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04.02.2022

Complexity, Coherence, and Comic Book Movies

2021 was quite a year for Marvel. Spider-Man, Shang-Chi, Black Widow, and a host of TV shows. 2022 looks similarly full. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest-grossing movie franchise of all time, and people seem to have an insatiable appetite for these films and shows.

There are many reasons for this, but I think a large part of our fascination is with the complexity of the project. Countless threads expertly woven together. Unexpected twists. Seemingly irrelevant details in one show have significance in someone else’s storyline. And it’s only when different characters and worlds collide that we’re able to appreciate how it all fits together as a vast, ever-evolving, but coherent whole.

I think we delight in these films because they tap into an impulse that’s hardwired into humankind – a need to find coherence within complexity.

This is not just true of cinema, but all of life. We live in a chaotic world, which causes us to cry out ‘why?!’ on a regular basis, and we long to make sense of it all in a way that brings meaning and comfort.

As followers of Jesus, we have the remarkable opportunity to help people find what they’re looking for.

I’m a relative newcomer to Marvel films. I only started watching them recently, and have never read a comic book! So I appreciate them to a degree, but get the most out of them when I talk with friends who’ve read the original sources, can explain the details I miss, help me navigate the complexity and see how it all fits together.

What if we were to play that kind of role for those around us?

When colleagues lament the brokenness of the world, revealed in violence, inequality, or climate change, we can take them to the ‘original sources’, showing how the story of Scripture helps make sense of the chaos around us.

When friends experience loss, or personal pain, we can share our own testimony of how God has used and redeemed the details of our lives in surprising ways.

In our interactions with neighbours, we can model a way of living that’s attractive and compelling – following the teachings of Jesus, serving and caring for others, and overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit.

And perhaps we’ll find ourselves with opportunities to introduce people to the author of salvation, who – more than any film – brings true coherence to our world’s complexity.

Liam Thatcher
Liam is a pastor, preacher, and writer, based in Oxford. His personal website is liamthatcher.com.

 

Comments

  1. Interesting. I’m still catching up with the recent slew of Spiderman movies. I currently relate to your point here more on the literary front, keeping track of the strands in Lord of the Rings, and Bleak House.

    By Bruce Gulland  -  4 Feb 2022
  2. Those are interesting thoughts, Liam.
    Another important element in the OLD Marvel comics especially, is the “desirability-of-nobility”. The sense that it’s good to be good.
    When I started reading Marvel comics at age 11yrs (ish), I was attracted by the adventure & colourful escapades, but also by the distinctive characters & their quirks. Marvel’s older rival, D.C. Comics, tended to have two dimensional boring personalities, (Batman included, believe it or not!).
    But the characters (before Wolverine, Punisher etc) all tried to do the RIGHT thing.
    They were NOBLE. They exemplified a heroic struggle against a world of opposition – especially Spider-Man in those days! They set a heroic role-model for the embattled lads (mostly) who read them. They made you want to strive for good, even if it meant you were unpopular. (The contemporary British comics tended to glorify being a “menace” & to make teachers look like fools & to ridicule “softies”!)
    Modern Marvel is a different animal; desperate to be ‘woke’ & re-writing the old characters to fit a new LGBTQ & liberal/latitudinarian agenda! (Witness the new “Eternals” film!)
    “ModMarvel” has started seeping into these films/series. It is such a shame.
    “Spider-Man; No Way Home” was a wonderful exception – but that was a Sony production!

    By Mr Michael Brittain  -  18 Feb 2022

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