Recommended. This is a live action version of The Incredibles, and I loved it. And it is an example of my inner tension over comic book super heros. On the one hand, Movies like the X-Men franchise seem to be secular god substitutes in being myth carriers like the Greek and Roman pantheons, which causes a nagging dislike for them. On the other hand, movies like Sky High seem to use “super powers” more as a strict metaphor for the specialness or uniqueness of the individual and their contribution to society. Same artistic approach used for different worldviews. At least that’s how I see it. And I’m willing to admit this may be a subjective thing. I think the fact that the typical comic book movie tries to be “realistic” in taking itself more seriously, while Sky High is more tongue in cheek comedic analogy. Maybe that’s what makes it feel different to me. Anyway, the theme of Sky High is about Winners and Losers, the juvenile categorization of high school society. There is a one to one correspondance between how “sidekicks” and “heros” are treated with the winners and losers or the cool and the nerds in high school. The fact that each of the side kicks end up using their “minor” powers to help save the day is an obvious analogy to how each and every person is special and can contribute value to the community. It is very reminiscient of the biblical notion of the Body of Christ. There are some uncomely body parts and some more comely, but ALL are important to the health of the body. There is also a subtle anti-technology theme running in there that is another reflection of The Incredibles. That is, the villain is a technopath that can arrange technology with her mind, while the corresponding love interest for the hero boy is a girl with the powers of nature. She can call forth nature. And both are vying for the hero’s affection. This is much like the villain in The Incredibles who mimics superpowers with technology because he is jealous that he does not have any naturally. So technology here is a tendency toward destruction of our humanity.
Recommended. Okay, Michael Bay, formula action movie with tons of non-sequitur action sequences. But so what. It brought a transcendence that lifted the formula out of its typical action emptiness and gave it some real heart and soul, something so many action movies just lack. It is an exploration of cloning ethics that bears directly on our current issues of the definition of persons and the value of human life. Truly astounding. It’s the story of some clones who discover they are being bred to harvest their body parts for rich clients. They are born and raised in a facility like cows and are lied to that there is a contamination on the outside world that keeps them locked up in their facility. But there is a lottery that you can win and leave the facility to go to the one uncontaminated paradise left, The Island. Of course, they are actually taken and harvested for their organs and killed. Here is some of the obvious pro-life rhetoric in this film: The company that makes the clones says, “It’s a product, not human,” when questioned about the destruction of such clones (read: embryos). One of the clients tells his clone, “You’re not human. You’re not a person like me.” So the definition of personhood is challenged as well, because we see that the clones are obviously persons who have been defined away as non-persons, much like the Nazis did with the Jews. It’s the power of image showing the attempt to deny the obvious. The pro-clone people see the clones as “Organs in a jelly sack.” And they keep them away from the real world because people would see that they are living breathing human beings, NOT products without souls. When someone wins the lottery to go to the Island, they’re called “Chosen” and this is made a very big point several times throughout. This is an obvious allusion to “Choice” the fruit or results of “choice” is the death of these people. There are some powerful connective allusions to other atrocities of man’s inhumanity to man in history. They are branded with a number, like those in the Holocaust, A black man mentions how his people were called “less than human” in history, and some clones are herded into a gas chamber, another reference to the Holocaust. These are the same arguments made by the Pro-life movement that the declaration of the unborn or clones as “non-human” or “property” is exactly what was done in Nazi Germany and the Slavery movement in America. And to top it off, when the clones are being created, they are in big sacks in fetal positions sucking their thumbs. Another obvious reference to the unborn. Of course for sci-fi to be able to deal with clones that are aged the same as their donors, they have to create a way to grow a clone unnaturally fast, so in this story, they take some tissue and inject human DNA into it and it enables it to grow to the same age as the donor. Whatever. They hide the humanity of the clones by defining them in terms of the “mass of tissue” that they start out as. The point is that the entire run for their lives that the clones are doing is a metaphor for the lives being hunted down by the predators of the pro-choice and cloning movements. We have become a predatorial society that eats its young to sustain its aged. We have become a monstrosity that is dehumanizing humanity, the necessary first step in genocide and atrocity to alleviate the moral guilt. Interestingly, there are some side elements about religion and God that are somewhat ambiguous. On the positive side, the cloning guy says the clones are the “holy grail of science. They have no souls. I will cure leukemia. How many can do that?” (Science as religion) The hero replies, “I guess you and God.” In other words, the old point that scientists try to eliminate God but end up trying to be God in their power. On the negative side, I think the cloning city is made out to be a bit like religion. The point is made that “Contamination is the one global threat” to keep the clones from searching and discovering their true identity. Almost like a slam on the Garden of Eden and God’s curse for eating from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And the Island becomes a sort of metaphor for Paradise, or Heaven, and the hero says, “I wish there was more than just waiting to go to the Island.” This worldly, rather than otherworldly. Which really, most Christians would agree, but it is nonetheless a caricature of religion as pie in the sky. But then again, the clones are NOT told anything about God, which is part of the censoring. So when the hero clone hears about God, he asks his secret helper who works for the corporation what God is. He replies, “When you want something and you close your eyes and wish for it. God’s the guy who ignores you.” The clone hero’s donor says he made his clone because he got hepatitis, “a parting gift from God for all my philandering.” So God is mostly dealt with irreverently and negatively, making me think the filmmakers’ were trying to have morality without God, which really only makes them look foolish and hurts the consistency of the philosophy behind their story. When the hero clone tells his love interest that “the Island is real. It’s us.” I think this may be a humanistic turning inward saying, either, “There is no pie in the sky Island paradise, humanity is paradise,” or a more positive version: “we are the means to the end of others to achieve their island.” So the God thing could have been a stronger angle, but may have been deliberately downplayed because of their own worldviews.
Hard to Recommend. This is a story of two sleaze balls, played perfectly by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, who crash weddings in order to sleep with women. They are cynical divorce attorneys who do not believe in love or marriage, only selfish gratification and using women for their pleasure. This story is their redemption and how they discover true love, which is defined in the film as “A soul’s recognition of it’s counterpoint in another.” Okay, that’s good. These two selfish men, the worst of our kind, use every trick in the book to manipulate women, and then they discover true love which saves them from their selfishness. Well, a bit Romantic, and I’ don’t mean love romance, but the worldview of Romanticism. But a pretty good moral to the story. The problem is that it is very crass in getting to that moral. Obviously riddled with a lot of sex gags, and unfortunately, entirely inappropriate cussing throughout. What I liked was seeing Vince Vaughn’s character, getting his comeuppance in the form of his own fantasies so to speak. Well, the problem with this formula is always that it portrays human romance as the ultimate meaning to life. And as much as I would heartily believe in true love with my wife, it just can’t save us.
Kinda Recommended. Another brilliant feminist tale written and directed by my favorite female director, Nora Ephron. LOVED Will Ferrell. Amazing gut wrenching laughs. He is brilliant as the self absorbed movie star on a down turn in his career. Some great lines about Hollywood insanity and selfishness, especially about acting. “He’s an actor. Deep down there is no deep down.” And “I want to be normal.” “Acting is better than normal. You get to pretend your normal.” But hey, some of my best friends are actors, so… Anyway, this is a brilliant modern day story about remaking the Bewitched series from television in the present day. And Nicole Kidman plays a real witch trying to be normal, who gets discovered to play the part of Samantha on the series. Loved the postmodern self-referential awareness of the whole thing. Samantha blurts out the moral of the story when she is talking about the TV show and says, “This show is about marriage.” The story is about Will Farell turning from a selfish self-centered man who thinks the world revolves around him and a woman is a support to his fame, into a man who sacrifices himself for the betterment of the woman and an egalitarian marriage. Another aspect of the theme was in the concept of striving to “exist between two worlds,” as Nicole says. This is about her being “born” a witch and trying to fit into a normal world, which reflects the films bigger canvas of women trying to fit into a world of the past (represented by the Bewitched conservative reality of the 60s) and the present, of feminism. Nicole’s witch is made to be naïve to the real world of relationships, though God only knows why. But this naivete then is the vehicle for exploring the struggle of women today. The conclusion of the film is “You can exist between two worlds.” Which is to say women can be somewhere in between the two extremes of barefoot and pregnant and trying to be like men. By the way, this is why the witchcraft side of it did not bother me. I saw it merely as a creative metaphor for exploring the place of women in society, not as an endorsement of witchcraft as a viable worldview. Although the very concept of Witchcraft being an inborn trait and neutral is of course, a lie. Diversity is a strong mythology of postmodern America, which is why you see a lot of movies like this being about being different and not fitting into a normal world, as if we have to eliminate the notion of “normal” It reflects the zeitgeist of our era of the idolatrous elevation of diversity over unity, and while I believe in diversity and acceptance of people who are different, not ALL diversity is legitimate. There must be boundaries or limitations of “normality” or you wind up with Chaos. The legitimate question that is raised by pomos is “Who defines normality?” Well, I think it’s pretty obvious that the Creator of the universe defines what is normal in HIS universe, not us. Anyway, one weakness of the story is the pitch for women to have a job to get self-esteem. Nicole says this several times in her own life and in the TV show, so it is an important point to the storyteller, but I found this unsatisfying and inconclusive. A fuller picture would be the discovery that jobs and careers are not what personal meaning or that psychobabble term “self-esteem” is all about. The fact is, achieving a career is ultimately empty without being rooted in something eternal, like people and God. While I am happy with my own career pursuits and achievements in life, none of it has any real lasting value except in light of my relationship with God and my wife, so those kind of stories never ring true to me. In my mind, it is a character flaw to consider self-esteem as our goal, or even career as fulfillment. That is something we need to be redeemed from, not something that redeems us. Anyway, I found it an interesting postmodern story about stories as the ending shows Will and Nicole falling in love, marrying and moving into a house that is the exact house of the show and we even see Abner and his wife across the street nosing in about it all. And so the reality and the myth blend into one, illustrating the point that storytelling is enough of a valid means of truth, it doesn’t have to be real. Reality, in the postmodern mind really is meaningless outside of story, and story is about story, not reality. So we use story to define our reality.
Recommended. A great little story about a small group of Allied soldiers behind enemy lines in WWII. It is a very realistic exploration of a character who is a Christian of some kind, who struggles with having unintentionally killed 2 women and 4 children in a military raid. He is haunted by his guilt as his small company of men try to make it through enemy lines to deliver important intell to the Allied side. It was a refreshingly honest spiritual rip-off of Saving Private Ryan, even sporting Ryan rip-off music. But I loved it. I heard that it was made by Mormons, but I did not notice anything in the movie that indicated this kid was a Mormon, at least not to us normal people who do know any code words of Mormonism. The kid is called “Deacon” but that is biblical, and I have heard it used of Christians. Also, he was a “missionary” in Berlin. I’ve heard Mormons have to go on missions, but hey, that is a Christian concept FIRST, so it is not distinctly Mormon. So I don’t think Mormonism really holds sway if it is in there. One of the things about the authenticity of this film is that is was not black and white in it’s theme. On the one hand, it seemed to indicate that a religious conscience cannot work in war because there are too many accidents and innocents killed, but on the other hand, the kid is like the sharpshooter in Ryan (another rip-off, but I didn’t care), in that he is a good shot and kills enemy soldiers efficiently. AND YET, he has the ability to love and connect with an enemy soldier, he just happened to have befriended in Berlin before the War. So the sticky issue of spiritual brothers on opposing sides and how their allegiance to God’s Kingdom is higher than to man’s kingdoms was a very unique and welcomed challenge to this viewer. I am reminded of another great WWII movie that does this, but I don’t want to toot my own horn ☺ Anyway, I thought this film was thoughtful and had real heart. Awesome job for a low budget film. See it. Support meaningful thoughtful spiritual movies.
Ambivalent Recommendation. I say ambivalent because, while on the one hand, I enjoy comic book movies, Fantastic Four was my favorite comic as a kid, and this one was pretty good as those go, I have a growing suspicion of the comicbook superhero culture which I will explain in a minute. First, this one translated the characters pretty well, from the ornery Ben Grimm to the weasley Reed Richards, the sexy Sue Storm and the rowdy juvenile Johnny Storm. The interrelationships of these people suffice as a sort of family structure. The idea that a superpower reflects also the point of weakness for a character works extremely well here. Grimm has an anger management issue which makes him hard as a rock, Johnny is of course, adolescent and passionate which translates to the flame, Sue has the issue of being invisible to the man she loves, Reed, and Reed is so waffling and rubbery in his manliness toward Sue that it causes relationship issues. And even the villain, Dr. Doom, is a steely heartless Tinman. Well, the unique tack of this story was that it was more personal of a villain and goal. Dr. Doom had big designs, but this story was about him trying to eradicate the Fantastic Four in order to carry out his ultimate designs (which, I don’t even remember if he said what those were). Anyway, this personal edge that was atypical from the usual comic book villain trying to take over the world was on the one hand different and refreshing. On the other hand, halfway through I found myself getting bored because it seemed so petty of a goal, that is, personal vengeance on the Four not being an important enough arena to sustain interest. I don’t know, maybe I’m just impossible to please. I enjoyed watching them use their powers together to save people from a major accident scene on the bridge. I enjoyed their discovery of their powers, and I especially enjoyed their troubled relationship with each other. Their superpowers do not make them super virtuous. They are after all, humans too. And in that sense the audience can identify with them and they become mythological models of the pursuit of virtue. My problem with these superhero movies is a nagging little thought at the back of my head of how similar in function comic book superheros have become to the pagan pantheon of Greek and Roman gods. The similarities are scary. The Greeks and Romans did not believe that their gods were real, any more than we do watching our comic book superheros. They were stories to explain the origins of meaning and the values of the culture. The pagan deities were in fact projections of humanity at it’s greatest potential for both good and evil. Just like Superheros and supervillains are in fact, normal humans given extraordinary powers. The pagan pantheon was petty, bickering and struggled with vice, just as the FF bicker with each other, or the X-Men are demigods, yet frail. A big difference is that the Roman/Greek gods were religious, and superheros are not. But is that really true? What I mean is that the deities were worshipped as deities and were somewhat transcendent. But now, deity is relocated INTO nature, that is an intrinsic guiding process of change that operates with providential control through scientific laws. I see the new trend toward super power origins to be rooted in evolution. In the 50s and up, powers usually came from some atomic accident, marking the danger of science as well as it’s ultimate modernist saving hope for mankind. A delicate balance. But with XMen and now, FF, powers come from evolutionary adaptation. In Fantastic Four, the cosmic storm cloud that gives them their powers is described in the beginning as the source of life on earth as it interacted with the elements billions and billions of years ago. So, we see how the metanarrative mythology of evolution (unguided chance processes) is replacing the mythology of humanism (Accidental human genius). But of course, they are really just two sides of the same coin of modernity. But really, modernity is just a naturalistic religion that substitutes chance for fate or providence, substitutes immanence for transcendence (this worldly rather than otherworldly), and substitutes human love as ultimate in place of love of one’s creator. But modernity, or evolution, operate as systems of salvation where man is “saved” from his ignorance and superstition by his intellect, rationality and science. Ignorance replaces sin in this religious paradigm of modernity. So the point is that modernism does not replace religion with a non-religious paradigm, it merely replaces one religious paradigm with another religious paradigm of secular scientism and evolution, which still operates to explain the same questions of origin and meaning that religion does. Therefore, evolution is really just another religious story meant to give meaning to the world based on a faith commitment to an ultimate that cannot be proved, namely naturalistic chance processes. Okay, back to superheros. It is interesting that in FF, Johnny Storm muses that their powers are “a higher calling,” that “fate turned us into gods.” So there is an explicit metaphoric likening to deities that is recognized in the film itself. I am not making this up in my mad little mind. Just a cursory comparison of superheros with pagan deities will give you a taste of the likenesses.
Human torch – Vulcan, Roman god of fire
Be Grimm, The Hulk – Mars, Roman god of war
Superman – Hercules
The Flash – Mercury, Roman messenger god of speed
Aquaman, The SubMariner – Neptune, god of the sea
Of course, I am not suggesting a one to one correspondence, but merely a common paradigm of exalted humanity that replaces the One true God with many gods, a common impulse since the Fall. My point: Superheros have a tendency to operate as secular god substitutes in a postmodern pluralistic culture. They give us hope, they save us from evil, they provide an example of virtue and illustrate for us what we could be. Every system has an ultimate reference point and that ultimate reference point or standard is the deity of the system. The deity of pluralism is polytheism. Pluralism means “many truths,” which means, “many gods.” Having said all this, I am not condemning all superhero stories. I may be missing what separates the two mythologies. I am simply wrestling with thoughts that are creeping up in my mind as I interact with these myths and think them through. One fine example is The Incredibles, where I see superpowers, not as a secular god substitute, but as an obvious metaphor of the potential for extraordinariness and uniqueness of each individual. Maybe that’s not all that different from Fantastic Four. I’m not sure. Still thinking it through.