This weekend, The Avengers earned the title of biggest movie release ever. And rightly so, it is the all-star game of superhero movies.
In 1978, Christopher Reeve stepped onto the silver screen in a pair of blue tights, and the modern superhero movie was born. Since then, a steady stream of cape-wearing tough guys have danced, or flown, across the big screen, fighting evil wherever it may exist. These movies catch the American mind. People line up at the theater to spend a few hours in Gotham City or Metropolis.
While they may be entertaining, and perhaps even a taste of nostalgia, superhero movies actually have a far more vital role to play in the cultural life of our great nation. Truly, you could say this purpose is why they really exist.
They are easy sermon fodder.
As a matter of fact, it is almost too easy. Superhero movies are, by far, the easiest to baptize. You would almost think the writers plan out these scripts to be chopped up into sermon illustrations. I am convinced that if most superhero movies were cut up into a collection of three or four minute chunks and dispersed evenly throughout the text of Romans 1-8, this activity would magically birth a sermon series.
This is why the youth minister at your church wears t-shirts with superhero logos on them. Furthermore, observant church members will actually discern a notable change in the behavior of their ministerial staff the month prior to a superhero movie. This month is the big wait.
But on opening night, a cornucopia of insightful little sermon illustrations are revealed for the taking. Low-hanging spiritual fruit is nicely packaged in superhero one-liners and villain monologues.
Yet, how can you know if the superhero movie you are watching is, in fact, sermon worthy? The following are sure signs that a superhero movie is coming to a pulpit near you:
Obscure, yet thought-provoking, character origin
If the movie spends time talking about the superhero’s origin, then it is a good bet you are watching sermon fodder. These stories usually take one of two different directions. In the first instance, the superhero is from another world. He is not human; he is something more. Or, a character is born out of insurmountable circumstances or catastrophe. When all seems lost to tragedy, a hero is forged in the flames of disaster. Now, that’ll preach.
Well-developed bad guy
Everyone knows that a superhero has to have a bad guy. In fact, the villain is every bit as important as the guy in the flashy tights. And the more evil this guy becomes, the more likely he will wind up being discussed in the pulpit.
A villain gets bonus points if he easily represents the philosophical problem of evil or sin. Can the villain be used as a metaphor? Take, for instance, Darkseid (pronounced dark side) from the Superman storyline. His name says it all!
This one needs little explaining. When the selfless hero pours out his might and virtue for the sake of the masses, powerless to save themselves, ministers will actually take out paper during the movie to scribble down thoughts on how this will fit into their current sermon series.
If, at any time, the hero appears to die or gets buried
In truth, this is an extension of the prior sign, but it is significant enough that it deserves its own headline. This rare event will always occur in the last epic battle of the movie. Evil is at its worst, suffering at its height, and the odds seemingly insurmountable. In this darkest hour, the hero is overcome. The villain deals a blow that sends the hero to the ground. Perhaps he is shot, or maybe an entire skyscraper lands on him. Whatever the case, in that moment, all hope is lost. As the glaring sounds of silence fall on the theater, hope draining out of hearts, a hand emerges from the rubble. The hero, once thought dead, is reborn, and evil is conquered. When a movie kills the hero and brings him back to life, a superhero movie earns the coveted spot of the pre-invitation anecdote. It is the home run story right before the altar call.
Be on the lookout for The Avengers to sneak its way into the next sermon you hear. After all, it masterfully accomplishes its purpose as sermon fodder. And come June, watch your ministers get the jitters as the big wait begins for what may be the most epic superhero movie ever made.