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Captain Marvel: What’s Shaping Our Identity?

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Written By Wan Phing Lim, Malaysia

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

Written By Wan Phing Lim, Malaysia

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

Written by Wan Phing Lim, Malaysia

“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!

Fight Club and the Emptiness of Our Human Pursuits

Written By Wan Phing Lim, Malaysia

“Mischief. Mayhem. Soap.” That is the tagline of Fight Club, one of the most popular and often-quoted films of the 1990s. With a rating of 8.8/10 on IMDB, the film officially cemented Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, as a symbol of anti-establishment in modern-day America. Fight Club is based on the 1996 book written by Chuck Palahniuk, and has attained a cult following after the film was released in 1999.

Fight Club tells the story of a nameless narrator (Edward Norton) who suffers from insomnia. When his doctor has no cure for him, he joins cancer support groups in order to find therapeutic release. The narrator works in compliance for an auto company and during a work trip, meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on the plane. When the narrator loses his home, he moves in with Tyler and the two form an underground fighting club.

Fight Club has remained popular even today because it highlights three very pertinent issues that continue to affect our society—the pursuit of materialism as a path to happiness; the definition of masculinity and what it means to be male; and the rise of mental health issues among seemingly ordinary people.

 

1) Materialism—“The things you own end up owning you”

Fight Club is essentially a critique on modern life and our endless pursuit of material things.  Despite having a secure job and a 15th-floor apartment, the narrator is constantly unhappy, leading him to suffer from insomnia and other illnesses. When his home catches fire, he says: “That condo was my life, okay? I loved every stick of furniture in that place. That was not just a bunch of stuff that got destroyed, it was me!” His security and identity have been so intricately tied to his possessions—sofa units, glass dishes and stereo sets—that he felt incomplete without them.

His friend, Tyler, however, has a different point of view. “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet,” he says. Tyler is right in a sense. The Bible tells us not to “store up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). But while Tyler’s solution—starting Fight Club—leads to chaos, God’s solution is that we become securely rooted in His unconditional love, so that we will not be shaken to the core when stripped of material things.

 

2. Masculinity—“We are a generation of men raised by women”

Fight Club deals with masculinity from a very disenchanted and disillusioned point of view. The movie implies that absent male figures are the reason for spiritual and societal breakdown. “Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?” asks Tyler. His solution, and his salvation, is in an organisation like Fight Club which enables men to vent their frustrations against societal expectations, feel alive and find purpose again.

Just like femininity, much is debated on the concept of masculinity. What makes a man a man, what does it mean to be a man, and who is a good male role model? The film doesn’t provide answers, but it certainly questions the image of masculinity that is presented to men today. In one scene, the narrator observes an underwear ad on a bus and asks Tyler, “Is that what a real man is supposed to look like?” In the Bible, Jesus is the role model for manhood. He is a servant, leader, provider and protector, who loves and sacrifices himself for the Church just as a husband should do for his wife (Ephesians 5:23).

 

3. Mental Health—“Our Great Depression is our lives”

Fight Club was written at a time when digital technology was not yet as advanced, when life should have been less complicated without the isolating effects of today’s fast-paced and on-demand world. But the plot twist at the end reveals that the main character suffers from more than just insomnia and disillusion. He is in fact experiencing personality disorders and schizophrenia. At the same time, his underground fight club has moved out of the basement and evolved into nationwide acts of terrorism.

The movie is not an extreme example of what could go wrong in our lives if we live without God. If we take matters into our own hands, we will end up with the kind of devastation seen in this film. Our narrator—due to his unhappiness and disillusion—ends up spiraling into mental (internal) and physical (external) destruction. Thankfully, God has a solution to this world’s problems. Jesus says in John 6:35 (ESV): “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Only God can truly satisfy us, because our wealth, health, human relationships, and achievements will ultimately pass away.

Fight Club is not just a movie about being Brad Pitt cool. People have come to love this film for its message to the modern world—that buying things will not make us happy, that living up to advertising standards of what manliness looks like is not how we should be defined, and that if we are not careful, the pressures of modern life will first break our minds before it starts to break us on the outside. May we always be reminded that our hope is not in ourselves nor in this temporal world, but in an eternal one.

Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. (John 4:14, ESV)