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X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Our Desire to Belong

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Rating: 3/5 stars

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) is the first in the X-Men franchise to feature a female lead, hot off the heels of successes like Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman. This time, fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones will be thrilled to see Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, a mutant with telekinetic superpowers who joins Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters at the tender age of eight.

It’s been 19 years since the first X-Men was released in 2000, and in this 12th installment of the film series, we go back to 1992, with the X-Men on a rescue mission of a space shuttle. It is here in outer space that Jean accidentally absorbs the Phoenix Force—mistaken for a solar flare—and transforms into the powerful Dark Phoenix.

 

A force for good or evil

Jean Grey’s story is one of family and belonging. Orphaned as a child and sent to the X-Mansion, she quickly becomes an important part of the X-Men family. Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) becomes a father figure, Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) like an older sister and Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) her lover.

But all that is threatened after the “solar flare” accident, when her telekinetic powers are heightened and she’s soon unable to control them. Her fear of hurting the very people she loves drives her away from the X-Mansion, and she leaves behind a trail of catastrophic damages while out and about in New York.

It is here that she meets Vuk (Jessica Chastain), the leader of a shape-shifting alien race called the D’Bari. Vuk explains that the Phoenix Force had wiped out their home planet years ago, and invites Jean to join them in shaping new worlds together. Here, Jean is torn between using her force for good or evil—evil because the D’Bari plan to conquer other planets, including Earth, with the Phoenix Force.

And so the struggle ensues—between mutants and humans (previously allies of the US government, the X-Men are now being hunted down thanks to Jean’s actions), between mutants and aliens (the D’Bari are out to get Jean and the Phoenix Force trapped within her at all costs should she not cooperate), and within the X-Men themselves (jealousy, in-fighting, and Charles’s leadership is questioned).

 

Belonging to a family

But most central of all to the film is the struggle within Jean herself as she deals with a fragile past and a family secret kept hidden from her by Charles, for what she believes about herself will come to define her choices.

Dark Phoenix is an emotional film with plenty of drama and vengeful characters, layered with a haunting and beautiful score by Hans Zimmer. Though its CGI is lacklustre compared to its contemporaries and the storyline predictable, the powerful performances by Sophie Turner and James McAvoy more than make up for it. In my opinion, the winner in this film is Jessica Chastain, what with her silver blonde hair and nude makeup that make her look eerily alien and evil without much effort.

At the heart of Dark Phoenix is the message that Jean is, and always will be, part of the X-Men family—no matter what she has done or thinks she has become. In the film, Charles and Raven’s characters embody God, our Heavenly Father, who believes the best in us, never gives up on us, and accepts us into His family even when no one else will. The Bible says that He “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6), “predestined us for adoption” (Ephesians 1:5), and that He will “never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Isn’t it comforting to know that there is someone who will readily accept us despite our past mistakes? Someone who patiently waits for us to turn back to Him so we can begin to live our true identities—as children of God who walk in His ways.

It is Raven who says to Jean: “I’m not giving up on you, Jean. You’re my family, no matter what.” Jean eventually resolves her inner conflict, realizing that the very people she was running away from were always there for her and weren’t afraid of her powers. It’s when she makes amends for the wrongs that she has done in the course of the film that Jean finds redemption and true belonging.

If you’re struggling with self-doubt, guilt, or feeling out of place, why not turn to God? Just as Jean and the other X-men were adopted into the X-men family, we, too, can find redemption and a sense of belonging in the Kingdom of God, one that will last for all eternity.

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

Venom: Are You Willing To Be Invaded?

Rating: 4/5 stars

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

“I am Venom and you are mine. You didn’t choose me, I chose you.”

Sounds like an eerily familiar verse from the Bible? Venom, the latest supervillain to hit the big screens as a standalone movie, is a Marvel blockbuster with all the science, superpower and alien species invasion from space.

 

The Brock/Venom Hybrid

Released on 5 October 2018 in the US, Venom tells the story of down-and-out reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), who loses his job and ex-fiancée after exposing trade secrets of The Life Foundation. The foundation is a bio-engineering company headed by scientific genius Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) who is secretly running human trials to merge with an alien life-form, the symbiote. During a break-in to the facility, Brock is attacked by a symbiote and gains superpowers. The symbiote starts speaking to Brock, introducing itself as Venom, and the two work together to bring down a more evil symbiote known as Riot, which later takes over Drake’s body.

Voiced by Tom Hardy himself, the Brock/Venom “hybrid” is an amusing character to watch. There’s wit and humor going on between man and monster as they seek to share a body and make space for each other. “If you want to stay, we can only hurt bad people,” says Brock. But Venom’s reply is: “The way I see it, we can do whatever we want. Do we have a deal?” In another scene, Venom threatens Brock to “cooperate and you might just survive”.

But over the course of the film, we see that Venom has a softer side. He gets upset when he is labelled “a parasite”, and even changes his mind to invade Earth, choosing instead to help Brock and save humankind from Riot’s destruction.

The movie is slow at the start, taking 45 minutes to reach the climax where Venom invades Brock, but it’s also not as dark and menacing as the trailer portrays. It’s fun, quirky, fast-paced (after the 45th minute, that is) and action-packed as with any Marvel superhero film.

 

Symbiosis and A New Race

The Brock/Venom character has much to teach Christians about the concept of symbiosis and becoming a new race. In the movie, Drake races against time to create a super-race that can sustain humanity, whose careless lifestyles are destroying earth’s resources by the day. His human experiments have failed countless times, that is, until Venom achieves perfect symbiosis with Brock, giving Drake hope that it can be done.

C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity that we become “new men” when we are fully in harmony and in tune with God. “God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man,” Lewis writes. Indeed, 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT) says, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

In biology, symbiosis is defined as the interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association to the mutual advantage of each other. In that sense, learning to “submit to the will of God” is like learning to be in symbiosis with an unseen force.

Drake’s many human experiments failed in the past because the human bodies or “hosts” were unwilling and not strong enough to withstand invasion. Many of them were homeless men and women who were tricked off the streets. But Eddie Brock was different. He was physically and mentally strong, willful, focused, and willing to accept his fate—making him the perfect cooperative host for Venom. In the movie, Brock and Venom are stronger together, achieving their goals for the greater good.

The film begins with the phrase “I am Venom” but it ends with “We are Venom” once Eddie Brock is fully attuned to his new identity. Are we willing enough hosts to be “invaded by Christ” in the spiritual sense, and are we willing to cooperate to do His will?

Just like Brock, we are weak as mortal human beings, but God’s supernatural strength enables us to achieve greater things. And just as Brock and Venom worked together to defeat a greater evil, we have been chosen by God and united with Him in order to defeat the stronghold of sin and establish God’s kingdom here on earth. As new creations in Christ, He gives us boldness to pray for others, to perform miracles just as His disciples did, and to stand firm against the forces of darkness with the Holy Spirit’s help.

God never forces Himself on us because He gave us a free will, but in Christ-likeness, we should all say as Jesus did on the cross: “Your will be done, not mine” (Mark 14:36).

 

p/s: Be sure to stay till the very very end of the end credits!