There’s something magical about superhero movies. They certainly capture our imagination. You’ve only got to see the box office figures for The Avengers, Harry Potter, or Batman to see how potent the superhero world can be. Google the online fan communities and you’ll see how beyond fantasy they are for many people, too.
What is it about superhero movies that get us in? Is it just a good story? A fun-filled bit of excitement? Or are we tapping into something more?
For a lot of us, superhero movies are just a bit of fun. But for others the lure can be a little more potent. Perhaps one of the reasons they’re so popular might be because they reveal some things about our human nature. Can you relate to any of these?
1. We want something more than reality
Escapism is a word that describes superhero movies. For a few hours, we can escape the everyday world. Having a tough time at home? Bored with the routine of school/homework/chores/home life? Feeling like you’re going to be alone forever? These movies allow you to escape into a world where almost anything is possible.
While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good story, escapism can be a major problem if you deal with your life’s problems by running away into a fantasy world. The Bible tells us that our world is broken (fallen), so work will be hard and frustrating (Genesis 3:17-19). In fact, the difficulty of work, broken relationships, and tough times are supposed to point us to things we really need: we need a saviour. We need the fix God has provided for our brokenness: we need Jesus.
But we’re also made for a different world: followers of Jesus look forward to the new creation, when all the frustrations and difficulties will pass away (Revelation 21). This real hope is far better than any fantasy story we can imagine now. Perhaps it’s better for us to face reality, and instead of running away from it into imaginary worlds, seek to transform our reality (and the reality of those around us) with the awesome news that Jesus has come to make everything new.
2. We want to worship a god like us
We’re made to worship something outside ourselves. We are drawn to the transcendent - things that are beyond our human ability to understand or achieve. In other words, God made us to worship him:
“Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Revelation 14:7)
Superheroes present an interesting mix of god and humanity. They are powerful - more powerful than we can ever hope to be. So we’re drawn to them because they are transcendent. There is no enemy they cannot vanquish. There are no struggles they cannot overcome. They are like gods.
But superheroes are also like us - they’re flawed. Tony Stark struggles with his playboy (and alcoholic) tendencies. Thor struggles with his pride. Batman struggles with his dark desires for revenge. They all have something that we can identify with. They’re not perfect. So they don’t challenge us too much, or make us face up to our own fallen-ness.
Jesus was also like us, yet different. He certainly wasn’t a billionaire with every technological gadget at his fingertips. He shared our humanity and the trials we go through. He knew hunger. He knew what it was like to be tired. He knew (and still knows) what it was like to suffer. But he wasn’t flawed in the way superheroes are. He was fully God and fully human.
So ask yourself: Am I worshipping the God who made me and showed himself to me in Jesus? Or am I replacing the Creator with an idol made of costumes and CGI? Am I making a god in my own image: a flawed creature who can’t help me with my biggest need - the need to be saved from my own sin? Jesus said:
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Matthew 4:10)
3. We want to imagine ourselves as gods
Superhero movies can attract us because we want to imagine ourselves as superhuman: able to sweep in and rescue the ordinary people (we never imagine ourselves as the extras in one of these movies, do we?). Gaming consoles even allow us to live out our fantasies with games that make us the superhero vanquishing all enemies. If that is what we’re wanting, we’ve given in to one of the oldest temptations given by the serpent to Eve in that first garden: “You will be like God...” (Gen 3:5).
Author C.S. Lewis knew about this sort of temptation. In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, he describes a scene where Edmund meets the White Witch. She offers him a bowl of “turkish delight” (his favourite food), which fills him with a strong desire for more, without satisfying him at all.
The temptation to be our own superheroes is like that turkish delight: an illusion. We cannot save ourselves any more than we can all look good in a neck-to-ankle lycra suit. The bible tells us “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,” (Ephesians 2:1). You can’t get more helpless than dead, can you?
At its heart, sin isn’t just doing a bunch of wrong stuff; it’s wanting to be our own gods. That’s what makes us “by nature deserving of wrath” (Eph 2:3). God is right to be angry with us when we try and replace him with ourselves.
4. We want to be rescued
Who hasn’t wished for some sort of superhuman strength, or a magical way to “get out of a bad situation free”? One of the exciting things about these movies is the way they offer an “easy” solution. The aliens are invading, but our heroes have just the right timing, and at just the right moment it will all turn out for that happy ending. There’s often a foreshadowing of a sequel, but for the moment all is right with the world.
We all want a happy ending, don’t we? See, we all know that something’s wrong with our lives. Deep down, we all want to be rescued, too. But our nemesis isn’t a guy named Lex Luthor or Bane. Our nemesis is our own sin.
That’s where God is better than any superhero we could hope for:
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...” (Ephesians 2: 4-6)
We can’t be our own superhero in the face of sin - we’re helpless. But God loves us too much to leave us. He’s pulled off the best superhero rescue of all: he’s brought the dead back to life through Jesus. Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin once and for all. We can now expect the best happy ending of all: an eternity of peace with God.
It’s fun to watch superhero movies, but let’s not be suckered into the escapism, or worship the fantasy world. We have a far better reality to enjoy. Let’s look to a Savior who’s better than any superhero: Jesus.