The Serious Lessons of Super Heroes

The Avengers has plenty of action and special effects, but hinges on the meaning of goodness and freedom.

Marvel’s The Avengers took in $207.4 million on its opening weekend, smashing the previous box office record for an opening weekend held by the most recent Harry Potter film. Does it live up to the hype?

I saw it on opening weekend, half expecting to be disappointed. But it was really good. Sure, there was some base and cheesy humor (along with some great one-liners), mostly delivered by either Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) or Captain America (Chris Evans). But between all of the cheese, explosions, and impressive special effects are some serious themes and deeper meanings. Using deception, fear, and despair to convince the heart of man that freedom is a lie, Thor’s vengeful alien brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), reaches beyond even the obsession for power, while the heroism of the Avengers goes beyond simply blowing up bad guys. And, in the end, it strikes me that the Avengers are so popular because they are so human—their weaknesses, paradoxically, are what make them both stronger and more attractive.

The Avengers is primarily a continuation of Thor’s story. His adopted brother, Loki, has been banished from their home of Asgard because he attempted to usurp Thor’s throne. Now, Loki has acquired some evil alien friends who join him in exacting revenge upon his brother while also destroying the planet Earth. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), is the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., a top-secret government agency that creates the Avengers Initiative—a team of superheroes and master assassins—to help save the planet from destruction. The Avengers include Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, the Black Widow, and Hawkeye. These heroes must learn to work together to stop Loki and his army.

At the beginning of the film, members of S.H.I.E.L.D. are trying to stabilize the Tesseract, a cube of power many of you will recall from Captain America and Thor. This cube seems to hold an infinite amount of energy. Quite suddenly, the Tesseract opens a portal into another dimension and Loki appears. After killing several S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Loki uses his staff to “change the hearts” of Hawkeye and Professor Erik Selvig, a master physicist Loki wishes to use for his evil purposes. He convinces them that freedom is actually enslavement, under which they are no longer able to think for themselves. “Freedom is life’s great lie,” he says, “Once you accept that, in your heart, you will know peace.” Loki’s deception begins by attacking the heart of man, quite similar to the deception of Satan. Loki cannot truly mean “peace” when his purpose is to bring destruction.

Loki’s next tactic is fear. Loki’s slaves (including Hawkeye) break into a gala in Germany to steal some iridium for Loki’s master plan. Loki appears in full royal garb before the people and demands that they kneel before him. Once they kneel, he says, “Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

An old man defies Loki’s orders, rises, and replies, “Not to men like you.” “There are no men like me,” Loki says. The old man refuses to submit and states, “There will always be men like you.” The old man speaks the truth and cracks Loki’s armor of deception.

Because Loki seems to have superior powers and comes from a different realm, many believe he and Thor are gods. When Thor first appeals to Loki to come home, Captain America attempts to get between them, while the Black Widow warns him that they are “practically gods.” Captain America politely replies, “There is only one God, ma’am, and he does not dress like that.” In another scene, during one of Loki’s prideful monologues, he proclaims himself a god. The Hulk quickly flattens him and grunts, “Puny god.”

The depth of Loki’s evil nature is revealed in his dialogue with Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. At first, Loki greets her with flattery: “After whatever tortures Fury can concoct, you would appear as a friend, as a balm. And I would cooperate.” Natasha appeals to Loki to spare Hawkeye’s life once he is finished using him. We discover that Hawkeye was assigned to kill Natasha when she was a mercenary, and he spared her life.  Natasha intends to clear her record of past wrongs by repaying her debt. Loki quickly attacks Natasha’s weakness:

Can you? Can you wipe out that much red? …. Your ledger is dripping, it’s gushing red, and you think saving a man no more virtuous than yourself will change anything? This is the basest sentimentality. This is a child at prayer. Pathetic!

There is no mercy in Loki. He wants Natasha to believe, as he does, that one cannot be forgiven for past mistakes. Perhaps this is the reason why Loki will not comply with Thor’s appeal to come home. He cannot believe that his past wrongs will be forgotten, that he can start over. He despairs.

Unlike Loki, the Avengers truly triumph over their enemy. Every single one of them has had to learn from their mistakes, resulting not in despair but heroism. Captain America had to accept that brawn does not make a good man or a good soldier, and Iron Man stopped making weapons when he saw they could not bring peace. The Hulk had to learn to harness and control his anger, while Thor had to overcome his own pride. Natasha and Barton (Hawkeye) prove that mercy can bring true repentance. “Saving a man no more virtuous” than Natasha can and will save her. As Scripture states, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8). Once Barton is released from his enslavement to Loki, he asks Natasha if she knows what it’s like to “remake” yourself. Natasha replies, “You know I do.” In essence, all of the Avengers have been remade. They only became heroes by dying to themselves.

The Avengers affirms what everyone so desperately wants to believe—that even in the face of impossible odds good can and will overcome evil, the sinner can be redeemed, and true freedom can be attained. Not only does the film magnify evil’s mask of deception, it then splays evil upon its back, revealing its utter foolishness. Loki is proven to be a jealous tyrant, and the heroes once more assert their purpose—to defend freedom.

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About Meryl Kaleida 8 Articles
Meryl Kaleida is production assistant and e-book editor at Ignatius Press. She graduated from Ave Maria University with a bachelor's in theology and literature. Meryl is a wife, gardener, singer, author, chef, artist, and lover of truth. Her website is Kaleida House.