Tag: movies

Avengers: Endgame: Finding Rest in the End

As of the time of writing this, Avengers: Endgame is the second highest grossing film of all time with a box office total of over 2.5 billion dollars. It is…

As of the time of writing this, Avengers: Endgame is the second highest grossing film of all time with a box office total of over 2.5 billion dollars. It is poised to topple the current reigning champ, Avatar. In case you have missed it, Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of an 11 year, 22 movie series produced by Marvel. Truly, the world has never seen anything like this before. Never has there been this type of interconnected long form storytelling done with movies. It is a remarkable achievement, and Kevin Feige ( guiding force of the MCU) deserves all the praise for his vision in producing such a feat. I believe Endgame will be the Star Wars of this generation. It is a cultural event, which has and will continue to change the landscape of American cinema.

I am a lifelong comic book reader and superhero fan. I grew up reading the stories of Captain American, Iron Man, Spider-man, and the rest. Currently sitting on my desk are Omnibus Volumes 1 &2 of the Jonathan Hickman Avengers run. I waited with great anticipation for the conclusion of this first volume of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was eager to see if directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and producer, Kevin Feige, could deliver on everything they had promised. So the big question then: Does Avengers: Endgame successfully conclude an 11 year 22 film story arc; does it satisfy the hopes and dreams of Marvel fans? I can answer with a huge resounding, Yes!

I loved this film. It has no right to succeed as well as it does. This movie pays off beautifully many things set up in the previous 21 films. This film is fan service in the best sense of the term. It rewards longtime fans of both the comics and the movies who have seen everything previous film. It gives the fans so much of what they have longed to see on the big screen, and even things fans didn’t know they wanted, without sacrificing the story. They accomplish all of this in a manner that feels natural to the story and the world they have created.

Avengers: Endgame features a tight, surprisingly thoughtful, reflective, emotional, and funny script. The acting is fantastic in this film. Every actor brought their A game, with Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans giving what is probably their best performances in the MCU films. I would really like to see Downey get an Oscar nod for this performance. Scarlett Johannson and Karen Gillan are two other standouts for me. Also, the film score for Endgame is fantastic. Alan Silvestri has composed the best score of the MCU thus far, and I think is deserving of Oscar nominations. Avengers: Endgame is not without flaws, but it is a worthwhile and satisfying conclusion to this 11 year arc of storytelling. I highly recommend going to see the film on the biggest screen you can.


Seriously Spoilers Ahead

Please do not read until you have seen Avengers: Endgame

I have now seen Avengers: Endgame three times I did not want to rush to write something for this film. I wanted to let the film sit with me for a while. There is so much that could be said about the themes and characters of Endgame and the greater MCU. Honestly, each of the original 6 Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye) are deserving of their own character studies through the course of this 22 film series (now named the Infinity Saga by Kevin Feige). Some other excellent sites have already begun to do so. However, one theme I found particularly powerful in the film is the theme of finding rest through self-sacrifice. I think we can trace this theme of rest in all of the 6 original Avengers, but it is most fully realized in the stories of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.

Avengers: Endgame opens to domestic bliss on the farm of Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. This idyllic scene quickly turns into one of horror as the daughter, sons, and wife of Clint are dusted by the snap of Thanos from Infinity War. This powerfully sets the stakes of the film. This scene establishes that there is something profoundly wrong with the world now. Clint’s family and home are gone; Shalom has been lost.

The Hebrew word Shalom contains the idea of peace, rest, “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.” The loss of Shalom is further developed throughout the first act of the film. The Avengers hatch a plan to catch Thanos, seize the stones, and reverse everything. However, the story takes a surprising turn with Thanos being decapitated, but the stones already having been destroyed. It seems as if this unmaking of the world, this destruction and calamity of the universe cannot be undone. This captures something we fundamental know to be true in reality, that there is something severely wrong with this world. We long for rest, we long from shalom, we long for a return to Eden. As Tolkien writes, “We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.”

What follows from here are sequences of the Avengers trying to cope with the loss they have experienced. Steve Rogers is running a counseling session, where he encourages people to move on, though later he admits to Natasha aka Black Widow, he and the other Avengers cannot move on. This refusal to move on by Captain America is not the denial of the great tragedy, but it is a recognition that there is something deeply wrong with the world, and that it needs to be healed. The universe needs to be saved, and renewed; there needs to be a return of Shalom. Steve Rogers has lived an entire life of self-sacrifice. This is established all the way back in Captain America: The First Avenger when pre-super serum Steve jumps on what believes is a live grenade to save the lives of those around him, and then at the end of the film he sacrifices himself and his happy ending with Peggy Carter, to save millions of people by crashing a plane into the icy sea. However, this time the heroic Captain America failed and was not able to save billions of lives. He is restless, longing to return the universe to shalom.

Tony Stark is on a very different journey. He is a man conflicted; a man who wants to be a hero, but must fight his narcissistic tendencies. Over the course of the MCU Tony has been shown to be constantly restless. In Avengers: Age of Ultron he is afraid of a coming disaster, and wants to build a shell around the world. In Iron Man 3 Stark suffers from PTSD and insomnia. In Endgame Tony Stark seems to have found a sense of rest/peace in his life, though his marriage to Pepper and the birth of Morgan, his daughter. However, when presented with an opportunity to potentially set right everything that has gone wrong with the world, Tony understandable balks at first. But then Tony remembers that he lost people too, like Peter Parker aka Spider-man. Tony solves time travel, but then is presented with a choice: does he take the risk of losing everything he has gained in order to save the universe, or does he “put a pin in it… sink it to the bottom of the sea,” and forgot about it? This is the question he asked Pepper. He offers to stop it all then and there, so that they can go back to their lives. Pepper sagely ask, “But would you be able to rest?” The answer is clearly no as is fantastically conveyed in the performance of Downey.

Along the way to the climactic battle at the end of the film, Stark is able to find closure with his father through the time traveling element. Stark learns through this experience that he is much like his dad, he even struggles with the same character flaw of selfishness. Howard Stark says his own selfishness gets in the way of him doing what is right for the greater good. This reflects the struggle Tony Stark has had through his entire character arc. He struggles between being the selfless hero Iron Man and the selfish Tony Stark he was at the beginning of the first Iron Man film.

In the climax of the film, Tony Stark fully embraces Iron Man and sacrifices his life to save the world and defeat Thanos. In an incredibly emotional death scene Pepper Pots tells Tony to look at her. She tells him that “They will be okay,” and then brings the thematic arc of Stark full circle by telling him, “You can rest now.” With these final words, Tony Stark, Iron Man, dies having completed his mission. Through the final act of true full sacrificing of himself for others Tony Stark and the world receive their rest.

Captain America’s arc is very different. He is a man defined by his selflessness. This self-sacrifice cost him a chance at personal love and happiness. He is haunted throughout the film by the life that might have been. This is seen through the many instance of Peggy Carter’s picture popping up on scene, as well as, Steve Rogers seeing her in the past on the same time traveling mission Stark sees his father. In every film Steve Rogers’s heroism is seen in his refusal to give up, his moral resolve to always do what is right, and by his self-sacrifice to do the right thing no matter the personal cost. Captain America also receives rest in Endgaem, though in a different manner. Rest is for Steve Rogers is a reward for his many years of self-sacrifice. He finally gets to have that dance.
In both the stories of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark we learn that true rest comes through self-sacrifice. In Captain America we find the person we all ought to be like; the one we admire and desire to be like. In Iron Man we see the person we are; the person who struggles but desires to overcome their own selfish desires. I was genuinely moved to tears by Tony Stark accomplishing his mission and finding rest, even though it cost him his life. I was moved to tears again when Steve Rogers finally gets to dance which is a representation of his reward for a sacrificial life.

This truth of rest through self-sacrifice runs counter-culture to the world we find ourselves in. We are more like Thanos, who seeks rest through the sacrificing of others. Thanos solution to bringing the universe rest is to sacrifice anything and everything except himself. When he achieves his twisted mission of bringing peace and rest to the universe, we find him resting in a “garden,” a perverse version of Eden. We like Thanos realize there is something gone wrong in this world, and we desire rest. However, we too like Thanos would rather sacrifice others to achieve a false rest, than to sacrifice ourselves for true rest.

Through Iron Man and Captain America we see that true rest only comes through self-sacrifice. Even in the fantasy world of the MCU, however, we realize that this is an incomplete rest. There is still suffering, there is still much wrong in the universe. However, in the Christian message we find the promise of a final rest for humanity and the universe. This personal and universal peace comes through the self-sacrifice of the God-man Jesus Christ. The Gospel we find that shalom, rest, comes through Christ sacrificing himself on the cross for humanity. Shalom is found and entered through self-sacrificial love. Furthermore, Jesus tells us that to follow him we must “Take up our cross and follow him.” In order to receive the rest of Jesus Christ we must count our lives as lost, and sacrifice our lives to Jesus Christ. We are no longer our own, but our lives belong to Christ. If we give up our lives to Christ, he promises that we will find rest. Christians place their hope in the day Jesus will return, right every wrong, wipe every tear, and bring Shalom to a broken world.

It is remarkable that in one of the highest grossing films of all time we would find a theme so central to the Gospel message. It reveals that we long for rest from a broken world. In the world of comics we find a temporary promise of rest through self-sacrifice of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, but in the Gospel we find one who is greater, Jesus Christ who through his laying down of his life on the Christ secured rest for a fallen world, and rest for those who put their faith in him. In Jesus we find the truth myth. We find through the loving self-sacrifice of Jesus, we can find rest, we can find shalom, we return to Eden.

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The Dangers and Triumphs of Vulnerable Love: A Review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

In a strange confluence of events, I find myself reviewing for the second time in a row a romantic comedy featuring an Asian-American Actress in the lead role. That’s right,…

In a strange confluence of events, I find myself reviewing for the second time in a row a romantic comedy featuring an Asian-American Actress in the lead role. That’s right, this week I am reviewing the Netflix’s Original Film, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before follows the story of Lara Jean (Lana Condor), a junior in high school, who writes but never sends love letters to here crushes. Accidently, her letters are sent to her former crushes including until recently the former boyfriend of her older sister, and the popular Peter (Noah Centineo). Through a series of events Peter and Lana hatch a scheme to fake a relationship in order for Peter to win back the girl who just dumped him, and for Lana to dissuade her sister’s ex-boyfriend from believing she still has feelings for him. From this point a budding friendship and romance develops for Lara and Peter.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a charming teenage coming of age story and romantic comedy. The central characters are well rounded and complex; not your stereotypical teenagers. As with all Rom-Coms much of the success or failure depends on the likeability and on screen chemistry of its leads. Lana Condor and Noah Centineo both shine in their roles. They bring a charm to their roles and display surprising depth in their performances. These are future stars in the making. The film has excellent pacing and dialogue. I found myself laughing throughout the film. It also brings a sensitiveness to the teenage experience that is lacking in many movies. I believe this film will be relatable to both adults long past their high school days, and for current teenagers alike. I recommend To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before to anyone looking for an enjoyable heart-warming film.

Spoilers Ahead:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the third film in a few weeks to feature an Asian-American Actor in lead role. Also, this film features a mixed-race family, and treats it as normal; not even commenting on it. This is good. This is portraying the America we live in, and it is a beautiful thing.

Another striking feature of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the value and meaningfulness of physical acts. Lara Jean includes in rules for their fake relationship that there will be no kissing. She defends this by stating her first kiss is important it matters. She wants it to mean something. This film implicitly values the sacredness of physical actions within relationships. It recognizes the power and intimacy of this personal physical actions. Towards the end when Lara Jean and Peter finally kiss, a weight is given to this act. It reveals the trust and love that has developed between them. Afterwards, when a video of them leaks, and everyone in school believes that they had had sex. Lara Jean is distraught in part not only because her name is being sullied for something she did not do, but also because she places such a value on the importance of physical acts, and does not want to commit them prematurely.

This leads to the biggest theme of the film. Lara Jean and Peter both come from broken homes in different ways. Lara Jean’s mother had passed away years earlier, and Peter’s father had abandoned his family a few years before. This has created great hurt in both of their lives but also a real connection. The loss of her mother has had a profound effect on Lara Jean. She is afraid to open herself up to others because she is afraid of being hurt and left again. This is brought up throughout the film. Peter even calls Lara Jean out on this at one point. Lara Jean in voiceover comments on how it was easy it was to be in a “relationship” with Peter, because it wasn’t real and there was no risk of being hurt. This is the crux of the conflict of the film. Lara Jean is afraid to accept her feelings for Peter, or to believe that he loves her back, because she is terrified of what it means if it were true. She is afraid of losing it and being hurt again. She is afraid to take the leap of faith; take the risk to love.

I was reminded of The Four Loves by C. S Lewis where he writes,

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.

To love is inherently a dangerous proposition. This is something that To All the Boys I Loved Before recognizes. It requires real vulnerability to love. It means opening yourself up to another. It requires trust and intimacy. In a sense you are putting your life in the hands of other, and they can hurt you, break you, and misuse you. To love is a dangerous thing, but both To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved and C. S. Lewis display it is worth the risk.

In our relationships with others it requires humility, sacrifice, and trust to love truly and this is dangerous. They might not love us back, they might hurt us. Furthermore, loving God truly means humbling ourselves before him, giving up of ourselves fully to him, entrusting our lives completely to God, believing that he will never leave nor forsake us. In Jesus we see that we do not need to fear to love God. He has proven his love to us through the sacrifice of his Son for our sins. “No greater love is this, than a man lay his life down for his friends.”

Lastly, I think this teaches us something about God’s love for us. In one sense God accepted the danger of loving us. He took a risk in sending his Son Jesus to die for us. In no way am I denying that God has a plan, or that he is sovereignly in control, but I simply pointing out that by loving us God has made himself vulnerable to us. God has allowed our choices to have real consequence. We enter into the union of an intimate relationship with God and enjoy an eternity with him, or else we remain forever in broken relationship apart God. God has allowed us to receive or reject his love. He has allowed us the possibility of grieving him, and yet God loved us, and sent Jesus to die for us so that we might become sons and daughters of God. Praise God for such a love, that he loves us despite ourselves, despite how we treat him. In To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before we see the triumph of vulnerable love.

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Overcoming the Horror of It

A good horror movie has value because it reveals something about the nature of humanity. They expose deep-seated fears, and provide a canvas for exploring the nature of evil. They accept that at a fundamental level evil does exist. Pennywise is true evil. There are no moral relativists in a horror film.

Last weekend experienced a surprising box office phenomenon with the move It, which made $123 million dollars in its opening weekend! It had the highest opening for any horror film ever. If It had opened during the summer it would’ve already become the tenth highest grossing film of the summer. No one could have predicted the wild success of It.

Warning: It should be noted that It is rated a hard R. The kids in the movie often use strong language, and make crude jokes. There are moments of strong gore, and intense horror sequences. It is definitely not appropriate for children. This movie is not for everyone, but Christians should be aware of this film because of its huge appeal in modern culture.

I personally loved this film. It will probably go down as one of my favorite horror movies of all time. The movie is surprisingly hilarious with whip-sharp dialogue. The casting director deserves an award, for perfectly casting each and every child actor who all give fantastic, believable performances. Bill Skarsgård is otherworldly terrifying as Pennywise. The score is wonderfully nuanced. The director creates a tense mood of dread. It is a tense and psychologically terrifying film, though it does include some effective jump scares. Most importantly, It is a well told story with meaningful themes and character arcs. I would recommend It to any Stephen King fan, any horror movie fan, or fans of good films in general, who are not bothered by language or intense sequences.

Spoilers follow….

The movie It would be better understood as a fantasy allegory exploring themes of becoming an adult, childhood abuse and trauma, courage, love, and friendship. Pennywise is a shape-shifting monster that feeds on the fears and flesh of children. Pennywise seemingly is able to peer into the souls of children to discover their deepest fears. He then either shape-shifts into that fear or is able to produce a psychological effect on the children where they see whatever horror he has concocted. In this way, Pennywise is the embodiment of fear. Pennywise gleefully toys with the children’s emotions and fears.

Bill, stalwart leader of the Losers, is traumatized by the grief of his missing younger brother, Georgie. Pennywise preys upon Bill’s grief and sense of responsibility for Georgie. Beverly, the tough but kind girl of the group, is traumatized by her abusive father and the fear of entering womanhood. Wise-cracking Richie, is afraid of clowns and going missing himself. The courageous Mike is traumatized by the death of his parents due to fire. The practical Stanley is afraid of a creepy painting in his father’s study. Smart and sensitive Ben, is afraid of dead children and hypochondriac Eddie is a real germaphobe. All of these fears feel real. I left the film wondering what shape Pennywise would take to terrify me. What am I truly afraid of?

A good horror movie has value because it reveals something about the nature of humanity. They expose deep-seated fears, and provide a canvas for exploring the nature of evil. They accept that at a fundamental level evil does exist. Pennywise is true evil. There are no moral relativists in a horror film.

My favorite scene in It occurs directly after the Losers defeat Pennywise. Bill finds Georgie’s jacket. He breaks down weeping. The other children gather around Bill, embracing him in friendship and love. This touching scene displays the greatest strength and lesson of It, friendship. It is only through the power of friendship and love that they are able to overcome their worst fears and overcome Pennywise.

This movie displays that in community we can overcome many great evils. I was reminded again, that Jesus has called his people to be together. We are commanded to not forsake the gathering of ourselves together; to bear each other’s burdens. We cannot go it alone. The Christian faith is meant to be walked in community. We are at our greatest when we are together. In Christian community we can be a light that holds back the dark. In the face an evil world we have the hope of a savior who will one day vanquish all evil. It reminds us that the world is currently wicked, but also prompts us to look to the Light that has overcome the world.

“Good horror movies accept that at a fundamental level evil does exist. There are no moral relativists in a horror film.”


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Love Will Save the World: A Review of Wonder Women

The long wait is finally over, after 75 years, Wonder Woman has her own movie!

The long wait is finally over, after 75 years, Wonder Woman has her own movie! Beyond all the high hopes, there was a shadow of fear; would the movie be any good? Would the first female lead, female directed superhero movie be a success? Thankfully the answer is yes.

Wonder Woman is a joy to watch. Gal Gadot gives a true break out performance as Diana, enduing her with hopefulness, compassion, innocence, and strength. Steve, played by Chris Pine, is a likeable foil and love interest for Wonder Woman. At 141 minutes, it runs longer than necessary. In the final act the movie devolves into a CGI fest, and some of the CGI looks a little shoddy. These flaws however did not detract from the joy I had watching the film. I highly recommend seeing Wonder Women.

Spoilers follow….

In what might be surprising to some, Wonder Woman paints a picture of the world that aligns itself with the Christian message in many meaningful ways. Wonder Woman is a Christ figure who is compelled by compassion and love to help the helpless, rescue the lost, hurt, and dying. It is no accident that in the most iconic scene of the movie (Dianna stepping out into No Man’s Land) what causes Dianna to fight is her compassion for people who are hurting and dying. In Wonder Woman we have a heroine that does not glory in battle, but fights because of love and a desire for peace.

In the film Dianna realizes that war and death are because of humanity’s inherent wickedness. This is the Christian message. Humanity is fallen. We are born in our trespasses and sins, none can do good, all have sinned, and we are by nature children of wrath. We are lost and we need someone to come rescue us.

In the climatic last battle Ares attempts to convince Diana to join him because humanity is wicked and deserves destruction. Diana combats this argument with “It’s not about what you deserve, but about what you believe.” She follows with. “I believe in love” and later “Love will save the world.” Some might scoff at this dialogue, but the Christian says, “you do not realize just how true this is.”

Where Wonder Woman gives an ill-defined notion of love, the Bible presents a rich compelling version. Jesus is our compassionate hero who fights on our behalf. He conquered Satan, evil, and the grave through his sacrifice on the cross. The Gospel contention has always been that it is not about what we deserve, but about what we believe. We deserve death for our evilness, but we are offered life if we believe in Jesus.

Other religions tell us that we have to do good deeds to deserve salvation and atheists try to tell us that humanity is not wicked. Jesus says, “you are wicked, you do not deserve salvation, but I love you and I give my life for you so that you might have hope, peace, and joy.” Yes, love saves the world! “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

“Other religions tell us that we have to do good deeds to deserve salvation and atheists try to tell us that humanity is not wicked. Jesus says, “you are wicked, you do not deserve salvation, but I love you and I give my life for you so that you might have hope, peace, and joy.” Yes, love saves the world! “


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