As a Christian who relishes movies, I often look for biblical themes that shine through, no matter what I am watching. Since I believe all truth is God’s (thank you, Reformed theology), I witness a redemptive theme in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Redemption is a journey toward becoming authentic and fulfilling your purpose. In Christian terms, that means bringing glory to God in all you do and being a blessing to others because God has redeemed us from sin. It means being transformed. In the Marvel movies, redemption is the linchpin theme. Everything hinges on redemption.
Many Marvel characters experience their own mini-arc of change in their movies. You can see the before/after transformations as they are redeemed into the heroes/heroines they portray. Tony Stark starts out in 2012’s The Avengers as a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist with major selfish ego issues. Undergoing perhaps the biggest redemptive arc in the Marvel franchise, Stark sacrifices himself for half the universe in Avengers: Endgame, the final film. His journey is replete with mistakes and flaws, but that’s the beauty of redemption: it doesn’t give up on you until you are changed. And you can’t get there alone: the man in the cave, Pepper Potts, and even Spider-Man help forge the redemption in Stark’s character.
Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff’s character is a trained spy and assassin with red on her ledger, having committed countless violent acts. But in Endgame, she fights Hawkeye to sacrifice herself so the team can get the Soul Stone they need to reverse Thanos’ curse on the universe.
Doctor Strange starts out as a prideful surgeon who can’t get past his own big ego. When a car accident takes his hands and his identity, Doctor Strange accesses new powers and must learn a new way to live. By the end of his movie (2016’s Doctor Strange), he grasps what the Ancient One has been teaching him: “It’s not about you.” Doc puts himself in harm’s way to stop the evil Dormammu from destroying the planet. (It’s funny to see Doctor Strange and Tony Stark argue in Endgame because both have had their bouts with arrogance.)
Other characters—Loki, Bucky Barnes the Winter Soldier, King T’Challa the Black Panther, Wanda the Scarlet Witch, Bruce Banner’s Hulk, Nebula, Drax, and more—undertake their own journeys of redemption.
I appreciate these abundant stories of redemption, journeys in which characters such as Stark, Strange, and the rest change, finally walking into the true potential of who they can be. These characters might be fictional, but they give us hope and even serve as a kind of parable for us as moviegoers. They leave us wondering, can redemption happen even for little ol’ me? Can I change and be made new? These questions change everything. They are why I frequently use movies as illustrations in my sermons. God can use anything—even movies—to teach us something. As the Marvel movies teach us, even superheroes need redemption and the hope it brings.