I went to see Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania this evening with my family, and if you would rather not have me ruin the movie for you, stop reading now. It is not that I will plunge into some juicy spoilers (I’ll warn you when I do); it is just that I fear that you won’t be able to watch it — or any Marvel-based movie for that matter — through a normal lens ever again.
I realized something while watching the movie: If you take away a person’s fear of death from the plot line, so common in superhero movies (especially Marvel movies), you have no plot at all. In Quantumania, for example, … (err, spoiler alert!) … much of the plot hinges on the fear that Scott Lang (Ant-Man, played by Paul Rudd) has in potentially losing his daughter, Cassie (played by Kathryn Newton). This fear is obvious, so the villain can manipulate Lang into doing his bidding simply by threatening Cassie’s life. There is no negotiation with the villain because the villain is all-powerful (until he is not all-powerful when it is inconvenient for him to be so).
Although, at the same time, there is something Lang — and, more specifically, Cassie — can do about it: When threatened, both Lang and his daughter can choose death with dignity rather than give into the villain, whose actions can potentially lead to the world’s demise.
You see, one of the major lessons I have learned in my studies of trauma-sensitive theology is that we all have a choice in the midst of crisis. We seldom have a choice in how crises befall us; but, we do have a choice in how we respond. It is when we realize that we always have some choice, some agency (and the ability to reclaim a sense of agency), that we are able to survive, cope with, or prove victorious in the face of a crisis.
One of the major lessons I have learned in my studies of trauma-sensitive theology is that we all have a choice in the midst of crisis.”
For Christians, agency comes in the form of knowing Christ and of trusting that Christ is God’s victory of eternal life over death. Death is not an end, it is a passage to be in communion with our Creator. Salvation does not insure longevity on this earth, nor does it promise an easy journey free from tragedy or conflict. But salvation does provide us with the agency to choose Christ and transcend the temporary limitations and suffering our situations impose on us. Even death, which is so threatening to the non-believer, becomes an old friend, whom we welcome at the sunset of our life’s final chapter. It is Paul who poses the question, “O Death, where is your sting” (1 Cor. 15:55-57), and it is Paul who affirms that “death is gain, and life is Christ” (Phil. 1:21).
Even death, which is so threatening to the non-believer, becomes an old friend, whom we welcome at the sunset of our life’s final chapter.”
For Marvel-themed superheros and the masses they seek to save, there is no hope for eternal life after death. Therefore, every goal, plan, and purpose must serve in trying to stop death in its tracks; even if it means time-travel, leaping from one multiverse to another, bending rules and subverting ethical “means” to achieve ends, or killing (we’ll call it “sacrificing” to be PC) the few to save the many.
The problem is that, in trying to do everything in one’s power to avoid, subvert, beat, or overcome death, we inevitably take on the role of Savior and, in turn, avoid, subvert, and beat God. A universe in which the fear of death is the overriding factor for survival, is a universe in which God is irrelevant. Jesus said it best, “Whoever tries to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it” (Luke 17:33). No wonder the one tree God restricted Adam and Eve from eating was the one tree tied to death.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Come on, Joe, this is only a movie.” I want to remind you that movies tend to reflect reality back to us. We may not have superheros or superpowers that threaten God’s relevancy in the world, but we do make decisions every day as if God is irrelevant. And we fall into the trap of living out of the fear death. We have become efficient in turning stones into bread so as not to suffer or to have to rely on God’s Word.
There are hundreds of ways we communicate our distrust of God every day, and we subvert God in order to do things that benefit us and prolong our life. We disregard how our actions and decisions exploit, oppress, and abuse others, the environment, and our resources. We are even willing to take the lives of others to preserve our own lives or, worse yet, to preserve our stuff.
As I watched Quantumania unfold, I wanted to hear an alternative script for once! (Spoiler alert!) Not the usual script, in which Lang and Cassie barter to preserve Cassie’s life, but a script in which Cassie or Lang says, “I am willing to die today to preserve the lives of others because that’s what Jesus did for me. Besides, death is not the final destination. I have a choice, and there is nothing this all-powerful villain can do about it. We bear witness to our hope in Christ not only in how we live, but how we die.”
By now, these Marvel movies have become old hat with the same, tired plot lines that boil down to this: People in the films are afraid to die. I did not expect anyone in the movie to pose a theological option, in which God might have some agency in the plot. Nor did I expect Lang and Cassie to give in to the villain, although it would have saved us time and money from having to watch the film in its entirety. But I did expect to watch a movie in which saving the world results from a careful choreography of mere coincidences and dumb luck, with the emphasis on the word dumb, and luck being a product not of fun and entertaining cinema, but of lazy writing and an emphasis on the distractions and cost-cutting measures of CGI fanfare.