Monday, June 18, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

I dig the Silver Surfer. Always have. Always will. He is an outsider. He is a stranger in a strange land. He is a philosopher and prophet. And how many super-heroes ride a surf board through space? That’s just ultra-cool.

I was concerned then when my all-time favorite comic-book hero was slated to appear in the next Fantastic Four movie. The first movie was lacking and Doctor Doom, one of the greatest comic book villains, was ruined. I feared for the cinematic treatment of Norrin Radd, the Silver Surfer. After seeing FF: Rise of the Silver Surfer I am not disappointed. The filmmakers understand the Surfer.

The Silver Surfer begins as an apocalyptic character. His arrival heralds judgment and doom. Ultimately, the Surfer is a messianic figure. He is a visitor from another world who would save us from ourselves with his unlimited power, but we of course treat him with contempt and fear.

The Silver Surfer saves earth from Galactus, the world devouring entity, by placing himself between earth and his master. This is comparable to certain atonement theories that involve appeasement of God. In these theories, Christ is the messiah who saves humanity by placing himself in front of the consuming wrath of God.

I do not think an appeasement or substitutionary theory of atonement is the only way of describing biblical atonement. It certainly is not a comprehensive theory. The comparison of Christ and God to the Silver Surfer and Galactus in this film only demonstrates the limitations of common appeasement theories of atonement. Is God a devouring force that seeks our destruction? Does Christ have to rebel against his heavenly father in order to save the world? Of course not. The biblical teaching about atonement is more about the reconciliation of a broken relationship between God and humanity than appeasement of an angry deity.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer may just be a gee-whiz comic-book flick, but here I am reflecting on atonement and the Messiah. This is why I dig the Silver Surfer. He makes us think. Preach it, Surfer.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3 is a tangled web of revenge: Harry Osburn blames Peter Parker for the death of his father. Eddie Brock hates Peter Parker for causing him to lose his job. Flint Marko is to blame for the death of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben . . . and when Peter finds out surely he too will want revenge.

The complicated and broken relationships of the characters attract the attention of the black, oozing symbiote from outer space. The symbiote thrives on hatred, revenge, and lust. It turns Spider-Man into “Dark Spider-Man.” Later it leeches onto Eddie Brock and becomes Venom. Interestingly the symbiote does not change the host, but only magnifies the worst characteristics of the host. It is a darkness that is nurtured by sinister and selfish desires.

Spider-Man 3 gives us a brilliant depiction of sin that is not unlike the anthropomorphic description of sin in Genesis 4. In that ancient account, God warns Cain that his hatred toward his brother Abel is attracting sin to his doorstep. Sin is crouching outside waiting for Cain to open the door and let it in. God urges Cain to get the upper hand on sin lest it consume him and have its way with him. The Genesis 4 story is mirrored in the movie in a scene in which Peter is drawn to the box in the closet in which he hides the symbiote. Peter is tempted to open the box and let the symbiote consume him. As with Cain, the consequences are terrible.

Spider-Man 3 trades on the clichéd movie theme that we all have a dark side. However, this movie departs from the cliché in the way that the dark side is overcome by the heroes – and even a few of the villains. Rather than admonish us to accept the dark side or exercise enough will power to resist it, our heroes choose to forgive. Harry forgives Peter. Mary Jane forgives Peter. Peter even forgives Flint Marko, the Sandman, who is partly responsible for the death of Uncle Ben. In doing so, Peter lets go of his own guilt for Uncle Ben’s death. The rich symbolism of the Sandman fading away on the winds and the dawn of a new day is not to be missed.

Spider-Man 3 is visually exciting and magical. The storytelling remains as fun and funny as the previous movies. Unlike the first and second movies, Spider-Man 3 is more than a good versus evil morality tale. Perhaps Stan Lee would agree with me that it is a mighty Marvel pulp-fiction parable of full-color forgiveness and super-heroic spirituality! Excelsior!