I love the large story arc the Marvel universe has gradually unfolded over the last ten years or so. Not every movie is perfect by any stretch, but the way they have woven the various stories together has been captivating. One drawback to these otherwise great movies is their violence. To some degree the violence makes sense, as many of the movies revolve around power struggles. One person has power (whether a particular title or ability) and another person wants it, and is willing to do whatever necessary to get it. Once the villain gets the power, it makes sense that another strong man or woman must be there to stand in the way. For the safety of all involved the threat must be eliminated. While I do enjoy these movies, I have wondered if the violence and power struggles are perhaps unintentionally glorified since these elements are so often repeated in Marvel’s various movies. Personally, I wonder if my enjoyment of these violent movies is somehow an indictment on my faith. Should I just leave them alone and stick with more wholesome movies like God’s Not Dead or Fireproof? Or is there a deeper way these movies actually align with our Christian faith?
Near the beginning of 2020, I was leading a Bible study on Revelation while I was re-watching all the Marvel movies I had access to. Revelation, as any reader of it will immediately recognize, is a pretty violent book in its own right. Since so much of the book is symbolic and the symbols are so odd and confusing, the violence is one of the few things that seems understandable. In that most recent reading of Revelation, however, something became clear to me. Never were those who are faithful to Jesus the initiators of violence. On the other hand, they experience it. Any violence enacted on those who oppose Jesus and his kingdom comes directly from God. John, no doubt, was familiar with the book of Deuteronomy where God speaks through Moses and says, “Vengeance is mine.” This is consistent throughout Revelation. Even the great battle of Armageddon, often elevated in importance and emphasized by certain strands within the church, ultimately comes across as a surprising letdown for violence lovers as no actual battle takes place. Everyone shows up and then God takes care of his enemies rather quickly. John is most certainly trying to drive home the idea that any violence the world has to offer is ultimately no opposition to God and, by extension, to God’s people.
The reason violence is ultimately so weak in Revelation is stated near the beginning of the book. Shortly after John is escorted into the heavenly temple, he is told about someone described as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, [who] has conquered.” When John sees this person, however, the description is radically different: “Then I saw. . . a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.” The hearing and the seeing reveal a combined picture that points to Revelation’s fuller reality. All violence, all evil, and death itself have been overcome and conquered by one who was made weak and was killed. Later in Revelation Jesus shows up on a white horse riding into battle; but, before the battle starts John notes that his robe is already “dipped in blood.” In other words, the victory in the battle is already certain — even accomplished! — because of the death he previously endured. The might that is on display in Revelation is a result of the weakness of the Lamb. Victory comes through Jesus’ sacrificial death.
This inversion of ideas (strength in weakness) gave me a new lens with which to view the Marvel movies. While violence is inescapably a big part of them, there is always a moment when the characters realize that strength and fighting will not actually win the day. Iron Man tells Pepper Potts to blow up the facility, putting himself in harm’s way, in order to take out his nemesis and protect others. Captain America, in order to save millions, crashes the aircraft he is flying in. Thor literally has a death and resurrection scene in his origin movie after offering his own life that others might be spared the wrath of his brother’s anger. Tony Stark snaps his finger at the end of Endgame to take out Thanos and his army, resulting in his own death.
More often than not, the superheroes come to the conclusion that weakness is the path to victory as a last resort. Obviously, for Jesus it was the first and only option. While these movies do not perfectly align with the Christian story, when I re-watch the Marvel movies through the lens of Revelation, I realize there is something deeper drawing me in. One reason these stories have such an amazing pull on me is that they are tapping in to a deeper narrative, not just an imaginative tale — but a real one, where the most powerful person became weakest and suffered death so that death itself would be ultimately destroyed. The superhero movies resonate with Jesus’s story once those heroes learn they do their best work when they renounce their power for the sake of others. Therefore, the heart of these movies lies not in the violence they show, but in the beauty of the sacrifices made and weaknesses displayed. In that way they even become a means for introducing others to the world’s True Lover, and the one who showed us, not on screen but in history, that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Jesse W. Baker is a United Methodist pastor in North Carolina. He holds a Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School and is (much too slowly) taking classes at Houston Baptist University, pursuing a Master of Arts in Apologetics (cultural track). Traveling with family, reading C.S. Lewis, preaching, and teaching are among his greatest joys in life.
Jesse W. Baker, “The Power of Weakness,” An Unexpected Journal: Superheroes 4, no. 2. (Summer 2021), 237-242.
Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com/the-power-of-weakness/
 Deuteronomy 32:35, NRSV.
 Revelation 16:12-16; 19:17-21, NRSV. Michael J. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 142. Gorman notes that some commentators think the first mention of the Battle at Megiddo actually takes place in the Revelation narrative in 19:17-21. However one looks at the battle, it is, in the end, anticlimactic.
 Revelation 5:5, NRSV.
 Revelation 5:6, NRSV.
 Revelation 19:13, NRSV.
 Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau, (Marvel Studios, 2008), accessed through https://www.disneyplus.com.
 Captain America: The First Avenger, directed by Joe Johnson, (Marvel Studios, 2011), accessed through https://www.disneyplus.com.
 Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh, (Marvel Studios, 2011), accessed through https://www.disneyplus.com.
 Avengers: Endgame, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, (Marvel Studios, 2019), accessed through https://www.disneyplus.com.
 John 15:13, NRSV.