The hero who never dies
Several times during past months I’ve curled up in the comfy womb of a cinema and prepared myself for another Marvel adventure. While we don’t know what we’re about to watch, in a way we do – and we’re okay with that. Marvel Productions may begin each of its films with a flickering montage that references decades of comic book stories. But, actually, it’s the same tale, told over and over again. In fact, there are four key characteristics you can tick off in each and every successful film, that will keep us coming back for the hero’s adventures — again and again.
The hero is a lover
Hero or anti-hero, it doesn’t matter. Very early on in the film, we’ll discover that his/her heart is captured by a deep and abiding love. It might be love of knowledge, country or even an ideal like freedom. Of course that love can be complicated too, like that between Jupiter Jones and her genetically engineered bodyguard Caine Wise in sci-fi opera Jupiter Ascending. But the important thing is that the hero can be trusted, because they understand that most basic of human feelings: love.
The hero is challenged
Every hero faces a moment where the safety of their love comes into question, and the depth of that threat will ultimately measure the height of their triumph. In reality, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Godzilla’s flying lizard menacing Lieutenant Ford Brody, or the Guardians Of The Galaxy overcoming their own shortcomings. There will be an obstacle to conquer and victory will come at a price.
The hero sacrifices
A point will arrive in the film where all of the hero’s weapons, skills and pluck will fail him/her. In order to save their love, the hero will have to sacrifice themself. Of course, it’s not always physical death that threatens. Death of a career, respect or a dream will suffice. But whatever death the hero ends up confronting, it will represent the end of a way of life, the end of happiness, the end of hope. Death is the ultimate villain, because Death is the ultimate full stop.
The hero rises again
Have you ever wondered about the fact that, as a species, we’re not content to leave it there? Hollywood tried to make Death attractive in the evolution-driven movie Creation, but it was a flop. We can’t accept that the final curtain should come down with the hero still in the grave. We hunger for a resurrection moment, and most films oblige. In May, Wolverine managed to survive death in both the past and the future (in the latest X-Men film). It’s not enough for the hero to defeat Death. We expect their return will have positive implications for everyone associated with them.
These story truths resonate with audiences all over the planet because they reflect the God who made us all, and who designed us to be part of a much larger tale. If you like, the best elements of the stories we tell each other today are the thousand fractured pieces of a mirror that reflects the greatest story ever told – the great story of God’s redemption of the world through Jesus Christ.
If all creation, “… waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed”, and longs for its liberation “…from its bondage to decay”, (Romans 8:19-21) is it any wonder that all culture in some way echoes that longing?
The real wonder is not that we regularly see heroes rising to defeat death but that — in the wake of that one history-changing resurrection — we still refuse to see the real hero they’re pointing us back to.