Comic book hero origin story. This movie was much better than I had expected. Probably because the director, Kenneth Branagh brought to it a nuanced Shakespearean quality that was appropriate for this story about the Norse god of thunder. Well, actually, it is a demythology of the Norse mythology. That is, it is one of those stories that explains religion as an ignorant misinterpretation of alien science. In this case, Thor is a warrior from the distant realm of Asgard, who is banished to earth without his power because of his impetuous and arrogance aspiring to the throne of his father, Odin. But in this film we learn that the Norse mythology was wrong. Thor and his breed are not gods, but are simply aliens from another part of the galaxy misunderstood as gods by primitive Vikings. This is a common theme in movies today and I intend to write more in depth on it for soon.

Anyway, it was an interesting contrast of modern egalitarian culture with a more patriarchal culture in Thor. As he falls in love with the female scientist played by Natalie Portman, we see him treating her with the chivalry of the past and boy, she likes it! This is no feminist fantasy, but a return to a chivalry that feminists would call chauvinism. The big brawny earthy man protecting the female and treating her with gentility and noble language as the weaker vessel. It was quite a clever culture clash.

And the theme of the story is rather traditional as well. Thor’s mighty hammer is on earth, but because of Odin’s whispered spell over it, only a “worthy” man can pick it up and use it. And Thor cannot do so because of his own pride and arrogance and fighting temper. It is not until he chooses to sacrifice himself to be killed by a big marauding monster robot in order to protect the innocent that he is able to regain his powers and vanquish the enemy. And this, after his “resurrection” from the dead. All very religious in it’s theme.

Which brings me to another point. I am further confirmed that the hunger for comic book superheroes and the like is definitely a “God-substitute.” Even though our secular society has rejected the idea of supernatural deity (as evidenced in the demythology of this very story), it craves deity nonetheless and these superhero stories serve as a modernized religious impulse that replaces that “god-shaped vacuum” in all of us. Their ubiquity in our culture matches the prevalence of the polytheism of ancient culture, whether the Greek or Roman pantheon or those of Sumer and Babylon. But their presence shows us that humankind needs deity and will create its own if it has to.

V For Vendetta

Sci-Fi espionage. Anti-Christ bigoted hate-speech. A futuristic dystopic England that is ruled over by maniacal Christian fanatics is undone by an anarchic terrorist. (The Public Relations mouthpiece uses God talk in his speeches, the symbol of the state is a double cross, and the government posters all say, “Unity through faith,” an obvious reference to “One nation under God” Some government agents quote Proverbs, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” to justify beating the hero with a police baton). It is entirely beyond rational explanation how people like these storytellers, the Wachowskis, can be so blind as to see the world the exact opposite of the way it is. It is on the level of insanity. Or rather, shall we say, they are themselves trapped in the Matrix.

Do these Wachowskis have any clue that it is Muslim countries that would chop off the Wachowski brothers’ heads for their alternate sexual lifestyles? They are worrying about some non-existant Christian government in a fever-brained hallucination of the future oppressing gays when actual existing MUSLIM governments are actually oppressing and killing gays and Christians right now! My God, these kids must have gone to public school.

Actual Muslim totalitarian regimes of genocidal maniacs right now all through the earth killing Christians and outlawing the Bible, and the Ws are “sending the alarm” to watch out for Christian regimes THAT DO NOT EXIST as if they would make Islam and the Koran illegal? This cannot be mere stupidity that causes this kind of upside down view. It can only be pure hatred and bigotry. It boggles the mind, But then, when you are Nietzschean, as these blokes are, you give up your mind for a Dionysian blood bath of hatred and the will to power – all in the name of freedom. Interesting, that their hero Nietzsche’s views actually led to the very totalitarian Nazism that they warn about in Christianity.

Interesting that the V hero says “words are more powerful than truncheons” and that in words lie the power of truth, but according the THEIR Nietzsche, there is no truth to words but mere will to power, the very thing they accuse others of. To Nietzsche, there is no absolute truth behind words, only perspective mastering words to enslave others. V says that enough people blowing up buildings can change the world. So the Ws are actually supporters of terrorism and murder.

There were a few moments of truth, such as the comments that “people should not fear their governments, governments should fear their people,” and “ideas are bullet proof.” And guess who said comments like that in real life history, W bros? Those lunatic Bible believing religious fanatics who founded our country on Christian ideas that provided your freedom to spout hate speech.

Superman Returns

Comic Book Action. Superman returns to earth after a five year absence of soul searching and psychoanalysis. “I have sent you, my only son,” “The son becomes the father and the father, the son.” With these words, Jor-El, an obvious derivative of a name for God in Hebrew (“El”), casts this new installment of the Superman franchise into its original religious mythical status. Singer, in an attempt to bring another unique twist to the comic book saga, does what is original in our secularized society, but is actually old hat to us religious people. He emphasizes the deity aspect of the caped crusader (and for that matter, all superheroes). One character likens the Superman situation to Prometheus and the gods. To which, Lex Luthor, the villain responds, “The gods are selfish beings, who don’t share their powers with mankind.” Thus expressing the hubris of all humanity alienated in sin from their Creator.

Lois Lane gets a Nobel Peace Prize for her article “Why the world doesn’t need Superman,” thus illuminating the real life tragedy that Nobel Peace Prizes are more about reflecting the hegemony of political power than promoting actual Peace. Oh, kinda like Yassir Arrafat getting a Peace Prize, maybe. In one particularly powerful moment of the film, Superman flies up into the stratosphere and he hears the cacophony of billions of people in need of his saving powers. He then brings Lois Lane up there (How she is able to breathe at this altitude, Superman only knows) to show her his response to her claim that “the world doesn’t need a savior and neither do I.” He tells her, “Everyday, I hear people crying for one.” This was particularly moving to me because I have thought of this “God’s-eye view of the world of pain and evil many times, and this scene captured it so beautifully.

There is also a resurrection scene where Superman is dying in the hospital bed after being infected with Kryptonite. But then, they go to the room to see how he is doing, and alas! The stone is rolled away and the body is gone! Or rather, the window is open and Superman has flown away.

Unfortunately, regardless of some of this beautiful religious correlation, I think that the Savior mythology is more akin to The Da Vinci Code than the New Testament. This is more a Gnostic Jesus of Joseph Campbell than a Hebrew one of the Four Gospels. Because, here, Superman fathers a child with his “Mary Magdalene,” Lois, just as he was fathered (the son becomes the father), who of course, has superpowers, thus affirming a mythology of Christ as an office that is appropriated by a succession of avatars (Much like the Mask of Zoro handed on to the next generation), than an individual who is the culmination of all history and hope.
But I still think it’s better than a secularized Superman.

Sky High

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.

Fantastic Four

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.

Batman Begins

Recommended. Best of ‘em all. A more realistic Batman. And Deeper Batman, one that probes the psyche of Bruce Wayne to explain his origin. I appreciated this one for the themes it dealt with: Vengeance vs. justice (much richer than Batman Forever), Overcoming fear, and how our fears make us who we are. The one thing I didn’t care for, but tolerated is the cliché turning to the East for wisdom. This is very fashionable now in the West, when looking for spiritual wisdom, movies always have to look to Native American pagan crap or Eastern monist crap. Oh well, it wasn’t overwhelming. Some great lines in this movie: Liam Neeson’s mentor character tells Wayne, who is trying to deal with his guilt over his parent’s death as well as his hatred for criminals, “Vigilante is a man who is absorbed in his own self gratification. But if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something more than a man.” Wow, what wisdom. It’s true. People do not realize that transcendence is what they need, to be a part of something bigger than themselves. With all these humanistic epics out there like War of the Worlds, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, that destroy transcendence and wonder why their stories fall flat and have no real heart connection. It’s because they spurn transcendent beliefs, they deny there is anything bigger than ourselves or beyond this life. Well, Batman gets it right. Another great moment that reveals the true tragedy of our culture that coddles criminals and seeks to “understand” terrorists: “Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society’s understanding.” Christopher Nolan, who wrote this thing is really thoughtful and great with words. Man, how did that Shakespearean intelligence get past the Executives? Another one: “To conquer fear, you must become your fear.” And thus Batman becomes the very bat he was phobic about because of a past experience. There is a bit of Existentialism in there as Batman responds to his love interest, “It’s not what I am underneath, but it’s what I do that defines me.” Okay, “we are what we do” is existentialism and it is really quite destructive to deny the inner man and the power of who we are inside that ALSO defines us. Because existentialism denies Logos or an underlying meaning to the universe, it concludes that we are thrust into existence and therefore have no inherent meaning, just what we do, that creates us. I have written about the fallacy of this worldview in my book Hollywood Worldviews. It stinks and is disenguine. But no movie is perfect, so it didn’t ruin it for me. And the whole dark approach to the movie is not a gratuitous artsy fartsy imbibing in darkness for the sake of being “edgy” and nihilistic, but rather a realistic attempt to deal with depravity, along with a desire to find hope and justice in the midst of it. Batman is told by his mentor, “Your compassion is your weakness your enemies do not share,” because Batman doesn’t kill everyone he fights, and he is not a vigilante like the vigilante force of Ra’s Al Ghul. But he replies, “No. It’s what makes us different from them.” And this really is the essence of moral fighting of evil. If we become like the evil we fight, then we have failed and will result in the furtherance of evil. We must be more “human” and do what is right even though it may not result in the best result for us, or we simply further evil. Quite refined and reflective for a movie, huh? And a comic book movie at that. I mean it was really quite a thorough investigation of revenge that rang true and captured the feelings and struggles a person would go through over evil done unto their loved ones. This is no mere comic book movie, this was an authentic study of justice and vengeance, good and evil. Nolan, who did Memento and Insomnia is one of my favorite filmmakers.

Sin City

Not Recommended. This is a visual masterpiece of cinematography that more accurately translates a black and white graphic novel into cinema than any other movie has ever done. Splashes of color on a black and white canvas, harsh contrasts of light and dark, surreal landscapes, exaggerated characters. It is inescapably brilliant in this aspect. BUT it is pornography. And I don’t mean merely the sexual softcore porn that litters its celluloid like a two hour Victoria’s Secret Ad on steroids, but the violence is also pornographic and exploitative. This is a juvenile male fantasy, with all the women as sex objects—literally all of them tramping around in leather and lingerie AND shooting guns — the two male idols of the mind. And it is an orgy of revenge without redemption. The most extreme violence you can imagine contextualized as legitimate because it’s less bad guys giving it to worse bad guys. And for that reason it will do extremely well in the box office and monstrously better on DVD with all the myriads of teenage youth who should NOT be ingesting this filth watching it by the droves. And they wonder why kids are killing kids with guns in our schools. Its various episodes are all based on vengeance. Mickey Rourke is Marv, a killer who goes on a killing rampage of criminals connected to the murder of the only woman who would sleep with his ugly mug, a high class call girl. And because the ultimate killer is himself a sick cannibalistic serial killer who mounts the heads of his victims on the wall, well, it’s supposed to be all right that Marv cuts off the cannibal’s arms and legs and keeps him alive to have his own wolf eat him alive. And oh, yeah, the serial killer, of course, READS A BIBLE with a cross on it, once again linking Christianity with the worst of the worst in humanity. Religious bigotry at its finest. And this is the kind of stuff in this story that doesn’t stop. Another episode of Josh Hartnett as a contract hit man who mulls over the beauty and value of certain women before he kills them for his employers. Clive Owen goes on a murderous rampage to protect a town of prostitutes who are themselves murderous rampagers. But it’s all supposed to be moral because after all, it’s women beaters, women murderers and women haters who are getting their comeuppance. Bruce Willis is a cop, who is the closest thing to a good guy in this movie, but even he is a cynical nihilist just like everyone else. And his revenge on bludgeoning a yellow criminal monstrosity is supposed to be okay as well because it is in the defense of a little girl who was going to be raped and murdered by the “yellow bastard” as he is called. So this depraved little series of tales is diabolically genius because it cloaks its nihilistic evolutionary survival of the fittest worldview in a pseudo-moral context. It makes the villains all woman haters and woman abusers so extreme that the moral protective sense in all of us wants to see them pay for their evil. But the problem is, it is all entirely violent vigilante revenge outside the law. It is a nihilistic world of the flesh without grace anywhere. Even all the religious characters are frauds (A corrupt priest and a cannibalistic cardinal). There is no hope outside of sheer brutal violence driven by hatred. Now, I would not say that I do not want all these evil men to die. I do. In fact, I know some people whose young girl was killed by a serial killer, and I can tell you that the God of the Universe gave lex talionis (“eye for an eye”) for a good and just reason. Because rape and murder and certain other crimes can only be justly paid with by another life. BUT that God also dictates that it must only be accomplished through due process, through the law, NOT through vigilanteism (Romans 12:19-13:4). God says that the state is God’s avenger, not individuals. If you want a more in depth examination of this concept, see my article, A Time For Revenge? Vigilanteism and Movie Justice in A Time to Kill. The difference between this movie and a moral movie about revenge, like Man on Fire, is that Man on Fire acknowledges that inner lust for personal revenge that we all have for the wicked of this world, but concludes that it does not accomplish true justice. It begins with vengeance, but ends with grace. Man on Fire illustrates atonement and grace from God found in the midst of this dark world. Sin City exploits an inner sense of justice against evil into a rationalization for unjust violence. It is a religion of carnage, where personal revenge, not grace or justice is what accomplishes redemption. Sure, there’s concern for girls and woman in this movie, sure there’s self-sacrifice and even substitutionary atonement (one dies that another may live) and protective instincts for the “innocent.” But there is no transcendent context for these values. They take place in a Godless universe of nihilistic meaninglessness, of kill or be killed ultimacy. At best, this is an example where, as Francis Schaeffer would say, the unbelieving artist cannot escape God’s image in himself. These reflections of redemption are echos of the conscience in the writer, that bleed out, regardless of how hopelessly lost he is. Even the depraved lovers of violence know the universal need for redemption. But I would say that the dominant ethic of this movie is ultimately: kill or be killed.
Romans 12:17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 13:1 Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.
p.s. Oh, and by the way, I never thought I would see a movie that had more useless voice-over narration than Million Dollar Baby, but Sin City beats it hands down. I realize that was part of the translation of the graphic novel, which relies heavily upon thought bubbles and narration, but it only works half the time. The other half, it’s just telling us what we are seeing the character do anyway. I love voice-over narration, but this is the kind of movie that gives it a bad reputation.


Recommended with qualifications. Constantine is a mixed bag of good and bad theology with high production values, proving once again that secular movie makers make movies about Christian concepts better than Christians do. But everyone suffers because of it. This is basically a secular interpretation of spiritual warfare that a movie of Frank Peretti’s novel, This Present Darkness should have been. But this is a topic I am sore about, because it seems that the world does better movies about Christian themes than Christians do. Okay, The Omen or Left Behind? Which is better, Hmmmm? I wonder. By the way, The Omen still stands strong as a movie 30 years later. Scary as hell. I don’t even agree with its theology but I still think it’s the best Antichrist movie ever. (That is, until they make Hank Hannegraaf’s book The Last Disciple into an epic). The Exorcist or Raging Angels? Heck, even the Seventh Sign was better than the slew of Christian end times movies, and that was a pretty bad movie. I wrote a review of Constantine for Christian Research Journal, so I have to write something different here. Okay, so Constantine is an exorcist who has a special talent of seeing the spiritual world. He committed suicide in the past, but came back to life, so he is condemned to hell by Roman Catholic theology for a mortal sin. Therefore he seeks to work his way back to heaven by casting demons out of people and sending them to hell, thinking that his good deeds will outweigh his bad. Okay, here are the good things I liked about the movie: 1) you have to realize that in our postmodern society that denies evil as a cultural construct, a movie about good angels and evil demons battling over souls of men, with a REAL hell where people suffer for their sins, is A GOOD BEGINNING. No, an excellent beginning. After all, in our world, there is a growing number of people who actually believe that one God’s “terrorist” is another Satan’s “freedom fighter,” as if Satan has a legitimate perspective. As if evil is relative. Well, this movie dispels that ignorance pretty well and I like it for that. 2) It shows angels, not just demons, 3) it communicates a rudimentary notion of salvation through faith when Gabriel tells Constantine that he can’t earn his way to heaven because of the sin he’s committed. That’s a powerful truth that is certainly politically incorrect to communicate. Constantine begins the story with a grudge against God, and he thinks God is a “kid who’s not planning anything,” but ends up asking God for a little help at the climax and concludes that God does have “a plan for all of us.” Before I talk about what I didn’t like, I want to establish that a movie DOES NOT HAVE TO be theologically correct to be a legitimate story. Much like Jesus’ parables, the important point is the overall worldview or overall theme of the movie. I have a movie coming out about demon possession (The Visitation) that takes creative liberties with the concept of demon possession and healing. But the whole point of the story is how people can be religious and miss the truth if they don’t have it right to begin with. But having said that, I still must give my complaints of elements that bugged me about Constantine: 1) The entire scenario of the movie is based on a Dualistic worldview where God and the devil make a bet to win the souls of men, but only through influence, not direct contact. It makes them look more like equal powers fighting “to see who would win.” Constantine is an Arminian Free Will nightmare of dualism where God and the devil are near equal beings of power…” Think about it, If our salvation is all up to our will and God can’t change our hearts he can only persuade us—as the Arminian believes—then God really is no stronger than Satan in the battle for men. Satan really does have a chance to win if he can convince more men to his side. In this view, God is thought of as the most powerful being in the universe, but not truly all-powerful. And technically, he isn’t even the most powerful. Man’s will is the most powerful being in the universe and gosh, I sure hope God is good enough to convince man. You get the point. This is on the level of the light and dark sides of the Force baloney. Some may point to Job as an example of the wager, but that is a specific instance of one man’s life and God is always in control the entire time, which he makes very clear in the final chapters: “Job 42:2 “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” In Constantine, it is the ultimate picture of the universe, a worldview. But if one looks at the Bible, there may be a bet in Job, but the whole story has already been written from beginning to end, or Genesis to Revelation, and God’s battles with Satan are predestined to failure for Satan. So, yes, there is struggle in Biblical spiritual warfare, but from God’s perspective, he is still in control of every thing that happens and has it all planned out. 2) Another thing is that they set up the “Spear of Destiny” that pierced Christ’s side as the McGuffin that the demons are trying to get a hold of. They say that Christ didn’t die on the cross, the spear killed him, so whoever has the spear will rule the world. Well, GOD SAYS that Jesus gave up his spirit and the spear merely proved he was already dead by illustrating the division of his blood and water flowing from his side. This is a typical occult Gnostic view that uses talismans as objects of power in the spirit world. I’m not against using these as cinematic symbols of spiritual powers all together, but it’s just the whole context makes it seem that even GOD can’t stop them. I am reminded of the famous line in Raiders of the Lost Ark where they say that whoever has the ark is unstoppable, as if God can’t even do so. But when they open the Ark, God does kill them cause they did not anticipate God’s power. 3) Another thing, Even though hell is real in this story, the depiction of demons ruling over hell is more like a Roman Catholic medieval picture out of Dante than the Bible. The Bible says that the devil and his angels will THEMSELVES be tormented forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). So, hell is not a party or realm of power for demons, it is a place of punishment for them as well as humans. 4) Also, the goal of the demons is to bring forth the “Son of the devil” by human birth, in the same was as Jesus was the “Son of God.” Well, this is a common movie convention, but it is terribly unbiblical. There is not a single Scripture that indicates Satan can have the same kind of incarnation that God had. Here is another of my censored sentences from the Journal article: “This may fit the fanciful theology of Left-Behinders whose blessed hope is the coming of an incarnate “Antichrist,” but it has no place in a biblical theology of incarnation.” 5) There is a voodoo witchdoctor who is portrayed as “neutral” in this battle between God and Satan. Which is a joke, because God says that witchcraft is detestable in his sight and that there is no neutrality, you are either for Him or against Him (Deut. 18:9-14, Matt 12:30). Neutrality is, as they say, a lie of the devil. Ain’t no purgatory, folks. And there ain’t no sin, like Constantine’s suicide for instance, that cannot be forgiven. 6) An interesting thing that they had in the movie was that they used the term, “half-breeds” of angels or demons who were suspended between heaven and hell or something like that. Well, that seemed to me to be a pretty racist language in today’s politically correct fascist fashion. But all in all, considering our anti-supernatural Darwinian society, I consider the spiritual breakthrough of Constantine more good than bad, and quite frankly, I’m glad Christians didn’t make it cause they probably would have screwed up even worse. (Unless it were me, of course ☺)

Spiderman 2

Recommended for it’s morality, but not so much for it’s story. I say this because, like the first movie, this one reaffirms the traditional notion of heroism and moral character. For this, I applaud. The problem is that it is very preachy and it is done within a predictable typical comicbook movie plot. How many times am I going to see another “growing ball of energy that is going to destroy New York.” Maybe I’m being too nitpicky because you gotta go exaggerated for comic books. But I guess that stuff is just boring to me. Big FX effects and wild action are boring compared to the personal emotional and spiritual conflict. Now, this movie has that personal angst. In fact, it has it OVERKILL. Too much of a good thing, as they say. This one reiterates the excellent theme of the first movie, that with great power comes great responsibility. Problem is, they spell that phrase out a couple more times in this movie as a way to pound it into our heads. And if that isn’t enough, Peter tells his aunt the whole backstory that we already saw in the first movie where he passes by the criminal who kills his uncle. And then has a vision of talking with his dead uncle in heaven, or at least, somewhere in the ether. This is all just too much. I liked Petey explaining to the aunt, but everything else was too much corn. The other problem I have is that I don’t think you should have the same moral or theme in both movies. That becomes redundant and derivative. The Matrix had it right at least in this aspect, that the first movie was all about questioning reality. Instead of repeating that theme, in the second movie, they focused on a new and equally thoughtful theme, that of freedom and determinism. Another cool theme in Spidey 2 was, as Aunty says, “Sometimes, to do what’s right, you have to give up the thing you love most, even our dreams.” Very powerful and pure. Peter has to give up a normal life with rest, a girlfriend, and any time to himself, if he is going to do good. Another cool theme was that heros are examples for us of courage and self sacrifice, and that we all have the capacity for being heros, not just extraordinary men. Problem is, Aunty has to spell this out to us in a two page monologue to Peter, where she preaches, “There’s a hero in all of us. Heros are examples for us of self sacrifice and courage.” The delivery was just too pedagogical, too on the nose, “this is the moral lesson of the story.” Don’t get me wrong, I believe in strong moral themes, and like I said, I like Spiderman for it. But you know, Christians are always getting lambasted for “preaching” their moral messages in films, for spelling out what we are supposed to learn. And they are flippantly condescended to as prosletyzers. Hey, I’ve criticized them myself for such pedagogy! Well, what’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander. I want to hear those same criticisms objectively applied to a Hollywood movie guilty of the same thing. This theme of finding the hero in each of us is further extrapolated by the concept of the consequences of our choice. If we choose to do the right thing, then we will become the hero, if we choose the wrong, we become less capable of such heroism. As Auntey concludes in her preachy sermon to Peter, “It’s wrong that we should be half ourselves.” That is why Peter starts to lose his spider powers. Because the more he struggles with wanting to be normal, wanting to NOT save the world, wanting to just have his own life, unhindered by the problems of others, the more he loses his spider powers that help him to save others, in other words, his inner heroism decreases the more self oriented he becomes. The more his personal sense of identity is confused, the less able he is to help others. The more he feeds the self, the less capable of heroism he becomes. Again, this is a tremendous moral, but it just seems a bit too contrived to the original story. I thought his powers came first and with those powers came responsibility. Now his responsibility comes first and then he gets his powers after. Oh, you mean I too can be a Spiderman, if I just CHOOSE to do right? Ah ha! Again, true, good and beautiful, but again, not as intrinsic to the reality, so it doesn’t hit me emotionally or spiritually. Okay, okay, I forgive them, because they had good intent. It’s just not as powerful to affect me because even though the theme rings true to our humanity, it does not ring true to the story. But hey, it’s just a comic book movie, so give ‘em some slack. I gotta say that I really thought the scene in the first movie where Spiderman holds an entire cable car with his web was just so ludicrous that it turned me off. Yet, I think I have found a scene to match that ludicrous in the sequel. When Spiderman must stop the runaway train by spinning webs to hold the car back and sticking his feet in the ground to stop the car. You know, Spiderman is NOT Superman, okay? There has to be some limit to his strength and invulnerability. Sticking his feet into train track studs while going 60 or 70 miles an hour in a multiple ton train car would snap his legs right off. And holding onto the webs to stop the train like a slingshot would rip his arms off. Now I can accept a little bit of exaggeration for a movie, but when you go ridiculous just cause you have to top other stuff, then you create this kind of outlandish absurdity. And then, when Spiderman is so exhausted he can’t fight Doc Oc on the train, the people carry his body over their heads in a Christ pose. You know, they should outlaw that analogy in film. It was original when they did it in Cool Hand Luke 30 years ago, but it’s been done to death. Please don’t resurrect it! – no matter how good the intentions.

The Punisher

Not recommended. First of all, this is a revenge movie, so for a theological examination of the morality of revenge see my article, “A Time To Revenge?: Vigilanteism and Movie Justice in A Time to Kill. But leaving that aside for the moment, I would like to address the story of this genre movie. This movie was very difficult to watch, not because it was a revenge movie, but because it was a revenge movie trying not to be a revenge movie until the last act, which totally confused it. Basically, you have this undercover cop, Frank Castle, whose entire family and friends are killed as revenge for a mobster’s son’s death under Frank’s sting operation. The storytellers try to make Frank a righteous and good man by showing that the mobster’s kid shows up unannounced, and Frank doesn’t know who he is, and then Frank is disappointed when he discovers that the kid is accidentally shot dead in a drug bust he was working on. No one was supposed to get hurt, we discover. Okay, so that’s fine. I like righteous men as heros. But the problem is this: the movie sets up a very emotionally extreme revenge situation but delivers a confused pay off by trying to make Frank’s revenge, “legitimate” or “fair,” rather than embracing the full heart of revenge. It just isn’t emotionally or humanly believable. The mobster, Howard, finds out that Frank was the head of the sting that killed his kid, and Howard’s wife gets him to slaughter Frank’s entire family and friends at a party in revenge. Frank barely survives and embarks on his blood vengeance. The problem is that this slaughter is very extreme, and even believable, but Frank’s reactions are not. After he gets well, he packs up a pile of guns and weapons and moves to the city to track down Howard. BUT THEN HE DOESN’T USE THE WEAPONS. Rather, Frank decides to try to be a pest to Howard by dumping his dirty drug money into the streets, and get his Cuban connections mad at him for losing money, and then to get Howard thinking his wife is committing adultery with his most trusted henchman. Frank does all this in an effort to get Howard’s own evil to turn against him and bring his downfall. Okay, that’s a clever revenge tactic, but it does not fit at all the emotional set up of the story. Frank is set up as an ex-special forces guy with all these weapons, etc. etc. His ENTIRE family is slaughtered, so his revenge is to go and cause financial trouble for the responsible mobster? NO WAY. He would track him down and each of his family members, one by one, and kill them like an avenging angel, that’s what he would do. The kind of revenge the storytellers actually have Frank embark on would work best if the mobster just financially screwed over a NON-ACTION guy, who then gets back by screwing up the Mobster’s financial life, but then the mobster kills the guy’s family half way through, which leads the hero to then track down the mobster’s family. You see? Escalating revenge, not backwards revenge. Howard killed Frank’s entire family for goodness sake! He would kill them all, not be a pest. The heart fizzed immediately out of this story. And to make matters worse, they always try to make Frank super fair, even though he’s seeking revenge. Frank is supposed to be dead, right? SO he has the surprise element which is perfect, right? He can start attacking Howard and no one will know who the heck is doing it, right? SO what does Frank do? He shows himself in front of his ex-partners at the Police headquarters to complain that they haven’t done anything to jail the mobster after killing Frank’s family! He tells the world he’s alive, when he had such great cover? How stupid and unbelievable. Then, on Frank’s first revenge, he spills Howard’s millions of dollars out a window, and when he comes across two of the bodyguards who killed his family, he faces them down like a gunslinger fight. And he let’s them draw first before he shoots them both. Are you kidding me? A man bent on revenge, who gives his enemies a fighting chance? Who are they trying to kid? I applaud the storytellers for trying to make a hero with ethics who always is justified in his violence out of self-defense, but it just doesn’t fit the genre. THIS IS A REVENGE STORY GUYS, not a superman comic. Road to Perdition deals with this theme how it should be dealt with in a much more believable way. Okay, so then Frank is holed up in a little apartment where he is recognized by his tenants, and he doesn’t seem to care. Also, he doesn’t seem to care about being found out and tracked down by the mobster, so he doesn’t hide his whereabouts. How ignorant can he be? And then there’s this big scene where a loser neighbor with body piercing determines he is not going to talk to the mobster to tell him where Frank is hiding in the building. So he is tortured, but he never talks. This is completely unbelievable. They try to set up that Frank saved this kid from being beaten up earlier, so he returns the favor. But the problem is that the kid is such a white trash weak loser that it is entirely unbelievable. Of course, he would give up. Heck, hardened soldiers give up when tortured. It is laughable. And then the mobster doesn’t kill the neighbors for not talking? Yeah, right. He slaughters entire families, but doesn’t kill people who are covering for the hero. And now here is the ridiculous part. After the mobster hurts this one kid by ripping out all his body rings, NOW Frank is really mad. NOW he takes all his guns and weapons and hunts down the mobster and his family to kill them all brutally. Of course, he still let’s the mobster kill his own wife out of misplaced jealousy, but still, this is the last act where Frank goes ballistic and finally mercilously slaughters the Mobster’s gang, one by one in a deliberated hunt. Oh, so you kill his entire family and he causes financial trouble for you, but hurt my white trash neighbor friend, and that’s going too far. Now, I’m going to kill you all. That is so backwards that I should have walked out of the movie for that alone. Okay, I didn’t. I had to be able to finish my argument. ☺ And the scene where Frank prepares to kill them all is where they have a little voiceover of Frank explaining his rationale why sometimes you have to go outside of the law to get justice done. It’s all rather pedantic and preachy, but it shows just how confused the storytellers are, trying to make a revenge movie, but to stay as fair and self-defense oriented as long as possible. Of course, I’m with them in their intent, but they just picked the wrong story to work that theme. It would have been more germane to the story to have Frank go out on an emotionally justified revenge, but learn in the end that it kills his soul just the same. Like I said, watch Road to Perdition, which is the story, these guys were deliberately trying to copy. It is the better version of this story. When the hero in Road to Perdition goes after Capone’s money for revenge against his family being killed, he does so only because he knows he is way too small to be able to get to the bad guy, so he does it to draw attention to his plight and force the big guys to do something about it. Also, there is the political family issue that the hero was beloved by and loved the father whose son deserved to die. So he couldn’t just kill the person responsible for his family’s murder without drawing down the wrath of the entire mob upon him and his surviving son. So his dilemma was complicated by trying to keep his son alive as well. The terrible injustice done to the Road to Perdition story was that they raped the original graphic novel story of it’s spiritual redemption which was intrinsic to the whole meaning of the story. In the novel, Jesus is the antithesis of revenge, but in the movie, “gun control” is the antithesis of revenge. Very stupid. But, you know Hollywood hates Jesus, so what can you expect. But that’s a whole different movie, so I’ll stop.