If you are a superhero fan, it's a great time to be alive. With the MCU now 17 films deep and the recent formation of a live-action Justice League, there is no shortage of superhero movies. However, I'll admit that ever since I first saw Iron Man in the theater back in 2008, the magic has died off a little. As the genre fills up more and more, we have started seeing stories repeated, action sequences copied, and tropes used again and again.
Yet, perhaps with this repetition of themes, we get a glimpse of a core belief so ingrained in our psyche Hollywood can't help but feature it in nearly every good superhero film. Three movies from this year are prime examples of this core belief.
Wonder Woman: Diana thinks a magic sword will destroy the god of war. Yet it is after the sword is destroyed and she nearly gives into hate that she realizes she is the "god killer." The sword was only a tool. Diana defeats evil because she understands that love conquers hate, not some flashy weapon.
Spiderman Homecoming: Peter Parker thinks he can only take down Vulture with the high tech suit Tony Stark gave him. Yet it is when he loses the suit and is nearly crushed under a building that he realizes that the suit doesn't make him a hero; he is the hero. The suit is just a tool. He defeats Vulture by putting himself in danger in order to save others.
Thor Ragnarok: I think we can all agree the third installment in the Thor franchise, albeit hilarious, wasn’t the deepest film. However, it can't be missed that the same theme is there. Thor thinks his hammer will help him destroy Hela. It is after his hammer is crushed and he is stranded on the garbage planet of Sakaar that he discovers his hammer was only a tool. He is the god of thunder after all. He defeats Hela by coming to terms with sacrifices that must be made and caring about his people first and foremost.
In a world that worships the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, photo-shopped magazine covers, the perfection of a social media image, and general outward appearance, isn't it interesting that mankind can’t get away from the most basic principle of the human condition? A principle which, not surprisingly, is reflected in Scripture:
"It's what's on the inside that counts," or rather, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7b).
Jesus emphasizes this in the gospels as He tells the religious leaders of the day that it is not always about what you do, but rather about where your heart is that matters (Matthew 5:21-28).
Someone recently asked me why I like superhero stories so much. I think I now have a solid answer. All these movies are about people with fantastic abilities and weapons at their disposal, yet those are not the things that make them heroes. What makes a person a hero is in their hearts; their choice to do the right thing when all seems lost. Their strength comes from their worldview, passion, and trust in something greater.
That right there is why I love superhero stories! The fact that, despite superhuman abilities, heroism comes down to something all of us have, regardless of who we are: the choice to do what is right. Superhero movies remind us that it is not the flashy costume, awesome weapon, or amazing strength that makes you a hero, but rather the strength of your heart. For the Christian, this includes our trust in Christ. He is the strengthener of hearts (Psalm 27:14). Through Christ, we all have the potential to be a hero. No sword, suit, or hammer required.