Skeptical fans, anti-fans, or cultural elitist-sorts keep trying to make “superhero movie fatigue” a thing.
It’s not a thing.
At least not yet.
This isn’t new, of course. By chance I happened across my Christ and Pop Culture review of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). That’s four years ago, and even then, some folks were sneering and rolling their eyes at the popularity of superhero movies.
‘Rejoice with [the fans] who rejoice’
I might try to see this point of view. After all, I’ve also rolled my eyes at popular things, like megachurches, or sports.
Yes. And I also see that my disregard of those fandoms can easily become disregard for the people who enjoy them.
In other words, my expression of irritation can cross over into actual sin.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice,” the apostle Paul says (Romans 12:15). So what if I’m not fond of, say, “antihero” superhero TV shows or movies (such as the X-verse or Venom)? Even then, I can be happy for those who enjoy them.
Of course, I presume here that the fandom member is legit rejoicing. I presume the fan is not turning his happiness into excess, like a sort of gluttony. But even in our annoyance with genre oversaturation, do we really want to act as if all or most superhero fans are presumed gluttonous? If we aren’t prepared to say, “Yes, that’s a sin,” then there’s nothing to criticize. And what if we go for a workaround phrase, anything close to, “Well, it’s not a sin, but it’s not the best for you”? Well, the old religious way of saying that last part was, “… But it’s not God’s best for you.” Another label for this suspicious phrasing is: false spirituality, or even legalism.
I believe the wellness preventative of legalism is not anti-legalism, but joy. Turns out, that’s how I approached the topic four years ago. Everything I wrote then seems to hold up today, even if we changed the movie title:
Avengers: Age of Ultron shows the cinematic superhero genre at its zenith. Some readers may doubt that, especially because superhero films have been popular for a while, so some may feel it’s high time they become Disillusioned. But I believe these stories’ great days are still ahead, and I’d love to help you reject your skepticism if you want to enjoy them.
Don’t expect fine steak and wine
In this review I could show many ways that Avengers: Age of Ultron reflects deep concepts. I could discuss the humanity-probing, the respectful-yet-subversive biblical references, or the creative excellence.
But God-given human joy isn’t limited to these things any more than it’s limited to systematic theology, indie films, folk bands, or classic literature. If we expect everything to be fine rare steak and wine, we’ll miss the simple pleasures of cheap cheeseburgers with fries — or worse, we’ll miss truly gourmet cheeseburgers with fries. This goes double if we have children or friends who already enjoy these good pleasures.
Sure, if you just don’t like a popular story, I likely can’t convince you otherwise. I feel this way about many pop culture things that others adore. But let’s remember three truths about why we may feel inclined to critique a certain pop cultural artifact:
First: Pop culture reflects common grace and this side of New Earth it’s also prone to silly but anti-joyful trends that we can “catch” — such as when a successful franchise gets “too big” and triggers nasty human impulses to tear it down.
Second: Christians often buy into what author Ted Turnau calls the “But It’s So Jejune” view of truly popular-level culture, a view that dismisses God’s reflections in human beings and wrongly (and even legalistically) declares that art motivated by mammon has little value.
Third: I understand some don’t follow the appeal of superhero stories. I feel the same way about sports: I don’t understand the sports industries’ constant appeal to fans who love celebrations of macho stereotypes, quasi-violence, flagrant commercialism, and the same actions and slogans over and over. But when I use my limitations to mock sports fans, I’m likely sinning. Instead let’s rejoice in others’ unfamiliar joys. We can learn more about one another. In fact, this is likely how we found our own favorite cultures in the first place.
Meanwhile, my wife and I are seeing Avengers: Endgame tonight. Methinks I’ll have space to write a spoiler-free micro-review, tomorrow morning, right before I head to Cincinnati to rejoin the Realm Makers Bookstore.