. In this climate of increasing female concern for a stronger voice and rights, King led a number of female players to leave the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) and start the Virginia Slims Circuit competition because of this massive disparity in prize money.

Although the film is set more than 40 years ago, the gender pay gap issue is still alive today. In my own nation of New Zealand, the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1972, but current research shows that women are still paid 16 percent less than male colleagues who contribute the same value. In some industries, such as finance, insurance and telecommunications, the gap stretches to more than 40 percent.

Enter Riggs, a 55-year-old former champion with gambling issues and a self-professed “male chauvinist pig.” Riggs (played, as one reviewer puts it, as “pathetically needy” by Steve Carell) sees a chance to get back in the spotlight and argues that the female game is inferior. Riggs had won Wimbledon and the U.S. National Championships in 1939 and came out of retirement to challenge top female players, contending that they wouldn’t able to beat an old man like himself.

Riggs originally challenges King, pitching the idea of the match as, “Male chauvinist pig versus hairy legged feminist, no offence.” King declines, but after Riggs easily defeats the world no. 1 Margaret Court 6-2 6-1 in under an hour (in what became known as “The Mother’s Day Massacre”), King takes up the challenge.

In a lively press conference, Riggs opines, “Don’t get me wrong. I love women in the bedroom and in the kitchen. But these days, they want to be everywhere. They want to be doing everything. Where is it going to end?” In one pre-match interview, Riggs revels in his “male chauvinist” persona, saying things like, “The male is king, the male is supreme, I’ve said it over and over again.” While this type of discourse may have been bluster on Riggs’ part, it represented a very real mind-set for many in his time—and still does today.

While Riggs is waving the chauvinism banner, King’s husband Larry warns her lover Marilyn, “We’re both just sideshows. If you get between her and the game, you’ll be gone.” King’s husband realizes that he is second-fiddle to the game itself. Both Riggs’ language asserting male superiority and King’s view of “spouse as sideshow” are a far cry from the biblical principle of mutual submission to one another, “out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21), the One who voluntarily relinquished his power, coming not to be served but to serve, laying down his life for us (Mark 10:45).

In his classic work, Celebration of Discipline, Christian writer Richard Foster points out, “The biblical teaching on submission focuses primarily on the spirit with which we view other people. Scripture does not attempt to set forth a series of hierarchical relationships but to communicate to us an inner attitude of mutual subordination.” The idea of mutual submission removes any thought of gender superiority.

In our age of personal rights and love of power, submission is seen as a sign of weakness, something to be resisted. Submission is what a UFC fighter does when he’s dominated by a stronger opponent; the weak roll over and submit, they tap out. This idea of submission is incredibly challenging for us because it challenges our notions of power, and at the heart of submission is the deliberate surrender of power.

Those in power in the Greco-Roman world could expect submission from their subordinates, but Paul’s appeal takes an unexpected twist, in that Christ’s followers are to submit to “one another”. He subverts the normal usage of the term to express the belief that all followers of Christ should “give way” to one another, preferring one another in love within the Christian community. The apostle Paul provides this pattern of behavior for all relationships within the body of Christ, and so challenges the hierarchical structures of their time—and ours.

In a fallen world, as one commentator puts it, “to love and cherish becomes to desire and dominate.” However, if we can follow the Spirit’s leading, we will enjoy a life in which both male and female are honored as God’s image bearers, and rather than being dominated or overshadowed, we can live a life in which we give way to one another, preferring each other in love. Because both male and female bear God’s image, there is no justification for discrimination in any form—whether in pay, significance, or status.

Blade Runner 2049: What Does It Mean To Be Christian?

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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What does it mean to be human? That was the question at the heart of Ridley Scott’s neo-noir science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner (1982). It’s a question further explored and dissected in Blade Runner 2049, with French-Canadian film director Denis Villeneuve now in the driver’s seat.

In the first Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) was tasked with hunting down rogue human-like androids called Replicants, who were on a mission to extend their built-in four-year lifespan. It was against this backdrop that he wrestled with his own humanity as well as his feelings for a replicant, Rachael (played by Sean Young).

The sequel has us following the exploits of Ryan Gosling’s Officer K, a latest-version Replicant who has not only been built to live longer but also programmed to be more obedient than his predecessors. K, too, is tasked with hunting down rogue Replicants, but stumbles upon a revelation that causes him to question the very meaning of his existence.

Villeneuve’s America of 2049 is an immersive experience. It draws you in with stunning visuals and landscapes, with towering pyramids and monolithic structures that fill the majority of the screen and engulf the characters. Then there’s the soundtrack, both evocative and transfixing, which pulls you into the tumultuous world of K. But they never distract from the narrative, which centers on K’s personal turbulence. For it is this ultimate mission to find significance and purpose in his existence, that drives the unfolding plot.

The film grapples with this issue through the juxtaposition of humans, who come into the world through birth, and replicants, who are manufactured. As with the first film, the lines are blurred. And with the sequel being told from the perspective of a replicant, their plight begins to seem all the more human. For K, to be birthed carries consequences beyond the obvious biological implications; birth imbues an individual with a significance and purpose that K craves.

In reality, we too crave significance. Everything about our culture is geared towards telling us that we are special, that there is more to life than mundane existence. From the media we consume to the experiences we seek, we’re encouraged to dream of a purposeful, exciting destiny.

However, as Christians, we recognize that our purpose is very different from the one that mainstream culture tries to sell us. As one of Blade Runner 2049’s most poignant lines suggests, purpose and significance is born out of a cause worth dying for, rather than what gains we may manufacture in this life.

The Christian existence revolves around the gospel. Our purpose is very much tied to it and never manifested apart from it. For it is through the gospel that we are brought from spiritual death to life, as described in Ephesians 2:4-5. And it is for the gospel that we are called to suffer for—and ultimately, if need be, to die for. For Christians, the gospel is the cause worth dying for.

The theme of dying for a greater cause is a big thing in Blade Runner 2049. The opening scenes feature the replicant farmer Sapper Morton (played by Dave Bautista) telling K that he, K, is settling for a mundane life because he’s never witnessed a miracle. Morton himself has found the meaning of his existence and a cause worthy of death, because of a miracle that lies at the center of the film’s plot.

Similarly, the miracle of Jesus’ death and resurrection should radically change the way we live and our perception of life on this earth. In light of what the new creation has in store for us, material pursuits should lose their shine. The miracle of the gospel should shape the way we approach our daily tasks, and the way we prioritize our time.

If there is one thing about Blade Runner 2049 that might discomfort, it’s the notion that the grand scheme of things is not really about us. We like to feel special and noteworthy, and we like to put ourselves at the center of the known universe. To hear the gospel saying differently grates against our instincts.

The cause and purpose of the gospel is far greater than our ambitions and dreams. It is an opportunity that God presents to us to be a part of His great redemptive plan, which is something infinitely larger than anything we could ever possibly accomplish on our own. We play our role by living out the gospel and proclaiming it, but in the end, the real star is Jesus Christ. As Colossians 1:28 says “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” Jesus is the cause worth living and dying for.

Blade Runner 2049 asks what it means to be human. But there’s a bigger question: what does it mean to be Christian? As we consider the purpose and significance of our existence, a good starting point would be to take cues from the Gospel and the way that it radically and intrinsically reshapes our existence.

War for the Planet of the Apes: Forgiveness and the Darkness Within

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Photo taken from Official Trailer

Written By Simon Moetara, New Zealand

It’s the third instalment of the critically acclaimed series and it’s epic—an epic showdown between man and ape, that is.

For the uninitiated, here’s how it all began.

In the first film of the series, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), an experimental drug intended for curing Alzheimer’s disease is tested on chimpanzees. It ends up increasing the intelligence of Caesar (Andy Serkis), a chimpanzee raised by a young doctor. Caesar releases the chemical into other apes, which makes them smarter. But it results in a “simian flu” that causes the deaths of the majority of the human population.

In the second instalment, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014), Koba, an ape who suffered torture and experimentation at the hands of humans in a research facility, rebels against Caesar’s leadership and starts a war with humanity. The human settlement sends a radio call for help that is picked by an army base, resulting in a large-scale military engagement with the apes that lasts for two years, bringing us to “War of the Planet of the Apes” (2017).

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead] Forgiveness, mercy, and redemption are major themes in the third film. Early on, Caesar returns four survivors from a human attack in a show of mercy. He just wants the apes left alone in the forest. Caesar recalls that Koba could not forgive humans for his suffering, and could not let go of the darkness inside. However, things take a turn for the worse when he encounters the Colonel (Woody Harrelson).

The Colonel is a man who has eradicated mercy. The latest effect of the simian flu is the loss of human speech, and the Colonel kills anyone who manifests this symptom or who disagrees with his ruthless approach. He has even killed his own son. Harrelson, in camouflage paint and shaven head, reminds one of Marlon Brando’s Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic war film Apocalypse Now (1979), with his cruel atrocities conducted in the name of war and his refusal to answer to higher military command. When he kills Caesar’s wife and son, the primate leader chooses the way of revenge over leading his troop to safer surroundings. Having now suffered terribly himself, Caesar refuses to walk his talk. Can he overcome this journey into his own heart of darkness?

Maurice, a former circus orangutan who serves as Caesar’s advisor and conscience throughout the series, challenges Caesar and at one point, saying, “You sound like Koba.” Later, when Caesar is captured along with the other apes and is rejected by his colony for his lack of leadership, a young chimpanzee, Lake, implores him, “Forgive them. They’ve been through so much.”

The battle rages within Caesar. Before the tale ends, Caesar will face his ultimate test in confronting the Colonel; will he seek an eye for an eye, or will he find within himself—once again—the capacity for mercy?

One reviewer has described director Matt Reeves as having created “a pseudo-Biblical epic shot through with apocalyptic fervor”, with the old world in its death throes as a new order rises. The Exodus motif is clear through the film. A safe and good land has been found “across a desert”, according to the positive report of two scouts, and the apes are freed from oppression and slavery and led to the new and “promised” land.

The question is, will Caesar be able to let go of the hatred that darkened Koba’s heart, and enter the land with his people? Or will he, like Moses, fail to enter the land of promise, seeing it only from a distance?

In his classic book Mere Christianity, Christian writer and apologist C. S. Lewis writes, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” Yet, as hard as it can be, forgiveness is central to the life to which we are called to in Christ.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of our Christian faith. We ask God for forgiveness, as we forgive those who have sinned against us (Luke 11:4). The most common Greek word in the New Testament that is translated as “forgiveness” literally means “to release, to let go, to hurl away.” It is to pardon an offender, to choose not to demand payment for a debt. French philosopher Simone Weil said that when we forgive such debts, we give up our self-centred claims on the world. As we forgive, we can also set ourselves (and potentially the perpetrator) free from the cycle of bitterness and blame.

We also forgive because we have experienced God’s forgiveness. The apostle Paul writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Counselor Dr. David Seamands concluded that the two major causes of most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. We long for grace, but so often we do not live in the reality of grace.

May the good news of the gospel saturate us so that we become a people of grace in a world of un-grace, and so glorify our Father in heaven.