You know the word epic has become overused when eight-year-olds routinely employ it to describe schoolyard soccer and hopscotch matches. But the latest superhero blockbuster film The Avengers is an exception. How else can you describe six Marvel Comic characters (most of whom have been featured in at least one of their own movies) coming together in the same action-packed, mega-budget, big-screen adventure? That’s right. “Epic” fits the bill.
Assignment: Save the World
In this latest instalment of the Marvel Films franchise, Hollywood puts a new spin on the formation of the original superhero team. Much of The Avengers is based around Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans) and his attempts to make sense of the modern world. In a deviation from the comic-book storyline, Rogers emerges from a deep freeze after heroically crashing his plane into the Arctic Ocean at the end of the Second World War.
He and Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), aka Iron Man, are enlisted by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), head of the super-secret law enforcement agency SHIELD. They’re joined by highly skilled SHIELD agents Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), banished Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and genetically altered scientist David Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who, when angered, turns into the green-skinned Hulk.
These six extraordinary individuals are brought together to save the world from Norse god and would-be conqueror Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
Together, But Apart
The Avengers is just as much a study in interpersonal relationships as it is an old-fashioned comic-book adventure. How can these extraordinary, but very different, individuals come together and work as an effective unit?
Tony Stark, for instance, is an egotistical genius whose sardonic wit drips from every clever line. “Apparently I’m volatile, self-obsessed and don’t play well with others,” he tells Fury when asked to join the team.
“We’re not a team. We’re a time bomb!” says a frustrated David Banner.
Maybe that’s the point. Director Joss Whedon admitted as much in a recent interview. “The whole movie is about finding yourself,” he commented, “finding that you not only belong together but need each other very much.”
If the premise sounds awfully familiar, it is.
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He put together a team to help Him teach the lost, heal the sick and show God’s love.
You would think Jesus would have picked the best of the best—maybe a charismatic general, a gifted politician or a popular athlete of the day—to make up His team.
Instead, Jesus chose the most ordinary people He could find—a few fishermen, zealous revolutionaries and even a reviled tax collector. And just like in The Avengers, Jesus’ Twelve Apostles couldn’t have been more different. Some were soft-spoken and thoughtful, while others were loud and obnoxious. They argued about theology, jockeyed for position and often failed to understand Jesus’ mission. To make matters worse, there was even a traitor within their ranks.
Far from standing behind their leader, they all fled the scene when Jesus was seized by the Roman authorities. Their team leader, Peter, even denied he knew Jesus—not once but three times!
But then a wondrous thing happened. Once they figured out their calling in the wake of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection and then received the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were an unstoppable force. They collectively penned a large portion of the New Testament and were the catalysts who took the Early Church from its infancy to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire. Most of them died for their faith, and the impact of their sacrificial work is still being felt today.
If you strip away the superpowers and the mythological overtones, the storyline that drives The Avengers is not so different from the real-life scenario Christians face today. Just as those unique individuals were called to work together in order to save the world, and just like the apostles 2,000 years ago, we are called to put aside our differences and use the talents, abilities and spiritual gifts God gave us in order to do good.
To do so, we need to follow the Apostle Paul’s advice: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14). With those gifts, everyone can make a significant impact on the world.
Like the apostles, and the Avengers, we all have it in us to turn the world upside down—to eliminate poverty, end injustice and make the world a better place. But we can’t do it on our own. It requires a team effort like nothing any superhero flick could ever portray.
Perhaps that’s why superheroes so easily capture our imaginations. They represent a God-planted desire in our hearts to make a difference and save the world. We may not have superpowers, but we do have a real, living God on our side.
Now that’s epic!