Our MARVELous Father: Part 2

Part 2: Images of Our Father in the MARVEL Cinematic Universe

Of all the superhero stories out there, none are quite as epic in scope or resonant in my life as those of the MARVEL Cinematic Universe (henceforth referred to as the MCU). I have been following the films right from 2008’s release of Iron Man, and I believe there is a lot more heart than one might expect under the surface of action and humour. I have always enjoyed the Marvel series, but it wasn’t until I saw an analysis video on YouTube, one which pointed out some of what I am about to share with you, that I really fell in love with the films. While each film deals with one or more unique theme, be it the loss of family, the strength of a pure heart, or the hurt of betrayal by those closest to us, I believe there is an overarching theme that persists through the whole series and comes to its culmination in Avengers: Infinity War – What does it mean to be a Father?

Beginning with the very first film of the whole MCU, Iron Man, Tony Stark is shown to have a deeply wounded relationship with his father. As a result, he is more of a child than he is a man. He expresses a dislike of the idea of having kids and is shown to be flippantly disrespectful to those around him. By the end of the first Iron Man film, he begins to take responsibility for his life and begins to come to terms with his relationship with his dad. Throughout further films in the MCU, Tony continues to grow not only as a man, but also into the role of a father. In the Iron Man sequels, he forgives, and learns to love his father. Tony becomes a father-like figure for the Avengers and especially for Spider-man. As he grows in this role of fatherhood, he encounters many of the trials and fears that real fathers do. In Age of Ultron, he expresses fear of not being able to protect those he loves, witnesses a child (Ultron) going down the wrong path, and addresses his worry of repeating the mistakes of his own father. When we finally reach Avengers: Infinity War, Tony begins the movie not only as a spiritual father but seeking to begin a life as a literal father, expressing a desire to have a child of his own with his fiancé Pepper.

While Tony has fully embraced his role as a father, a guardian and provider, one that cares for the safety and freedom of his children, there is another father figure present in the universe, one that is domineering and tyrannical, the Mad Titan Thanos. In Avengers: Infinity War we see, at the penultimate culmination 11 years and 22 films, two warring ideals of fatherhood. Throughout the film, Thanos falsely believes that he is good. He believes he has everyone’s best interest at heart, and that it is his responsibility to ensure that we follow our ‘best interest’ even if it is against our will. He treats everybody he meets, and literally everyone in the universe, as a child. Unfortunately, from his perspective, a child is someone incapable of making good or responsible decisions, and thus he tries to make those decisions for us. When he makes this choice regarding life itself, he calls it “a mercy.” His servants are called the ‘Children of Thanos’ and one of them says to the Asgardians: “Rejoice, for even in death you become children of Thanos.” Thanos’ egotistical mindset that all those around him are his children inevitably extends to our heroes. Thanos calls Scarlet Witch, whom he has never even met, “my child.” The only person Thanos does not condescend is Tony Stark.

The point that takes Infinity War’s message, and that of the whole MCU, to an even more poignant level is found in the language used around Thanos’ quest for fatherhood. Thanos seeks to make everyone into his twisted vision of a child. He wants to be the father of everyone, the ‘All-father’… he wants to be a god. In Avengers: Infinity War, godhood is thought to be a fatherhood extended to all living beings. As a Catholic, this is incredibly resonant for me, as one of the three Persons of the Trinity, is God the Father. He is our Good Father. While Tony still falls short, he exemplifies many of the qualities of our good Father, our God. Thanos, on the other hand, is the antithesis of a good father.

Remembering the fact that our heroes and villains reflect the views and challenges of our time, what can this theme of ‘fatherhood and godhood’ tell us about the world we live in? Well for one, many of us, like Tony, have wounded relationships with the fathers in our lives; we have fathers who are distant, angry, controlling, and sinful. I also recognize the need and desire for a good father, a father who cares for us, who seeks our safety and freedom, who invites us – not forces us – to love him. As a society, we are looking for a relationship with our Good Father, with God the Father.

I am excited to watch Avengers: Endgame and see how the film expounds upon the theme of fatherhood. I am even more excited for the opportunity it presents to share the Gospel with everyone else who has seen the movie, to talk about the themes of fatherhood and who really is our Good Father. So when you are out to see Endgame, I invite you to join me, not literally join me at the theatre mind you, that would be really tough to organize, but join me in searching within the film for the truth, goodness, and beauty of our God!

Brian Krammer, Team 7