Avengers: Endgame—Is It Really the End?

Screenshot taken from Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame | Special Look

 

Written By Simon Moetara, New Zealand

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

 

I remember walking out of the theatre after watching Avengers: Infinity War last year in a daze.

The good guys had lost.

One by one—Peter Parker, T’Challa, Groot, Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, and so, so many others—evaporated into dust, as the Mad Titan clicked his gauntleted fingers, leaving billions dead across the world, and trillions across the universe.

For days after, my mind wrestled with the “if onlys”. If only Peter Quill had kept his cool. If only Iron Man had just cut Thanos’s infinity-gloved hand off with a laser. If only Thor had gone for the head.

Western culture has not prepared me well for unhappy endings.

But Avengers: Infinity War was really only half the story, and I’d have to wait over a year for the chance at closure and catharsis.

Avengers: Endgame (2019) is the climax of “The Infinity Saga”, bringing to a close an epic 22-film series that began with Iron Man way back in 2008. In Infinity War, we saw characters we love die on-screen—will they return? Can the remaining Avengers undo the insane loss triggered by the Dark Lord Thanos?

Endgame has a sombre beginning, as we revisit the shock of half of all life disappearing from the universe. We meet a band of despondent heroes, filled with despair, struggling to cope with the unimaginable enormity of their failure. One tries to drown his sorrows in permanent drunkenness, while another takes out his rage and grief in vigilante violence. The early part of the film explores their anguish and loss. They are all grieving and overwhelmed, unsure how to continue in a world that they have failed to defend, in which they have lost so much.

 

What are you willing to sacrifice?

Human connection and relationships are central to Endgame, and many characters appear and reconnect from throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline, reminding me of the four types of human loves C. S. Lewis summarized in his classic The Four Loves. Examples abound in Endgame of Lewis’ loves, adding emotional depth and pathos to the story.

First, Lewis speaks of storge, a deep family love and affection, such as the love between parents and children. We revisit the relationship between Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) and his father Howard Stark, we see Scott Lang (Ant-Man) reuniting with his daughter Cassie, and we witness Thor’s deep love for his stepmother Frigga. Often portrayed in comic form as a braggart and womanizer, Clint Barton (Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a loyal and loving family man, devastated by the loss of his family. And there’s also Rocket’s grieving over the loss of his surrogate family, the Guardians, and Nebula’s father-issues with the Mad Titan himself.

Lewis then speaks of philia, the love between friends, “as strong as siblings in strength and duration.” We see the close camaraderie between Black Widow (Scarlet Johannson) and Clint Barton, and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) reaches out to a hurting Thor (Chris Hemsworth), while Korg (Taika Waititi) still hangs out with his Asgardian mate playing Fortnite.

Then there is eros, romantic love. We see Stark in space, expecting to die, declaring “it’s always you” to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). And there’s Rogers, often pondering the picture he keeps of Peggy Carter, and their love that never had a chance to grow.

And finally, there is the fourth love, agape, the unconditional love of God, the love that, “is all giving, not getting.” Empire reviewer Helen O’Hara notes that if the theme of the last film was, “We don’t trade lives,” this one is “all about responsibility, and self-sacrifice, and being willing to do ‘whatever it takes’ to win the day.”

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13, NKJV). In Endgame, the human cost of self-sacrifice and the selflessness of heroism is front and centre.

These loving relationships emphasize the very intimate, human aspects of this epic tale, increasing the stakes for which our heroes are fighting.

 

Can the world be restored?

There is also the bigger picture, of undoing Thanos’s dark deed and making the world right again. At one point, Tony Stark shares his desire to see “families reunited” and the “world restored.” We’ve witnessed the emotional fallout and the deep sense of loss of those left behind, but what if it could be undone? Can the death of so many somehow be reversed? What if loved ones could be reunited, and the world somehow restored?

This theme particularly resonates with me, and with the Christian worldview. Like our heroes, we live in a world filled with the pain and darkness, where suffering is an all too present reality, and we know that things aren’t the way they should be. However, God seeks to renew this present world, working until it is rescued, healed, and restored. John speaks in Revelation 21-22 of the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. New Testament scholar Tom Wright tells us that God “will transform the whole world and fill it with his justice, his joy, and his love.”  And this is good news indeed.

There is also something about us as human beings that resists the reign of death. In his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey ponders Christ’s resurrection, and recalls one year in which he lost three friends. He goes on to write, “Above all else, I want Easter to be true because of its promise that someday I will get my friends back. I want to abolish that word irreversible forever.”

Like Yancey, I yearn to see my loved ones again. I long to see the defeat of death. This is part of the joy that arises because of Christ’s resurrection: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55, NLT).

And this is the same theme that kept viewers anticipating Endgame’s release, each of us harboring an eager and expectant hope that good would triumph over evil, and, maybe, just maybe, if our heroes can pull it off, we might see those characters that we love so much somehow restored to life again.

Endgame is an emotional roller-coaster ride, with poignant moments of touching humanity and lashings of breathtaking action. It marks the end of an era, and what a ride it has been.

As I left the film, I found myself thankful that God continues to draw people to himself and seeks to renew and restore this world. And I look forward to the time when He will wipe every tear from every eye, and when “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,” for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

Dumbo: A Trumpeting Call to Defend the Weak

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

 

Rating: 4/5 stars

Tim Burton’s adaptation of Dumbo had me in a flood of tears, and it was not tears of joy that flowed freely down my cheeks.

Burton’s Dumbo was inspired by the 1941 Walt Disney feature cartoon of the same name, and tells the story of a baby elephant whose very large ears made him the subject of ridicule, but it was also those very ears that propelled him to stardom.

However, the little elephant did not #wakeuplikethis to his superstar status. In fact, circus owner Max Medici was horrified when he realized he had a baby elephant with oversized ears. Dumbo had a “face that only a mother could love”, Medici declared.

Dumbo made his debut appearance to a crowd of circus-goers popped inside a wooden pram, and his ears hidden under a baby bonnet. Unfortunately, his ears unraveled the moment Dumbo sneezed, and his big, floppy ears were soon in the spotlight. The crowd started to boo and jeer at Dumbo, and pelted peanuts at the poor elephant (cue more tears from me).

Mrs Jumbo, sensing her child’s distress, rushed in to the circus ring and chaos soon ensued as the terrified circus-goers tried to flee the herd of elephants gone amok. Unfortunately, Mrs Jumbo’s act of defending her child resulted in her being locked up, with only a little barred window for Dumbo to stick his trunk in when he came to visit her.

As soon as the theme music, “Baby Mine”, came on in the background during this scene, I erupted into a fountain of tears. I had also reacted the same way when I had first watched the original Dumbo movie. My tears welled up when I saw how upset Dumbo was (he sat in a corner with big drops of tears rolling down his face) after overhearing a group of older elephants gossiping about his large ears.

Seeing Dumbo’s distress immediately brought me back to my 12-year-old self, when I had discovered a classmate had created a “burn book” (a “burn book” was popularized by Regina George and The Plastics in the movie, Mean Girls, which they created to start gossip and stories about their schoolmates) about me and another friend.

I recalled turning the pages of the “burn book” to discover the mean words my schoolmates had written about me, from the different variations of the spelling of my name (hint: it rhymes with hell), to unwanted comments on my appearance (“four-eyes” was the most popular, in reference to my glasses).

So when I saw Dumbo being laughed at and ridiculed, the pain that I felt those years ago resurfaced, and it made me empathize with the wee elephant. I couldn’t understand what he had done wrong to be treated in such a way, and I had to restrain myself from climbing inside the silver screen to give his mockers a good telling off.

Watching these scenes unfold reminded me of Psalm 82:3-4, where we are called to, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

While I found it easy to empathize with Dumbo because he looks adorable with his big ears and blue eyes, I wondered if I would be brave enough to stand up for a fellow human being who was being bullied? Even though I knew what it was like to be at the center of negative attention, I realized that there were times when I had seen someone in the same situation, and did not have the courage to defend them or uphold their cause.

Years ago, when I was in high school, a group of schoolmates had locked a fellow classmate in one of the school’s toilets out of spite, ignoring the boy’s pleas to be released. I am ashamed to say that I, too, turned my back against him.

In my adolescent mind, social survival was vital, and my already failing social status in school prevented me from helping a distressed classmate. I did not want to be seen siding with the least cool kid in school. I weighed my options that day, and decided to walk away.

But the way the circus performers came together to comfort Dumbo when he was at his lowest made me rethink my actions. At this point, Mrs Jumbo was locked away as an exhibit in an amusement park called Nightmare Island. When the performers saw just how miserable Dumbo was without his mother, the group banded together to reunite mom and baby. Plans were immediately put into place to execute the grand reunion, starting with Miss Atlantis distracting the guards with her singing, to Rongo the Strongo using his strength to pull the iron bars apart, so the team could sneak in to rescue Mrs Jumbo.

Through their actions, I was reminded of Philippians 2:3-5, where we are called to “put on the mindset of Christ” (v. 5), look out for each other, and to value others above ourselves. Unlike the Medici performers, I took no action because I had put my own “selfish ambition” (not wanting to look like a loser) above my friend’s interests (being rescued from the school toilet).

But I am inspired by how Dumbo’s friends forged ahead with their mission to reunite Dumbo with his mom, and helped create a happy ending for them. The mother and son duo were eventually released back into the wild to spend the rest of their days with their own kind.

Dumbo is more than just a movie about a flying elephant. Even after I was done watching it, it kept me thinking about how we can all be a voice for the weak and defenseless—if only we will look around and notice the plight of those who are suffering. I hope that the next time a similar opportunity presents itself, I will be willing to step in and take action.

Captain Marvel: What’s Shaping Our Identity?

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Rating: 5/5 stars

As one of the year’s most anticipated films, Captain Marvel is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)’s first female-led movie, and comes hot off the heels of the much-loved Wonder Woman (2017) by DC Films, which was released two years ago.

Captain Marvel is the story of Carol Danvers, a member of the alien Kree race’s elite military unit known as Starforce. After a mission to recover an undercover Kree member went wrong, she is captured by enemy shapeshifters, Skrulls, and has her memories forcibly retrieved. She manages to escape and teleports herself to Earth, known as C-35.

Danvers arrives in Los Angeles in 1995, where she meets young S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Together they ward off Skrull commander Talos and his other aliens, who are hot in her pursuit as they try to retrieve a set of coordinates from her.

Throughout the entire pursuit, Danvers is haunted by images of an older woman, someone whom she looks up to, as well as flashbacks of her past life as a fighter pilot here on Earth. She has no idea why the Skrulls want the coordinates from her, and together with the audience, Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel goes on a quest to find out who she really is and how she came to acquire her supernatural powers.

 

A Compelling and Compassionate Heroine

Fast-paced without a moment to lose, Captain Marvel has all the ingredients of a superhero flick. Galactic battles, alien spaceships, and science experiments all feature strongly, with a touch of 90s nostalgia. Grunge music lovers will appreciate the film’s rocking soundtrack from the likes of Garbage, No Doubt, Nirvana, Hole and Elastica, along with references to The Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails.

Add on a compelling storyline—a protagonist who has experienced failures but is willing to try again, and a cause greater than oneself—and we have a winner here. Played by Brie Larson, Captain Marvel has a strong female cast that celebrates female friendships, mentorships, and expertise.

Danvers is funny, witty, confident, brave, compassionate, and a skilled pilot all in one—the ultimate female role model for anyone watching the film. She has both the heart and the art—the right spirit and the right skill—always putting others before herself. Towards the end of the film, she uses her full powers to help other alien races find a home on the galaxy.

Throughout the film, there is good chemistry between Fury and Danvers as they help each other out, making an unlikely alliance that would set the foundation of the Avengers. As with all Marvel movies, Stan Lee makes a cameo. Also, be sure to stay past the end credits for two very important snippets of what’s to come in Avengers: Endgame which will be released in April this year.

 

Kree But Free

In the film, Danvers struggles with her identity both as a human and a superhero. She is unsure of the full extent of her powers, how she got them in the first place, or even what kind of person she was as a human on Earth. Is she simply Carol (as her best friend on Earth, Maria Rambeau refers to her), or is she Vers, the name given to her by the Krees?

As a Kree, she is trained not to let emotions get in the way of her mission. But towards the end of the film, she learns to use her human emotions (i.e., compassion for others) as her driving force to save others and end wars.

As Christians, we are both physical and spiritual beings who have to learn to be “in the world but not of the world.” The conflict that Danvers faces between her two identities is one that all of us can identify with—and have to negotiate on a daily basis. But while Captain Marvel balances her humanity with her superpowers by fully embracing both, we are taught to live a different way.

Like Captain Marvel, we too, have a mission to be engaged in a cause that’s greater than ourselves, and “supernatural” gifts that have been given to us in order to advance that cause. However, unlike Captain Marvel, we can take comfort in the fact that we’re not in the dark about the source of our gifts and calling, or their purpose. Neither do we have to go on a long journey of self-discovery to find out who we really are.

Though we’re physically still on this earth, Paul says that we are not to set our mind on earthly things because we are first and foremost citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:19-20). Jesus Himself said, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). This means that just as Jesus shaped His identity and calling on earth based on His spiritual identity, we too, have the privilege of allowing our heavenly citizenship—not our earthly nature—to shape and direct our lives.

As God’s children and Jesus’s disciples, let’s pattern our lives after Jesus’, and be fully engaged in our mission here on Earth to point others to our Savior.

Inception: What Are We Allowing Into Our Minds?

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Most people would remember Inception, the mind-bending dream-within-a-dream film written, directed and co-produced by Christopher Nolan. Released in 2010 to huge commercial success, it won four Academy Awards in 2011 and grossed over US $828 million in box offices worldwide.

Inception is essentially a film about corporate espionage. It tells the story of a thief called Dom Cobb (Leonardo diCaprio) who extracts corporate secrets through the use of dream-sharing technology. One day, he is offered a job by a Japanese businessman to do the reverse— plant an idea into the mind of a rival CEO to dissolve his dying father’s company and break up a long-standing monopoly.

Cobb assembles a team of six, including an architect to design the dream world, a chemist to administer sedatives for a stable dream state, and an impersonator to manipulate the victim. Apart from the brilliant visual effects and powerful music score, Inception’s storyline sends this important message to audiences—that the mind is powerful and is able to determine a person’s future.

 

It all begins with the mind

The word “inception” comes from the root word to incept, meaning to begin, to start or to establish something. In the film, Dom Cobb compares an idea to a virus—small, resilient and highly contagious. Once it takes hold in a person’s brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. And so the team hatch a four-level strategy to plant these ideas—level by level—into their victim, Robert Fischer Jr (Cillian Murphy)’s mind:

Level 1: “I will not follow in my father’s footsteps”

Level 2: “I will create something for myself”

Level 3: “My father doesn’t want me to be him”

Level 4: “I will dissolve my father’s empire”

The next 90 minutes of the film moves quickly in a complex maze of kidnaps, robberies and shootouts—all cleverly designed to manipulate Fischer, set the scene and provide context for the thoughts to be planted. The job is carried out en-route an 18-hour flight when all are put to sleep to carry out the task in the dream world. The mission is a success and over the coming days and weeks, the thoughts implanted in Fischer’s subconscious will start to take root, grow organically and translate into the desired outcomes.

Our minds determine our future

The inception process is complex, dangerous, and requires much strategy, engineering and physicality. The same way Cobb and his team go to great lengths to plant a seed into their victim’s mind, our enemy the devil uses a similar modus operandi. The Bible calls him a thief (John 10:10), a liar (John 8:44) and very crafty (Genesis 3:1). He “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). But far from being a physical lion waging a physical attack, the enemy assaults us first in the mind.

Before the mission begins, Cobb warns his client on the gravity of his request: “The seed that we plant in this man’s mind will grow into an idea. This idea will come to define him, and it may come to change everything about him.”

Why is this important for us to understand? The Bible also talks about how the enemy wages a spiritual war against us in the mind. To overcome this, we have to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2) and to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Inception may be a science-fiction thriller, but the movie is based on the solid truth about how our thoughts can affect our actions and shape who we become. Cobb says in the film: “The smallest seed of an idea can grow, and it can grow to define or destroy you.” Towards the end of the film, we realize that it was the idea that “Your world isn’t real” that led his wife to her tragic suicide.

Our thoughts are so powerful that they are able to determine the course of our lives. May we always be alert and sober-minded, guarding our minds vigilantly against any seemingly random or negative thoughts that are not submitted to Christ.

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” – Proverbs 23:7