Other thoughts on ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’

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As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, here are a couple more thoughts about the newest Spider-Man movie – all of which have much less spiritual significance…

  • Gwen Stacy has always been much cooler than Mary-Jane Watson. This movie was no exception.
  • One of the difficult things to get around with any comic book movie is the “coincidental” relationships between hero and villain. This is something that the previous movies fell prey to – The Green Goblin is Peter’s best friend’s dad; Doc Oc is his mentor; Venom is his rival; and in the most ridiculous ret-con ever, Sandman winds up being Uncle Ben’s killer. At least with this movie, they set up a sub-plot revolving around Peter’s dad being involved in science experiments that at least lends a little bit of credibility to the villain’s relationship to him.
  • Even so, to work in a whole secret organisation revolving around Oscorp seems to be a cheat’s way of building towards sequels. What’s wrong with having one-off movies these days? Or does everyone feel the need to build towards a trilogy?
  • By far the most outlandish Stan Lee cameo yet filmed… It makes for a nice distraction and gets a laugh. I do wonder how many people laughing in the audience actually understood the meta-joke though.
  • If Peter Parker can just buy his webbing off the Internet now, then surely within a day of seeing Spider-Man’s exploits on video, there would be a thousand other Youtube clips of people doing the same thing. Granted, most would fail miserably… But that would still be fun to see.
  • With that being said, I did like that they gave Spidey some limitations as to just how far he could or couldn’t swing. It added a nice layer of fallibility to the superhero.
  • Finally, I loved Martin Sheen’s performance as Uncle Ben… but Sally Field as Aunt May just made me think, “Wasn’t she in Mrs Doubtfire?”

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ and the Inevitability and Necessity of Death

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Nat and I saw The Amazing Spider-Man today, and I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised! I was one of the many skeptics who thought it was way too soon to reboot the franchise, and thought this would be a simple re-hashing of the first movie. And in some respects, it was – but I thought it dealt with some of the source material a lot better than the original film.

But it was probably because of that original film that some of the scenes had the most impact. I’m thinking specifically here of the role of Uncle Ben. Spider-Man is now 50 years old, and his origin story has been told a million times. Thanks to the last movie, it’s embedded in recent memory. As a result, the pivotal role of Uncle Ben has become well known. So much so, in fact, that you can’t separate Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man from Ben’s advice and martyrdom.

Because of this, seeing him in the film again left me with a genuine sense of loss when Nat turned to me and asked, “Does he die in this one, too?” Somehow or another I’d managed to block that realisation from my mind. Yet, the reality is, if you have a Spider-Man origin story, Uncle Ben will always be dead at the end of act one. It’s inevitable, and it’s necessary.

Those are two words I want to reflect on. Because Uncle Ben’s death is inevitable, we know it’s coming – and as a result, we treasure the scenes that he’s in, and the words that he speaks. And because it’s necessary, Uncle Ben has to die in order for Spider-Man to begin.

This is probably the nerdiest Christian metaphor in the world… But it reminded me of Christ’s words in John 12:24:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Just as Uncle Ben’s death is inevitable and necessary in any Spider-Man movie, Christ’s death is inevitable and necessary in our lives. Because of the inevitability of Christ’s death, we treasure his earthly ministry. And Christ’s death is absolutely necessary, because without it, we cannot become Christians. But, of course, the difference between Uncle Ben and Jesus is that Christ rose again, and we will live with Him for all eternity!

It’s that reality – that if we follow Christ and believe in Him to save us from all of our wrongdoings – that makes our own inevitable deaths necessary. Because it means that our death isn’t the end – rather, it’s the glorious beginning.

Sure, that probably wasn’t what Stan Lee was going for when he first wrote Uncle Ben into Peter Parker’s origin story. But I think it’s a helpful reminder nonetheless!

Makeup of Disney Families

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So as a follow-up from yesterday’s post, I decided to go through all of Disney/Pixar’s animated movies and work out how the family make-ups work. A couple notes before I show the list:

  • I stuck with just the official Disney/Pixar canon, which meant no direct-to-video sequels.
  • Within the canon, I stuck with the full length movies, which excluded movies made up of shorts such as Fantasia and Winnie the Pooh, as well as the much less widely known compilations made around the war years (such as Saludos Amigos or Make Mine Music). This left us with 41 Disney movies, and 13 Pixar movies.
  • With the few sequels there are, I only counted instances of different families. So Andy’s family in Toy Story counts as one rather than three, while the two kids in the Rescuers movies count separately.
  • Likewise, there are a couple movies that present a couple of major characters with different backgrounds (such as Aladdin and Peter Pan). In those cases I’ve included both, but only if they’re major characters.
  • The “Orphans” category could probably use a different name, but I couldn’t come up with one. In some cases, their parents are still alive but do not raise them (such as Sleeping Beauty or The Lion King). Basically, my reasoning is this: If the character refers to their parents as mum and dad, then they go in the adopted category. If they don’t acknowledge them as such, then they go in the orphans category.

Here’s what I discovered:

Both parents:
  • Peter Pan (Wendy, John, Michael)
  • 101 Dalmations
  • Mulan
  • The Incredibles
  • Brave
Total: 5

Just mum:
  • Dumbo
  • The Aristocats
  • The Princess and the Frog
  • Toy Story (x3)
  • A Bug’s Life
  • Up
  • Treasure Planet
Total: 7
Just dad:
  • Pinocchio
  • The Great Mouse Detective (Olivia)
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Beauty and the Beast (Belle)
  • Aladdin (Jasmine)
  • Pocahontas
  • Chicken Little
  • Finding Nemo
  • Ratatouille
Total: 9
Stepmum:
  • Snow White
  • Cinderella
  • Tangled
Total: 3

Adopted Parents:
  • Lady and the Tramp (Lady)
  • The Fox and the Hound
  • Hercules
  • Tarzan
  • Dinosaur
  • Bolt
Total: 6

Orphans:
  • Bambi*
  • Peter Pan
  • Lady and the Tramp (Tramp)
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • The Jungle Book**
  • The Sword in the Stone
  • The Jungle Book
  • The Rescuers
  • The Black Cauldron
  • Oliver and Company
  • Aladdin
  • The Lion King***
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • The Emperor’s New Groove
  • Lilo and Stitch
  • Brother Bear
  • Meet the Robinsons
Total: 17
Unknown:
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • The Rescuers Down Under
Total: 2
N/A:
  • Robin Hood
  • Atlantis
  • Home on the Range
  • Monsters Inc
  • Cars (x2)
  • Wall-E
Total: 7
So, when all is said and done, the total of families are:
  • Both parents = 5
  • Just mum = 7
  • Just dad = 9
  • Stepmum = 3
  • Adopted parents = 6
  • Orphans = 17
  • Unknown = 2
TOTAL = 49
A couple of thoughts:
  • I must admit, I was surprised by the amount of orphans present. I would have thought that single dads would be the number one category… but I realised the reason I thought this:
  • The “renaissance era” for Disney (Little Mermaid through to Tarzan) featured a disproportionate amount of single dads – especially in the early 90s. (Between Mermaid and Pocahontas, 4 of the 6 movies had single dads) These were the movies I grew up with, which is probably why they’re the first that come up in my memory.
  • I wonder why there are so many orphans? Perhaps because the theme of so many Disney movies involves finding one’s own identity?
Any further thoughts on these results? Anything I’ve missed? Let me know in a comment!
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*Yes, at the beginning of the movie, Bambi has his mum – but a key point of the film is his losing her. And technically his dad’s alive too, but he’s absent for most of the film.

**I know that technically, Mowgli is adopted by the wolves at the beginning of the film. But for the majority of his youth that we see, he’s an orphan who hangs around Baloo and Bagheera, so I’m keeping him here.

***See the note for Bambi, replacing “mum” for “dad”. The bulk of Simba’s youth sees him being raised by Timon and Pumbaa.

Thoughts on Disney/Pixar’s “Brave”, and under-the-thumb fathers

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Nat and I just got home from seeing Pixar’s newest movie, Brave. I’ll try to keep my thoughts as spoiler-free as possible!

I must admit, I only saw this movie because it was made by Pixar. Judging by the trailers and previews, it didn’t look like something that would intrigue me too much, but I knew that the Pixar logo would make all the difference. And, true to form, it was great. I think the thing that made this one different to all the others that they’ve made in the past though is the seemingly formulaic nature of the story. This is a typical fairy-tale. It sits much more comfortably in the Disney canon than in the Pixar one. On first blush, it doesn’t attempt anything new or exciting, or change the classic Disney formula in any way.

But then as I was watching, I got to thinking about the nature of the family in the story – and that was where Brave differed from any other Disney fairy-tales. This is one of the rare movies in the Disney/Pixar canon that has both father and mother present. It seems like all of the classic Disney princesses are missing either father or mother – there’s a shortage of films where the family unit is ‘typical’ (although the definition of ‘typical’ has basically gone out the window in past decades). But with Brave, the whole family’s there. There’s no evil step-mother to play the villain, and Merida isn’t raised by fairies or dwarves or talking willow-trees.

As I was watching though, I began to realise a point that the movie never intentionally made itself. It presents itself as a battle of wills between mother and daughter, but I saw a deeper undercurrent. It presents itself as having a normal family unit, but what I realised whilst watching was that it’s not as simple as all that.

In Brave, Merida deals with having an absentee father, which is the source of most of the film’s conflict. Her father is there (played by the inimitable Billy Connelly – because ever since Sean Connery retired, you can’t have a Scottish movie without him), but he shirks his responsibilities many times throughout the film. He’s “king” in name only, because ultimately all authority in the kingdom goes back to his wife. In the same way, he’s “father” in name only, too. This family is strictly matriarchal, where all decisions and discipline within the family unit are relegated to his wife. To put it simply, he’s under the thumb.

So with that in mind, it’s interesting that the movie never actually addresses this as the issue. It addresses the problem of pride in the mother-daughter relationship, which may well have an ongoing effect into the husband-wife relationship… but I would hazard a guess that if it’s not the queen ruling the kingdom, it will be Merida. The king isn’t going to step up any time soon; nor is he asked or required to.

I don’t say any of that to say that it’s a bad movie, or has bad morals, or anything like that. I just found it an interesting case study, is all. Thoughts?

Sermon – “Be Humble!”

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So I preached that sermon from 1 Peter 5:5-7 that I mentioned earlier. The beginning bit got cut off in the audio – I started by asking who it was that we most respect and admire and want to be like, before transitioning into a second set of questions where I asked who should want to respect, admire and be like us. It also cut off the Scripture reading, which was:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.

I found the study of this passage to be really powerful and (unsurprisingly) humbling. I hope you find the same!

Listen to it or download it here.

‘Humble’, or ‘Humble and oppressed’?

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Here’s something interesting I discovered just now.

I’m preparing a sermon based on 1 Peter 5:5:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

That quote originated in Proverbs 3:34, which reads:

He mocks proud mockers, but gives grace to the humble. (NIV 1984)

Now, before looking up that verse specifically, I did a quick overview of all the ways that “Humble” and “Humility” are used in the Old Testament. In almost every case, it speaks of being humble before God – the only exception being Jeremiah 37:20 and 38:36 which describes Jeremiah’s humble plea before the king. In any case, humility clearly speaks to not thinking higher of oneself than you ought, but instead submitting to God’s higher power.

Yet, when I read this same proverb in the updated NIV, it makes a subtle addition:

He mocks proud mockers, but shows favour to the humble and oppressed.

Did you catch that little addition? “He shows favour to the humble and oppressed.” All of a sudden, the complete meaning of the proverb has shifted – no longer is it talking about one’s pride, but it’s talking about one’s circumstance. It’s like a complete reversal of that oft-quoted verse: “Man looks at outward appearances, but God looks at the heart.”

Instead, it’s twisted into “Man looks at outward appearances, but God looks at the circumstances.”

Amazing how a simple addition of two words can change meaning so radically! Especially when you consider that both Peter and James translate the verse in such a way that looks to having a humble heart, you have to wonder why the new NIV has opted to go in that direction, when literally every other English translation has kept it as just “humble”. Is it a politically correct, social justice spin?

I’m worried about this new translation.