Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Iron Man or Spirit Man

Writing about Iron Man almost a month after its debut does pose some challenges. The first four points I’ve written here contain information that you probably know if you have read anything about this film (and you certainly know if you’ve seen the film). So if you want, you can skip past these first four points and go straight to some points that are a little more unique.
The film is based on a Marvel comic and has been compared favorably with other comic book films; even the other comic ‘Man’ films (‘Super’, ‘Bat’ and ‘Spider’.) But an interesting difference between the hero in this film and the heroes of ‘Superman’, ‘Batman’ and ‘Spiderman’ is that those heroes make great effort to avoid deadly force. Batman has a policy against using guns. Superman uses his great powers to jail rather than kill villains almost without fail. Spiderman’s villains in the films die because of their own hubris rather than at Spidey’s hand (or web or whatever). Iron Man has guns and missiles built into his suit that are intended to kill people, and he does that very thing. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking of taking the young’uns. (If you want to know how I think it compares to the other superhero ‘Man’ films, I’ve ranked them below.)
The cast is great. Gwyneth Paltrow takes the role of Pepper Potts, the loyal assistant that could have been a cliché and an offense to feminists, and makes the character into a charming blend of strength and vulnerability. Jeff Bridges ably projects ironic menace as Obadiah Stane. Terrance Howard is okay, but not nearly as interesting as he has been in other films. But it’s all about the guy who plays Tony Stark, the man who becomes Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. is excellent in the film. He is the single best reason to buy a ticket. It’s fun to see a forty-something year old not so chiseled hero (the power is in the suit). Downey plays the billionaire playboy munitions manufacturer as someone whose top concern is amusing himself. Downey has given similar top drawer performances in such films as last year’s Zodiac or A Scanner Darkly from the year before that. But very few people saw those films. (Super hero films tend to be more popular than docudramas about serial killers or animated dystrophic science fiction.) In real life, Downey has struggled with abuse problems, and it’s a pleasure to see him in such an entertaining breakout role.
This movie is making a lot of money. It made one hundred million dollars in its opening weekend alone. There has been a drought of exciting popcorn films in theaters, and many are rushing to see a film they hear is just plain fun.
You might want to stay past the final credits to get a hint of sequels to come.
As I said, all this has been written about before. So what can I add for the church newsletter? How about a ridiculous comparison to Scripture? Why not? If you can’t write silly about a super hero film, what can you write silly about?
The first suit worn by Tony Stark in the film is built by the character in a cave in Afghanistan. He is being held hostage by terrorists who want him to build a missile system. He uses the materials system to build a mechanical suit that allows him to escape. When he returns home, he builds a bigger and better suit.
So let’s take a look at how the armor of Iron Man compares to the armor of God described in Ephesians chapter 6.
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Right off the bat, we get a big contrast between the two suits. Iron Man’s armor is used to protect against flesh and blood. Though for PC reasons the film does not label the terrorists in the film as Muslim, they are quite obviously modeled after the Taliban. Tony Stark has no compunction about killing with bullets those who would kill him or innocent bystanders.
Paul makes it clear in this passage that our real enemies are not other people. Those people that seem to be our enemies have been deceived by the powers of darkness, and we must do our best to show love to people who strike out against us. (Note I am not saying here there is not a role for police officers and soldiers to use force to protect the innocent.) But we need to pray for and love those who ridicule Jesus Christ and His teaching, and not treat them as enemies.
Paul makes it clear that there are real evil spiritual forces in the world, Satan and his minions along with destructive philosophies and teaching. That is where the battle lies for a Christian.
14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
In the film, Stark runs a munitions company. When captured by terrorists he sees that they are using his company’s weapons for nefarious ends. He then pursues the truth about how they obtained his weapons, knowing the exposure of the truth may have a great financial cost. As Christians, we need to pursue the truth, even if it is costly.
As the film begins, Tony Stark is definitely not a righteous man. We see he is a gambler, a heavy drinker and sexually promiscuous. But when a character in the film sacrifices his life for Stark, we see Stark realize that he should not live his life so selfishly. Because someone gave His life for us, we need to pursue righteousness.
15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
Stark’s feet are equipped with rocket packs. But I’d argue that God’s Spirit can get us where we need to go to share His good news faster and farther.
16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Stark’s whole suit is a shield. His basic power is invulnerability. We have the armor of God, which will not necessarily protect us from illness or pain or poverty. But if we trust Him, it will protect us from the flaming arrows of the evil one that would have eternal, damning consequences.
17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Stark uses all kinds of offensive weaponry. He has all kinds of guns and missiles and his very armor acts as a weapon. But the sword is the only offensive weapon in God’s arsenal. We need to get to know the Bible, the Word of God, well. It’s the only weapon of God we have. And all we need.
18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Iron Man pretty much fights alone. We, like a real army, need the support of others. We need the prayers of our fellow believers. And we need to pray for them.
The kid in me watches Iron Man and thinks, “I wish I had a suit like that.” But the Spirit in me says, “You have something better.”
(Iron Man is rated PG-13 for violence, sensuality and language.)
[For the geeks: my rating of how Iron Man compares to the Superman, Batman and Spiderman films.
On par with Superman, not at good as Superman II, but far better than the horrible Superman III and Superman IV and the mediocre Superman Returns.
Better than Batman (1966), Batman (1989) and far better than the wretched Batman Returns, Batman Forever and worst of all Batman and Robin. Its not as good as Batman Begins and the jury’s still out on The Dark Knight with Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, which will be released July 18th.
On par with Spiderman, not as good as Spiderman II and far better than Spiderman III.]

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