Category Archives: Media

Review, “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Avengers Age of UltronI am not a Marvel guy, and yet I love the Marvel Studios movie series. I’m a kid at heart, with an intense interest in seeing superheroes on the big screen. Or any screen really, as long as it is well done (Daredevil, I’m looking at you). Tonight, I was able to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest movie in the Marvel Universe.

This is a spoiler free review, by the way. It is safer that way, don’t you think?

I enjoyed the movie, and the more so as it kept going. The first act of Avengers: Age of Ultron is a mess. It is slow, prodding, and I swear, the CGI is late 90’s at best. It left me wondering if the mess on screen is not part of the feel of the movie or simply because Joss Whedon had to cut so much. Regardless, it fit the whole of Avengers: Age of Ultron  because it picks up in the era of a SHIELD-less team, with much confusion about what the Avengers is supposed to be. We are quickly introduced to the two new Avengers (Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch). We are even quickly introduced to Ultron, voiced by James Spader.

In the trailer, we are introduced to a very frightening Ultron — but the scariest part about him was the voice (not the dialogue) of Ultron. There was some moments of creepy-factor, but the lines delivered did not live up to the trailer.

The storyline, however, is tired and worn out. We get it. If humans create AI for the purpose of protecting humans it will turn against because we are just that bad. Avengers: Age of Ultron does little to improve upon that story until the very end when there is a touch of philosophy in the mix. In the final scene between Ultron and a rather visionary hero, we get the dialogue about how great it is to be among the humans. Yes, we are doomed, but everything in the universe is, it seems. Nothing lasts. And that is the real theme of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Nothing lasts — enjoy it while you can, because everything ends.

Choppy at first, the storyline finally moves into something that is the right pace. The special effects aren’t, believe it or not, necessary to the overall plotline. I’m surprised, but it seemed to really focus on the characters. Yes, you will have your summer explosions and big bangs, but the movie actually revolves around the heroes.

And maybe they aren’t heroes. The movie does not take itself seriously. There are various lines — Thor has a good one — mocking those heroic speeches. But there is another one, by Hawkeye, that will really strike a chord. We are left to wonder how much longer this series can last given that even it seems to know just how ridiculous some of it is.

But, it is a movie about an alien worshiped by Vikings as a god, a green monster, and a man frozen in time (who, by the end of the movie, is a little less frozen). Maybe we need the ridiculous at times. And maybe we need to think that the evil is not in each of us, that we can overcome it — and that somewhere out there, there is a hero to fight that evil. Or maybe we don’t.

Either way, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a great sequel and well deserving of your money.

Batman V. Superman = Calvin v. Wesley

Superman: Red Son
Superman: Red Son (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over on a my facebook wall, someone posted a link to the trailer for Batman V. Superman movie due out next year. Most of you know I am a comic book nerd and I love my superhero movies. I am also a huge fan of the Batman.

In Batman V. Superman, there are supposed to be some callbacks to a Frank Miller storyline wherein Batman returns after years away to find a very different world, one where Superman has become the fascist leader we have always expected him to be. In the end, Batman defeats Superman.

In the middle of all of this, is critical theory and, I think, something to do with Mimesis… a rather natural mimesis where we see motifs replicated in various ways. Because of this, I think I can see in Batman V. Superman various theological points. This is pretty clear in Man of Steel. (Rodney has a four part review up).  So, here are some thoughts on Superman and Batman and how they as characters relate to our Christian theology.

Superman is the symbol that pushes is to a better humanity — but there is an equal danger of having humanity rely upon Superman. If we rely only on Superman, we will grow apathetic. We must take the little bit of order and safety he gives and work to expand it and make it our own. Batman is the reality which we face but there is a danger in accepting this reality as the only worldview. We become cynics and suppose we can impose our vision of justice in the absence of justice. Then we become the villain when we take away the objective system and replace it with a subjective one. Superman’s power is tempered by his refusal to do everything for humanity. In that regard, Superman is rather weak because he is limited. He is, one may suggest, Arminian, whereas Batman is almost Calvinistic because he decides fates. He is almost all powerful, because he will find a way to solve any problem, even if the end is rather extreme. Batman’s limits are challenges to overcome.

The question is rightly raised about whether or not the world still needs Superman (a recurring theme in both the comics and in Superman Returns). I would think so. Even with his powers that are godlike, and almost silly in light of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy not to mention Netflix’s Daredevil, we still need Superman. Why?

Why couldn’t Superman just end it all, take over the planet and restore order? If you have ever read Red Son, then you know why. Because, the human spirit is ended. Superman has become very much the answer, even via pop culture, to the question of why doesn’t God just end evil. Because, we couldn’t then be human. Our human experience would be meaningless. Salvation is meaningless if we aren’t human.

 

Trailer for New #UMC movie… Star Wars, maybe you’ve heard of it

johnwesley
For a time, Vader was a Calvinist but soon same back to the Force

See, I can post this because Star Wars is essentially a Methodist invention.

Only [humans] can exchange information. And the test of how accurate the information is will be whether we all die or not. If we all die, then it wasn’t the right information. I would rather see us be a positive force in the universe than a cancer. We have the knowledge to be either one. That, in essence, is what “Star Wars” is about. We are both good and evil, and we have a choice.

Well, now he’s sort of a Methodist like they have in the West. (Sorry, Gary)

I was raised Methodist. Now let’s say I’m spiritual. It’s Marin County [California, a very liberal area]. We’re all Buddhists up here

Also,

…the San Joaquin Valley put its stamp firmly on both Lucas and his films. Without the white upper-middle-class Methodist values he absorbed during his upbringing in this most complacent and righteous of regions, the Star Wars films, the Indiana Jones series, even the more eccentric THX1138, let alone American Graffiti, would have been very different. Indeed, they might not have existed at all, since Lucas, unlike the directors who joined him in building the New Hollywood in the sixties and seventies, is anything but a natural film-maker. Nothing in his character fits him to make films. The process irritates and bores him… It is easy to forget that Lucas, for all his fame and influence, has only directed four feature films in almost thirty year. Repeatedly he’s handed the job to others, supervising from the solitude of his home, controlling the shooting by proxy, as Hollywood studio producers of the forties did.1

Oh, and there is something of Wesley in the Star Wars…

For all his later embrace of Eastern mysticism, there remained in Lucas more than a little of the Methodist.2

I am a bigger fan of Star Trek — and you can’t really compare the two given their focuses. My son does love Star Wars so I guess, as a good United Methodist and father I have to go and see this movie.

  1.  John Baxter, Mythmaker: The Life and Work of George Lucas, Avon Books: New York, NY (1999), page 16
  2. ibid, 126

the better 50 Shades of Grey

50 shades of grey

I am not queasy about onscreen exhibition of physical love — within certain parameters. Nor am I against including the passion of love in stories — sex, geez, I mean sex, people1 — when it is necessary to the story. And sometimes, it is front and center.

The upcoming release of the 50 Shades of Grey movie, however, is not one of those. It includes a story about a woman manipulated by a sadist. It involves torture for the sake of torture. It is not about love or finding oneself, or even exploration. It is about exploitation.

It is not romance of any sort.

660-50Shades-NatlCtr

On the other hand, there are tasteful displays of sex on screen that intrigue me. One of them is the first one. Yesterday, Time.com featured it and did a write up about it. It is below.

Not only is this artistically done, it is done in such a way as to focus on the woman and her enjoyment. Frankly, it is one of the best “sex scenes” on screen.

Christians aren’t called to dismiss sex, just make it better. When I see people boycotting 50 Shades of Grey, I see a lot of them doing so for the right reasons and that tickles my fancy.

But, friends, draw a line. Don’t dismiss all dramatizations of sex. Some are beneficial to the enterprise.

  1. sexy-sexy time, the deed, “it”, romp time, hump day, the no pants dance, mattress dancing and a lot more.

“Noah” and “Exodus” – movies of Skeptical Faith?

Russell Crowe as NoahThis is not a review. This is a small post dictating some thoughts I have on the two recent major motion pictures re-telling biblical stories. For a review, see here. For my quick review of Noah, see here.

I am currently re-watching Noah with my son. I liked the movie and still do. I think it deals with some unexpected theological themes such as abandonment by the Creator and the merciless love of God.

I watched Exodus: Gods and Kings a few nights ago with several friends of mine. With all of the slants (and in many cases, well-deserved points) out there, mine would matter little. So, I want to draw out a some themes shared between the two movies.

There is a theme in these two movies.

Both allow that God is there. Of course, both also suggest God is really a figment of the main character’s imagination. This is less seen in Noah, but some commentators from the Christian perspective have suggested the portrayal of Noah and God leaves much to the imagination. This theme is played up well in Exodus when only Moses can see God — who is in the shape of an adolescent boy with a temper. Several times, Aaron sees Moses talking to himself, in shouting matches. We are given the chance to believe Moses is certifiable. Shoot, read Ezekiel. He is certifiable.

exodus
I miss my cowl

Both movies question the way God loves his people. Tubalcain best represents this in Noah, especially in his dialogue about being created in the image of God and then abandoned — and then pointing out that God has killed everyone on earth but that family. Shem’s statement to Noah, “I thought you were good!” identified Noah as a mad man, to which Noah responds “He chose me because I could complete the task,” making Noah merely the willing tool of a psychopathic deity.

Exodus has Pharaoh approaching Moses demanding to know what kind of God would kill innocent children. We are supposed to feel anguish for the people of Egypt. How can we not?

This is the skeptical faith in these movies, the cold acceptance — but with question — of a God who loves harshly and not by human standards. The innocent in these movies suffer — not, not just suffer, but are slaughtered wholesale.

One thing Exodus does get right is the theomachy present in the story. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know what I mean.

These, with all of their faults, are movies that much be watched by the Church and dealt with accordingly. These are the movies of the generation who questions. If we prevent their questions, we will prevent their faith.

Thoughts?