By Ben Zornes
The Failed Plot of Subversivism
Quote, “We like to be subversive,” unquote. The Russo Brothers stated this in an interview about their blockbuster mega-movie Avengers: Endgame. This they did. The reason they like being subversive is because they are ordained ministers of Postmodernism. The story they tell springs from the fallow soil of their doctrines, and that flower, of ten years and two baker’s dozens of MCU movies, withers as it unfolds. But because it is a story told in God’s world, and because these directors are creatures who live in God’s world, they cannot escape two tropes which they are compelled to tell, even as they are haunted in the telling. A hero laying down his life. And––like a good Jane Austen novel––a wedding at the end. Woops, I think that’s where the spoiler warning is supposed to go. Well, too bad, don’t be too sentimental.
Now, the reason I begin by highlighting the directors’ self-admitted subversiveness is this: we are dealing with a story that thinks that objective truth is non-existent. In other words, they create characters, then they mangle their characters to illicit a “global conversation”, so that we can argue for hours about what they had the characters do (or not do). Postmodernism is like a street-magician that wants to keep you perpetually off balance so that the card can appear to come out of nowhere. The reality is that the card never ceases to exist simply because you were dizzied by the sleight of hand. God filled this world with characters, they each have an arc; some to perdition and some to eternal bliss. Some of us are heroes, some of us are villains. Some of us who were once villains repent and join the good-guys, and become the best of the guys (just ask the Apostle Paul). What isn’t an option is thinking that there isn’t a sovereignly decreed denouement for each character. We don’t get to eternally reinvent ourselves, subverting audience’s expectations, in a sad attempt to make our lives as interesting as a comic book debate.
No. You and I each have a final chapter. Our arc is aimed in one of two directions: righteousness or evil. To think that there is a gray area, room to fudge, fluidity of morality, is just to admit to being a villain worse than Thanos.
Ah, yes, this was to be a movie review, so let me show how Endgame is itself a cinematic representation of the endgame of Postmodernism. That is, we see how trying to tell a story where there is no such thing as truth, results in the ruination of each and every character in that “universe.” Let us begin.
Thor’s Mom is a Bad Guy
Thor’s mother is perhaps the worst villain in the film. Thor has––shall we say––let himself go, which is played off for kicks and giggles and those giggles last about as long as the first scene with “Fat Thor.” Once he travels back in time––to get one of the Infinity Stones––he meets his mother (who died in the second Thor film).
Understandably, he cannot resist talking to her. A moment that could have been a wonderful echo of the sort of mother found in Proverbs 31, is instead a dull thud of Disney catechism class: “be true to yourself.” What Thor needed most from his mother was to be told, “Repent of your regrets, gird up your loins, do your job, and take responsibility.” Instead, he got drivel.
Which brings me to the saddest moment of the film. As the film wraps up all the “loose ends” we watch as Thor abdicates his throne, his responsibility, even his destiny, to run away and join the circus (i.e. the potty-mouthed knuckleheads of the Guardians of the Galaxy). Thor’s character, in this film, is presented as a character who has descended into despair, and his escape is not through the hope of obedience to one’s calling, but his escape is to evade his responsibilities.
Contrast this with Prince Caspain at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: he wants to go off on a private adventure and abdicate his calling as King of Narnia (like Thor). But his faithful friends, because they love him, adamantly insist that he can not desert his kingship. If Rocket Racoon had been like Reepicheep, he would have taken Thor by his beard, looked into his eyes, and said what Reep said to Caspian: “You shall not please yourselves with adventures as if you were a private person. And if your majesty will not hear reason it will be the truest loyalty of every man on board to follow me in disarming and binding you till you come to your senses.” Thor’s mother, friends, and subjects failed him as miserably as he failed them.
Feminism Rocks, See
Thor’s abdication was the most glaring offense in this movie, but there were others. In one scene (a raging third act battle), every female superhero suddenly are in the same exact spot, and we get a “girl power” charge into battle. Even feminists ought to cringe at the phoniness of this heavy-handed propaganda. First, it flattens what true feminine courage looks like into simply being a female apery of the pump your fist exuberance that was so excellently put into film in Aragorn’s charge on the Black Gate in the Return of the King.
I am raising two daughters to be valiant women. I want them to be courageous. But courage need not look like a charge into battle. Any husband who has seen his wife in labor has probably seen feminine courage at its most vibrant. Ironically for the film, feminine courage is more profoundly seen moments later as Pepper Potts says farewell to Tony Stark as he dies (oh, yeah, spoiler warning), telling him, “We’ll be ok.” To joyfully let go of her husband, full of admiration and gratitude for his sacrifice, assuring him in his final moments of her love and determination to “soldier on,” was a depiction of feminine courage far more potent than the charge into battle, and it was far more fitting.
Desperation for Fathers
The unquenchable thirst for fatherhood pervades our generation. Even as the female Avengers assembled, it struck me that one of the themes which could easily be overlooked is that of fatherhood. Clint Barton, Scott Lang, Tony Stark––even Steve Rogers to a certain extent––give a father presence to a generation of orphans.
Clint Barton, after losing his family to the Snapture, becomes a vigilante; killing pimps, drug dealers, mob bosses. He despises evil and injustice and devotes himself to snuffing it out around the post-snap globe.
Scott Lang, after getting out of a five-year hiatus in the Quantum Realm. Emerges to a world where Thanos won. The first thing he does is go to see if his daughter was “dusted.” When he finds that she survived, he goes to find her, and when he sees his now grown-up daughter, he bursts with tears and expresses his delighted joy in her, “you’re so big.” Every daughter needs her father to beam with such joy over their growth and maturity.
But it is Tony Stark who demonstrates how precious a gift fatherhood is. When he and Pepper move on after the Snap, get married, have a daughter, it becomes plain that Tony has found a pleasure that all of his playboy days could never satisfy. He comes to treasure the life he has found as husband and father. But husbands and fathers are called to lay down their lives to preserve the lives of those they love. It is the true duty of the patriot. A man dies for the woman he loves, sacrificing all to save her. This, in my view, was marvelously (pun intended) executed as Tony Stark––known for his ego, selfishness, pride, and fillandering––turns from all those vices and does the right thing. He lays down his life. He dies so others may live.
And finally, what even postmodernist story-tellers couldn’t escape, the story ends with a wedding. We see Captain America reunited with his lost love, Peggy Carter. A caveat here, Cap’s denouement suffers from the irresistible questions which arise when time-travel is involved.
In short, the ending tells us to settle down and get married, have kids, do your job. There is heroism in such seemingly mundaneness. Where postmodernism wants human identity to be infinitely malleable, God’s world is full of characters that are made in His image. They are male and female. They are kings and queens. Their identity is not theirs to decide, they are called to find their name in the Fatherhood of God.
Rebellion against the Story-teller is the path to villainy. It is a descent into namelessness. The endgame of postmodernism is a pile of dust that thinks it can reinvent itself, subvert truth, goodness, and beauty, and be something glorious on its own, “Thank you very much.” But dust without the breath of God is just dust. When God breathes on the dust, it becomes a man. The Story-teller makes the man a king, and then gives him a mission: protect the girl. That story is one where truth matters, and is the only story with a happy ending.