MCU Mondays: Resurrection on a Theme by Marvel
Although the Marvel Cinematic universe is slowly building up its stockpile of silver-screen heroes, the original four of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America are still very much front and center. They’re still the A-Team, as it were. They’re very diverse in personalities, strengths, and weaknesses (although they’re all pretty susceptible to Loki’s mischief), but they do all share one things in common:
Each went through an ordeal that did/should have killed them and, on the flip-side, became a different person, a new man, or, to speak in biblical terms, “a new creature.” That each of the four went through this “rebirth” is interesting enough, but what’s even more interesting is the change affected on each one though the process.
I began this series last week with an elaboration on where Tony Stark was in life at the beginning of the MCU, so I won’t rehash it here. Suffice to say, he was an irreverent hedonist suffering from a little bit of self-loathing. Tony’s resurrection process took place during his ordeal in Afghanistan, beginning with his capture and ending with this escape sequence:
Tony enters the cave a dead man and comes out something else entirely. Not a perfect man, not even a good man yet, but now, instead of being an irreverent, self-centered jerk who struggles with selfless thoughts and self-loathing, he’s an irreverent, self-centered jerk who embraces the struggle and begins the process of change into a better man (a process that plays-out across his entire film life). The new Tony’s mindset has become one embodied by the scene in which he tells Pepper that is life is now devoted to undoing the wrong he’s done.
“There is nothing except this. There's no art opening, no charity, nothing to sign. There's the next mission, and nothing else…I shouldn't be alive... unless it was for a reason. I'm not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do. And I know in my heart that it's right.
In Thor (I’m saving Hulk for last), we see another arrogant jerk whose rebirth brings, not before-unknown powers or abilities, but an awareness of the responsibility and duty that comes before the powers themselves:
Thor’s rebirth was a rebirth of spirit and attitude as he accepted the mantle and responsibility that accompanied his title and powers.
The Star-Spangled Man, AKA, Captain America, had a double-rebirth, lucky guy. First there was this:
And then his thawing-out party:
In the first instance, Steve’s rebirth brings about a physical transformation (duh), but doesn’t really have any effect on his character. In an earlier scene Dr. Erskine, the genius behind the super-soldier serum, told Steve that “The serum amplifies everything that is inside, so good becomes great; bad becomes worse.” Hence he also makes Steve promise that after undergoing the treatment he will remain “a good man.”
This make the second rebirth all the more interesting. Steve wakes up in a world where good and evil aren’t what they used to be. How can he remain a good man in bad times? While the first rebirth gave Steve a body to match his soul, the second one gave him an environment in which neither his body nor his soul are seen as the assets they once were. It’s really not until we see Steve at work in The Winter Soldier that we know for sure if he was as good a man as Erskine hoped.
Lastly, we have the Hulk, AKA Bruce Banner. His case is the most interesting because Bruce, by most if not all reckoning, was a good man before he nearly died from gamma radiation and was reborn as The Big Green Menace. He was also in decent physical shape. Not a super-soldier or Norse god by any means, but neither was he a human lollipop. He was a good man living a good life when he was suddenly transformed into a monster. The opening title of the Incredible Hulk really is the highlight of a mediocre (but fun) Marvel film and encapsulates this resurrection perfectly:
Unlike his title-carrying counterparts, Banner’s transformation does not bring praise, respect, or a restoration. It brings exile, enemies, and a loss of everyone and everything. Despite this, Banner/Hulk remains one of the morally upstanding figures in the MCU. He tries to avoid situations where his alter ego might inflict harm while still trying to accomplish good.
None of these resurrections provide a perfect allegory for the rebirth Christians experience through Christ, but each one has parallels. Iron Man very much goes through a process of sanctification post-rebirth. Thor finds that he is restored to a right relationship with his father, the king, after experiencing death and rebirth. Captain America finds that his powerlessness is exchanged for great strength. Lastly, and most interestingly, Banner finds that being reborn into a new identity sometimes brings sudden, drastic, and inconvenient change. All of these are themes we see in the Scriptures of what it means to be reborn in Christ.
The fact that the four primary protagonists of today’s reigning film franchise are all products of resurrection stories does not make the MCU a Christian film-verse, but, as a new creature in Christ, it is fun to see themes of rebirth and renewal writ large across the silver screen and feel a certain spiritual connection to the themes and characters.
“Yeah, I remember when that happened to me. It was pretty crazy.”