The African Queen is number 17 on the top 100 and it is unusual in several ways. For one, it’s the first movie on the list that I’ve watched that is less than two hours. It’s also the first non-drama that I’ve watched. The movie itself was unique at the time of its release in that it was shot on location in Africa using technicolor cameras. Technicolor wasn’t new, but it was rarely use outside of the studio backlot since the process required larger cameras.
If you haven’t watched this film, or if you haven’t watched it since it was restored in 2009 I recommend you head on over to your Netflix box and tune it to the African Queen’s frequency. The film is short, family friendly, and enjoyable by anyone who likes film.
The movie starts in a Methodist Mission Church (yeah, for reals) in Africa where Audrey Hepburn and her brother are ministering to the locals. Humphrey Bogart shows up to deliver some supplies via his small river boat, the African Queen. He tells them that a war has started in Europe. Shortly after he leaves the Nazis attack and burn down the village. The tribesmen flee and Hepburn’s brother dies shortly after. When Bogey returns to find the village in ruins and only Hepburn alive he offers to give her a ride up river. Shortly thereafter Hepburn’s character suggests that they go on a mission to sink the Nazi boat on lake Victoria.
They embark on a journey to navigate a part of the river that had previously been deemed impassable by boat. In the process they have some conflict and eventually (of course) fall in love. Whatever else this movie is; an adventure, a WWII movie – it’s primarily a romantic comedy which makes it very different from everything I’ve watched up to this point. It’s great fun and I really recommend that you check it out if you haven’t watched it before.
Goodfellas is one of the films that I’ve studied the most without ever having watched all the way through. Goodfellas and the Godfather are referenced a great deal in pop culture – to the point that I spend a great deal of the time watching both saying “oh that’s where that’s from.”
The movie’s cinematography was somewhat groundbreaking. Many scenes take advantage of Steadicam motion for at least a portion of the scene and a few scenes are comprised entirely of one long shot. While this wasn’t the first time these techniques had been used it was the first time they had been used this well and to this extent.
The interesting thing about this being on the AFI top 100 is that the movie relies heavily on narration throughout the film, which is a big no-no in screenwriting. Narration is seen as a shortcut wherein the person is often telling instead of showing, but in this case it’s totally necessary for the expediency of the plot which covers a lot of ground, and they do a good job of showing and telling whenever possible.
Like many critically acclaimed movies, this movie’s plot is not terribly straightforward. Most popular, blockbuster movies have a clear objective, a singular clear conflict which, once resolved, resolves the plot. Many of the AFI top 100 have multiple smaller conflicts that resolve far before the movie is over. It’s less about a singular conflict and more about the events that shape the characters. Goodfellas is about the characters, who are played masterfully by the top-notch cast which is why it’s held in such high regard.
The story is odd because at it’s core it’s about a guy who seems to enjoy the perks of being a gangster, and oddly his wife is attracted to him because of the lifestyle, yet it comes at high costs with threats to his life and jail time. When he’s forced to leave the “Goodfellas” he still misses the adrenaline rush of organized crime. While not as laborious as others this film isn’t exactly what I would call it entertaining, though for those with a taste for a great deal of yelling, cursing, violence this might be more up your alley. I was shocked to find out at the end that this is true story about a real man who really went into witness protection. Like all movies on this list it’s well acted and well written, but like many movies on this list I could live without ever seeing it again.
I’m embarrassed to say that this was my first viewing of the Godfather. Yes, I know I should’ve watched ut years ago. My dad wasn’t that into gangster movies and I wasn’t begging to watch them, then I just never got around to it. It wasn’t that I didn’t know it was a good movie or that I wasn’t interested, I knew it was going to be a heavy movie and most of the time whenever the opportunity arose I wasn’t in the mood to live through that.I’m sorry. Now that I’ve gotten through that I get to entreat you to the thoughts of a person who has an MFA and just watched the Godfather for the first time.
Just like the rest of these movies no one needs me to tell them that the Godfather is an excellent movie. I suppose that what I was the most surprised at was how much I found the movie to be enjoyable. I say that because many (if not most) of the movies on the AFI top 100 are laborious dramas where the plot is secondary to the characters and acting trumps intrigue. The Godfather has a clear plot that meanders a bit, but doesn’t get lost in the weeds too much. Despite its long runtime it manages to keep interest and made me want to keep watching.
I’m also embarrassed to say that aside from the original Superman that this is the first film I’m watched featuring Marlon Brando. I’m eager to get to the others on the list that have in the lead. But I’ll talk about him more when I get to those films. The true feature character of The Godfather is young Al Pacino starts the film trying to deny “the family business.” But ends the film having dawned (pun intended) the title of “Godfather.” It’s the story of generational sin. It speaks to the reality that many people live with; the seeming impossibility of avoiding becoming your father, or at least grappling with his sins.
The drama of the movie and the characters are all fantastic, but the thing that makes the movie truly great are the moments of dissonence with that drama. “Leave the Gun, take th cannoli.” being spoken simply after disposing of someone. Or a scene wherein the senior Don plays in the garden with his grandson as if he were a normal grandfather. It’s this combined with the drama, the acting, the dialogue, and the excellent cinematography that make this movie so unusual.
I’d heard of the film Raging Bull, knowing that it was critically acclaimed, it starred a young Bobby DeNiro, and it was about a boxer. I’d seen a few clips from the film, but I’d never really known much about it. I was surprised to find out that it was based on a true story – not just a true story but on the main character’s autobiography.
This is another film (one of many in the AFI top 100) that is in the category of movies about a tragic male lead. Movies like this feature someone who has multiple flaws, in this case it is the famous boxer’s pride and paranoia. The story is a sad one, about a guy who never really found any sense of contentment. He alienated his brother, beat his wife, and took the fall multiple times due to pressure from power the be.
The film was shot in black and white even though it was released in 1980. While not unheard of, it’s rare enough that you have to sit up and take notice of anyone who chooses to do it when the option for color is standard. The cinematography is impressive to say the least, with one of the most famous push-pull shots in cinema history during one of the fight scenes.
The film is never what I would describe as “entertaining” or “enjoyable” but it is well acted and apparently truthful. I would also put it in a category as “these people just need Jesus.” I know it’s boring and cliché of me to say, but the people in the story would all have had much more easy, enjoyable lives – albeit more boring ones – if they’d submitted their lives to Christ – it’s not the first time I’ve said that about a film and it won’t be the last.
DeNiro’s performance is the most impressive part of the film – he plays a character through multiple life stages which is always challenging, and always powerful when a single actor can successfully play those different season of life. The details of the plot are mostly forgettable and the movie’s black and white color scheme makes it all tend to blend together. Having said that, there’s no doubt that it’s an impressive feat.
So, according to the American Film Institute Citizen Kane is the best film of all time. That’s a pretty heavy burden for any film to carry. It’s also perhaps why I haven’t gotten around to watching it until now. I wanted to reserve a time where I could devote my attention to the film and appreciate it for all its worth. I don’t even like to pick a single “favorite” film of my own. The biggest problem with Citizen Kane is it’s label. I can see that it’s a phenominal film, but for most of the movie I found myself having a hard time not repeatedly asking “Is this really the best film of all time?” Regardless, it is undoubtedly a remarkable film. Any movie that spans the lifetime of a larger-than-life character is an ambitious undertaking. Capturing the whole of the human experience in less than the span of a work day is something we take for granted in the film world, yet it’s no small task.
The movie of course tells the story of Charles Foster Kane who was a millionaire media mogul turned failed politician played by Orson Welles who also wrote, directed, and produced the film. It is dangerous for a director to write, direct, produce, and star in their film – as it’s possible they’ll become insulated and not hear the feedback necessary to make adjustments. More often they turn out less like Citizen Kane and more like The Room. Every aspect of this movie is admirable, but perhaps the most impressive thing is the performance of Orson Welles himself, who really does appear to be a man at many stages of life from the ideals of young adulthood to the unrest of middle age to the jaded disappointment with his life in old age.
This film is about a man who gained everything and died wealthy and largely unhappy. The movie starts with his death and his famous last word “Rosebud.” The movie then tells the sad progression of his life through interviews with his business partners and wife. The entire time the reporter who is doing the interviewing is trying to find out the significance of this final utterance, and yet, no one seems to know what “Rosebud” means. If you, like me already knew the ending of the movie it’s hard to imagine what it was like for those who hadn’t heard the original meaning of rosebud.
Ultimately we’re left with many potential takeaways. One of them is the simple reality that money cannot buy happiness. Though, I’m sure Daniel Tosh would be quick to point out that Mr. Kane never own a wave runner. Toward the end in a scene where Kane tears apart a room full of expensive possessions, we see what money and self focus earn a man and a yearning for the simple days of his youth. Something many Americans can identify with, which is perhaps why this has earned its place as the number one film of all time.
Last month I completed my Masters of Fine Arts in Film. An MFA is the highest degree one can earn regarding film, and yet I’m struck by the amount I still don’t know about the subject. Primarily I’m embarrassed at the number of classic films that I haven’t seen. I decided a while back that upon finishing my degree I would watch the the American Film Institute’s top 100 films. I’ve watched many of them, but most of them will be new to me. I’m making it my goal to reflect on each film, whether I’ve seen it or not, for 300 to 500 words each. My hope is that it will make me more informed as a film scholar and more cultured as a film maker. So here goes nothing.
Rogue One is, in many ways, totally different from Episode 7. I believe for many who didn’t like Force Awakens this will be a refreshing installment. Since “Empire Strikes Back” has become short hand for a darker middle sequel, this is the “Empire Strikes back” of the first six films; it happens between the originals and the prequels. Featuring characters from the original ’77 Star Wars, whether recreated using creepy CG that doesn’t quite cross the uncanny valley, or using footage from the original to cut in a few characters it feels a lot like a prequel worthy of the original. I will give you this warning: some have called it a “downer” and it might be seen as such by many, but the final shot of the film is both a fun reveal for long time star wars fans, and a tonal shift that will serve to change the entire feel of the film.
Despite the darkness Rogue one has a great deal of fun, several laughs and will definitely entertain with both comedy and action. Beyond this, I personally enjoyed the exploration of the role of the Force as a guiding entity in the lives of non-Jedi. As there are no Jedi in this film I was worried that it wouldn’t feel like a Star Wars film, but in fact this feels more like star wars – and understands the role of the Force in a way that the prequels didn’t. The way that these warriors pray to the Force, trust the Force, and walk into certain death without fear because of the Force shows that it is more than just midichlorians, mind tricks, and making things levitate.
As such I’d recommend it to any long-time star wars fan given they have the right expectations and don’t mind a darker chapter.
If you’re not letting the rocks cry out or donkeys speak to you occasionally I think you’re missing out, because it happens to me all the time.
How it started for me:
When I was a kid, like most children who grew up in a Christian home, my Mom was concerned about the kind of media I consumed. She wanted to be sure that the TV shows I viewed, video games I played, and movies I watched were at least somewhat consistent with a Christian worldview. The problem was both my parents were working full-time by the time I was four and I was a fourth child ergo Mom didn’t have the time to sit and watch every cartoon with me or sit as I played through all 40 hours of The Legend of Zelda.
As such, if my mom came in from play practice and I was watching a show, instead of freaking out and telling me to shut off the TV (ok she did that a few times too) she would usually put it to me to explain why I thought this show was ok. She would ask me to explain it. I soon realized that if I was going to be allowed to watch TV I had to start looking at the deeper meaning behind the media I was viewing. So I quickly learned to identify the good, the evil, and the values being espoused in a narrative. That’s where it started with me, as a child who wanted to watch TV and play video games.
The most recent step in this process for me came this past spring when I was taking a class for my MFA studies called Motion Picture Theory and Style. We did a lot of discussion of “film as text” and how to “read” a film. In the middle of this rather lofty, graduate-level class I had to write a lengthy paper analyzing the work of a director discussing his style across at least three films. (explan-a-brag incoming) When my professor returned my paper she commented that it was clear that I was far advanced in this area. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that it was because I started analyzing TV shows as a kid that now I was viewing everything as a text to be read. Suddenly I’m a good student, because I’ve been studying for this most of my life.
Beyond the academic analysis and using words like “formalism” and “intertexuality” even in my papers I have to subtly note when I see a figure who shows sacrificial love, as well as portrayals of good and evil that are consistent with a Biblical worldview. Still today, I’m looking at popular media to see where God’s truth is. It’s like a treasure hunt, a game I learned as a child that I see as more important now than ever.
Still there’s the question of Scripture, what arguments could be made, looking at the whole of scripture, for the importance of seeking truth in popular media? I believe there are several to examine.
When turning to scripture, I try to avoid developing a belief system and then looking for verses out of context that, when combined, support my position. At the same time, I can’t totally avoid seeing God’s truth played out in the larger world and then seeking confirmation in his Word, while at the same time realizing that if the confirmation isn’t there, I might be missing something.
To me the first evidence that media matters to God is in the Gospel of John verse 1:1.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
This scripture was brought alive for me recently over and over again as I traveled to the lands of the New Testament with Tom Wright. Every time I asked for a sound check with him he would quote this passage, often times swapping to the original Greek.
What does this have to do with media? Well, the Word was the first medium, the original means by which truth was communicated, and one of God’s three persons was and is characterized as being both that medium and its message. The Word, John goes on to say, became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus Christ was the Word before he was Flesh. That to me says that God cares deeply about the media through which his message was communicated, the most important one, of course being Jesus and the second most important one being us, that’s why he became human, but before he did, he was first The Word.
I think you may be overextending this metaphor…
No, I’m not saying that the Holy Word of God is somehow equivalent to every other form of the various media out there, but I am saying this: God the father is often said to be cosmic and indescribable, the Holy Spirit is often compared to elements in nature like water, fire and wind. But other than human titles like Warrior, King, Brother, Master, and Lord – the object lesson we’re given for Christ is him as “the Word.”
The word used for “Word” there is “logos”, and it is where we get the English word ‘logo,’ a visually distinct identifying mark. It is often also translated as “plan” or “reason” and it is used by philosophers as shorthand for all of life’s meaning and purpose. When we examine a film for the Biblical narrative, we’re looking for that Logos.
Paul uses this word three different times in three different books and when you hear it, know that Paul means everything, and I believe that we should include the media we consume with that.
Whatever you do,
Whatever, meaning everything, should especially make our ears perk up when we read the scriptures.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
This is a popular passage and for Good reason it seems to cover a lot of ground, but if you don’t read the rest of the Chapter, especially the first sixteen verses leading up to this you might miss how exactly Paul says to “do it all in the name of Jesus.” Paul lists off all the sins that the church members in Colossae used to participate in, and says they’re no longer part of that life. Then he says to do everything in the name of God.
Whatever you Consume,
Next in Corinthians Paul says this:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
This context is pretty interesting, Paul is responding to concerns about eating food that may have been used for sacrifice to Apollo. I was recently in Corinth and part the temple to Apollo there is still standing, as well as a nearby market entrance – it was likely that people would go and buy animals there, take it to be used as a sacrifice to Apollo and then bring it home for dinner. Obviously this concerned the early Christians who might be served this meat, unknowingly eating something that was intended for the worship of another God.
In the passage Paul basically says not to worry about it, as long as you are doing it to God’s glory it doesn’t matter if it was intended as a pagan sacrifice.
This speaks hugely into the way we view secular media. We find these various popular narratives and we ask, should we even engage with this? I think Paul would say yes, as long as you can do it to God’s Glory – whether in word or deed, whatever you consume – do it unto God.
Ok, this isn’t a post on gluttony
I should point out that in Corinthians he does say that if you know for certain that a particular meat was used as sacrifice to Apollo, not to eat it to be a good witness of your faith. I do feel like Paul would say that anything you know a show or movie is definitely made to worship a false god, you shouldn’t consume it. You’re not going to find a Christ figure in 50 Shades of Gray.
Whatever is true,
Finally, for me the simplest filter for me as a question of whether I should be participating in any popular narrative, is in Philippians chapter 4.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
If you can’t find truth in it, then it isn’t worth your attention. If it isn’t pure then it isn’t in God’s will. If it isn’t admirable, then don’t waste your time on it. That’s the standard that has been set for you. Don’t stoop to anything less.
There are three approaches that Christians can take to secular media. Only three – meaning that whether you intend to or not, you have taken one of these views.
Cause they’re totally separate things!
If you’ve never given this any thought, then it’s likely that you’ve been compartmentalizing things. Compartmentalizing is placing boarders between your faith and the other parts of your life. You may have learned that your faith needs to be at work in your family, that it should have an impact on your work life, and obviously you’ll be thinking about it most during church events. If you’re like most Christians, you probably haven’t given much thought to how your faith should be at work in the entertainment you consume.
To be clear: this is about more than sex, language, and violence – this is about the truths and worldviews that you are allowing to enter your mind week after week as you sit in front of your TV, watch a movie, read books, or surf the web. Some of the most truth-filled programming may contain violence, occasional foul language and perhaps even some suggestive material (though I’d be cautious of that because it is the one we’re told to flee from in 1 Corinthians 6:18.)
If you are a regular consumer of media (watching approximately 30 hours of TV a week and going to a movie about every two weeks) and you’ve never quit watching a TV show or walked out of a movie because you felt convicted, then it is likely that there is some compartmentalization going on. If you’ve ever clicked the “Private Browsing” option on your phone, Tablet or PC – then you’re definitely compartmentalizing your faith away from the media you consume and that is never God’s best for you.
In some ways, this is the one Christians are most known for, even if we more often compartmentalize our faith, Christians are thought of as people who vehemently oppose pop culture. Though this has and is changing, as Hollywood has seen that Christians are a market and creating stories that are respectful to our beliefs will behoove them at the box office. I hate that people think this of Christians, but at the same time there are things we need to reject, as I talked about in my entry about my three rules for watching movies*.
This one is more complex, because whereas compartmentalization is always wrong, rejection is oftentimes right, though if you always choose this approach then you’ll likely miss out on some of the blessings God has for you. Taking that “Rejection View” obviously means that you take the view that says ‘because much of, or most of the various forms of popular media are not God-honoring I will not participate in it.’ And of course, that’s based on a very, true, truefact™with which all of us can agree, but that doesn’t mean it’s the whole truth.
There are times where we have to take this position; parents need to reject some media from their lives to protect young children. There will always be things in the media that we need to protest and say ‘That is Wrong!” when we see it depicted as if it were right. Young Christians, upon first coming to Christ may be in need of a ‘cultural cleanse’ where they remove themselves from the larger culture and immerse themselves into the word, similar to Paul’s seven years in Antioch, studying the scriptures and becoming “the Apostle Paul” who would go on to speak to the Greeks about their own poetry, and understand the scholarship of most of the major cultures in the Roman empire. It seems clear that Paul didn’t stay in this position his whole life, and for good reason; there is a danger to rejecting things indiscriminately and for too long.
While a person who compartmentalizes is definitely being “of the world,” A person who totally rejects the culture risks no longer being “in the world.” When you’re disengaged from the cultural narrative then you loose your ability to speak the vernacular and therefore effectively communicate with non-Christians. This isn’t a problem if you have no intention of teaching the Gospel outside of the church, but if you plan on engaging with people who don’t already know Jesus, it is important to know the stories they’re hearing on a regular basis and be able to use them in such a way that they can hear see Jesus even in the secular media; that the meat that was used to sacrifice to Apollo can be used as healthy food for them.
Finally, if you’re not engaging with the culture then it is likely that you’re missing out on God speaking to you through some surprising means. Like Balem’s Donkey in Numbers 2, or Jesus’s warning that the rocks will cry out in Luke 19:40. You don’t want to miss the unexpected places from which God will speak because you were determined that God can’t use rocks or donkeys.
This is ultimately where I believe we need to all land on this issue. We need to be willing to engage with the popular narrative up to a point such that we can be willing to learn from it, and that we can appropriate it for the use of the Kingdom.
Can this go too far? Yes. I’m not a fan of people trying to shoe-horn every film into some super-specific allegory for the gospel. I love Star Wars. I believe there are Biblical truths in Star Wars. There are truths about anger and fear dominating your life, truths about temptation and redemption, truths about good overcoming evil and truths about the nature of wisdom and choosing your mentors well. But I can say this for sure: it is not an allegory for the Gospel. There are many preachers who have tried to say things like “the Force is the Holy Spirit” or “Obi-Wan is Jesus” or maybe “Luke is Jesus” or “Yoda is Wisdom personified as in Proverbs.” Okay that last one might hold water, but for the most part Star Wars cannot be made into an allegory, and when watching it with your kids, I think you need to explain that while “The Force” is cool, it’s fictional and largely equivalent to pantheism in the real world, and while it may be similar to The Holy Spirit, it is not an allegorical one to one equivalent. Saying otherwise is theologically dangerous.
Having said this, that is exactly why you should examine the movies you watch, so that you can see where there are both truths and inconsistencies in the stories you’re consuming. You should do so with discernment*, looking for areas where it is true and areas where it isn’t true, and also understanding that you’ll come up with some different answers than your friends. You may have read my review on Disney’s Film, Tomorrowland*, but you’ll be interested to know that my friend Ken Roach, who I’d say is easily much smarter than I am, took a very different approach than I did on the same film. We have a little debate in the ensuing episode of the mid week mix up
Also it gives you in-roads to speak to other people. So this should surprise no one: I once was in a debate with a group of fellow nerds about the nature of God. Some of them didn’t like me using the word “fear” in reference to God. I reminded them that it is in the Bible multiple times, and that the word is ‘fear’ not ‘respect’ or ‘revere’ as some believe. They didn’t like that – they wanted God to be all feel-good all the time. And I understand that, because when the idea I should fear God was introduced to me, I was bothered too. But aside from the fact that it is in scripture, it just makes logical sense; the being that created the universe, when you see him don’t you think you’ll be afraid? Why do you think that every time in scripture when the angel of the Lord shows up the first thing he says is “Fear Not” if he wasn’t terrifying to the people that saw him? But the debate wore on and I actually was accused of being Pharisaical for using too much scriptural evidence. That’s when I realized that these people are not going to be convinced by scripture because they think they’ve made up their minds. That’s when I realized I had to show them that they already knew this to be true in the stories they love. So I posed this:
Let me put it in a way perhaps more tactile to this crowd: say you’ve never heard of Batman. You’re walking in the street late at night and you see a tall muscular guy lurking in a corner dressed in dark armor and a cape, you’d probably be afraid, right? Then another guy with a knife comes out of no where and batman jumps out at him- knife guy didn’t see batman before and now he’s terrified and you’d be thankful. You’d love batman, you’d do anything for batman. In the end it doesn’t matter what we think God is, what we want God to be, what kind of God we’d run to. Scripture is clear on multiple occasions: it’s the fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom, love comes after that. Also this is why God sent Jesus, so we do have a person of God we can chat with, identify with, run to, etc. but that doesn’t make God any less powerful. God installing fear is a good thing for us, because he’s on our side. . . but Fear is only the beginning. 1 John 4:18 says perfect love casts out all fear. But there has to be fear first to fully understand that love. I’m totally about God’s Love and mercy. That mercy, however, is cheap if we think that God isn’t also righteous, Holy, and powerful. All I’m saying is it is not out of God’s character to do things that may seem unpleasant to us, even violent- but it’s the fact that he is capable of such that makes his love more amazing, and frankly far more comforting; in the battle of Revelation, I’d much rather take sides with a God I can fear.
Suddenly I had their attention. I had demonstrated a scriptural truth using a comic book character. Now theologians much smarter than me can debate the exact accuracy of the metaphor, but the point remains. It was Batman that ended the argument. That was all it took – It was Batman that put it in a place where they could understand. Yes scripture has to be paramount as the standard by which all stories are judged, but often the easiest way we can get the truth of Scripture through to people is resting in the the stories to which they cling.
Now the real question is did you picture batman as Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, or Christian Bale? (Note that George Clooney was not an option, and the jury’s out on Ben Affleck.
The process of watching a movie to look for God’s story is different for different people, that’s why Ken and I often come up with different readings from different films. You may look for the Christ figure, the higher power, the values, or the depiction of good and evil. But if you want to start doing this for yourself, I think it comes down to a few things:
Know scripture. If you don’t already have a consistent and full foundation of Biblical knowledge, you need to sit down and read the Bible. Like I’ve said, you need to give the Holy Spirit a vocabulary. You’re not going to be able to read films for what they’re worth if you haven’t learned the story for which you’re looking.
Look for scripture’s story. Once the stories of scripture are written on your heart then you will likely begin to see the stories everywhere. Much in the same way that binge watching a TV show makes you relate everything that happens in the following days to that TV show, immersing yourself in the Biblical narrative will allow you to see when it shows up in the popular narrative.
Talk about it. Find someone else and discuss your thoughts – ask questions, debate if you disagree, and use it as a way to get to know each other and more importantly, get to know God’s story.
Wrap it up already
To me it comes down to the simple fact that any given medium in itself is just that, a medium, and while the medium does say a great deal about the message, it doesn’t change it’s meaning. As long as we’re clear on scripture then things will be clear to us. And if there’s one takeaway from this it really should be that reading and understanding the scriptures will give the Holy Spirit vocabulary in such a way that will allow God to speak into your life in ways that are often surprising and powerful. He might use rocks, a donkey, a profanity-ridden podcast, a comic book character, or any number of things to speak to you, but he will only speak if your hear is prepared to hear from him.
I love this clip from the 1939 version of the hunchback of Notre Dame because it shows the tension of the transition from the old way of communicating the gospel to the new way, but in a much earlier time. I love the bishop’s words as he looks at the cathedral and considers the power of the printing press. Also notice who in the scene takes a “rejection” approach and who takes an “appropriation” approach. It’s only three minutes.
Don’t miss that last part – this was the old way, the printing press is of our time. Then know where the printing press used in that scene sits today; in the lobby of the Asbury University commuincation arts building where students are taught about film, television, graphic design, and interactive media. Just like the cathedral of Notre Dame represented the old form, now the press does and it sits as a symbol of the passing of the torch from one generation of story keepers to the next.
If you haven’t watched it yet, this past Sunday I had the honor of sitting in on a discussion as part of the message at Frazer, to discuss the importance of Story and how it is at the core of who we are. If you missed it, it covers some more ground around the importance of story as well as some of what I’ve discussed here. If this topic interests you I really recommend you check it out below. Also think about hopping over to my friend, Ken’s blog. Where he talks about many of the same topics.
So what do you think? Where do you see God at work in popular media? Comment below!
*shameless plug to get you to go back and look at old entries
Listen, I didn’t expect much from Disney’s Tomorrowland other than it just being a fun movie. Unfortunately I can’t say that it was. It had fun moments, fun characters, and a fun premise, but the movie itself wasn’t that fun. How is that? I think I can sum it up in a few issues:
– Plot: the plot was weak, and it took almost 30 minutes to establish what was going on what the stakes were. There was also a huge error in logic of the whole thing that I’ll discuss later.
– The title/setting: only about 20 minutes of the film actually takes place in Tomorrow land, the titular location. The rest is spent in several car rides and a few action scenes as well as arguments between the three protagonists.
– The weirdness: Ok, having a little robot girl confess her love to a guy in his 50s as she “dies” is strange. It doesn’t matter if the character is actually 50 years old, we all know that the actress is 10 and it’s weird. Also, she’s a robot, we all just saw age of Ultron (another Disney property); robots can’t really die unless the Vision hacks their programming, causing them to be unable to upload their conscientiousness to the internet. (if you don’t understand that, what Rock are you living under?)
– the message. Like the final act of Atlas Shrugged, the film reads like a manifesto for humanism rather than a fun family film. It comes off preachy, which honestly is a comfort to me – until now I thought Christians were the only ones this bad at subtly embedding a message in a film. Many Disney films have a message to them, but the content of this film’s message is the biggest disappointment, and that’s where I’d like to spend the rest of the discussion
The story of Tomorrowland is about a utopian city in an alternate dimension that was discovered/created by Tesla, Edison, Eiffel, and Jules Vern. (One of these things is not like the other…) The current governor of Tomorrowland is named Nix (played by the incredible Hugh Laurie) and despite the fact that apparently Tomorrowland was created in 1800s, it wasn’t beginning to be open to the public until the 1950s when a little robot girl named Athena was supposed to start recruiting geniuses to come to Tomorrowland and make the perfect society where they can just make sweet, sweet science all day long. Somehow this society has bypassed politics and bureaucracy – which apparently are the only things keeping us from developing faster-than-light space travel, immortality, and jet packs. (Not, you know, physics, and laws of nature)
Side note here: this is very similar to both the plots of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and 2k Games’ BioShock which was heavily influenced by the former. In Bioshock, when a group of scientists are given free rain to do whatever they’d like in a secret, highly-advanced underwater city, the results were horrifying. I frankly think this is a far more realistic picture of this scenario if it were played out in real-life since real-life humans are fundamentally selfish and flawed.
The “T” pin pictured at the top of this entry, and featured heavily in the previews, was, at one time, intended to be a special invitation to Tomorrowland. Each pin is coded to a particular person’s DNA and it only works for that person. Athena (little, British, kung-fu, robot girl) was supposed to search out people who fit the profile of Tomorrowland; creative, intelligent, people. Only she was never allowed to complete her function because a young boy who would grow up to be George Clooney created a machine that could see the future and it predicted the end of the world, which for some reason made Nix exile George Clooney and destroy the pins, stopping people from getting invited because Nix believed that the people of earth weren’t worth saving since they were soon going to bring about the end of their own world. As such Tomorrowland is actually mostly unpopulated.
The first huge error in logic here is obvious: why would knowing the date of the end of the world stop Nix from recruiting geniuses, allowing Tomorrowland to fall into disrepair? Even if he believes that the pending end of the world is going to be the fault of its occupants, why would he stop bringing the world’s best and brightest to Tomorrowland instead of continuing to use it a cosmic bomb shelter for those who are smart enough to help Tomorrowland? Even someone as heartlessly elitist as Ayn Rand recognized the value in gathering up the exceptional people into their own, hidden society in her magnum opus. Regarding governor Nix, for the leader of the smart people – he’s not that smart.
Also, why did their adorable recruitment robot need to be programmed for advanced hand to hand combat? And why is she apparently way better at it than any other subsequent robot they made, even the robots made for the express purpose of security and enforcement?
Disney morals are often secularized versions of Biblical principals, that’s why so many people can identify with them. Christians like them because they see scriptural truths. Others like them because the virtues of the faith are undeniable by reasonable people. Usually, a Disney film’s “moral” isn’t telegraphed in the way that this film’s message was. The message of the movie was explicitly stated several times by several characters in the film. Basically its this: If man didn’t have politics, (and one might infer, religion) and maintained a positive attitude toward the future, then he could progress far beyond what most would believe possible. We could then solve issues like the energy crisis, climate change, the nuclear arms race, famine, obesity, hunger, and on and on and on. These things are actually listed in the film at different points.
On a surface level this is simply optimism, and while optimism is an expressed theme of the film, this thinking also has other implications. First it implies that most men are basically good at their core, and these good men utilizing science and creativity are the answers to the world’s problems. Also implied is that the progression of science and creativity is being held back by foolish men that should be left out of this conversation – these would be the exception to the “men are basically good” rule.
While Christian Humanism has it’s place, this view is definitively secular humanism: Man can improve himself by himself, if we could just get rid of those few unusual men who stand in our way. There is no power higher than science, human creativity, and reason. People coming together and thinking positively is the answer to the worlds problems, while negative thoughts being broadcast into our brains by the few, unreasonable nay-sayers is the reason we have any problems in the first place. People who believe that inevitable dangers lie ahead for the human race have simply given up. People who try to warn the world of impending doom are just causing a self-fulfilling prophesy, and if those people would stop broadcasting their warning then people would all get along better (sounds a lot like an indictment on Christians, warning the world that the wages of sin is death.) The absolute worst thing you can do is give up hope in humanity.
I recently had the honor of hearing the message from Alastair Bragg (in fact I briefly mentioned it on the most recent episode of the Brio Podcast) In which he mentioned that the first reality that must be faced before one can understand the gospel is the far less cheery prospect that we’re all sinners, we’re all doomed, and we’re all dying. No amount of positive thinking, no amount of our own achievement can save us. And as for the people who have given up, those who have lost all hope – they are the exact people for whom Christ died.
Also, even among the good guys Tomorrowland promotes an eleteist view of humanity; while many humans are smart, creative, positive thinkers and therefor humanity’s greatest hope – others I guess, are in the way? Or are at least useless. This is the exact thinking that leads to the kind of political and ideological disagreements that the film is railing against. You’re still creating an “us” (the smart people) and “them” (the not smart/creative people) which historically never works out. This is an odd choice in an otherwise totally humanist film as it seems they’re saying that certain men can save humanity, while others are just taking up space and headed for destruction. It seems that they can’t escape the reality that we are self-destructive, but the story tries to convince us that only some of us are actually doomed. This is totally counter to Christian faith as Christ followers we believe that we are all equally sinful and we are all equally worth saving.
The fact is that if you believe what this film is trying to sell you, you’re missing out on a fundamental, foundational truth of humanity and that is the depravity of man. A hard core Calvinist (which I am not) would stand up and say amen right now. But regardless of one’s theology all Christians have to believe that we needed Christ to come save us because we are sinful and without Him and Him alone, we are doomed. I’m all for a film with a Christ figure **spoilers ahead** and there arguably is one in this film, though it’s coupled with the weirdness of the man-on-little-girl-robot love-declaration… ultimately this Christ figure is a flawed example because it’s a robot, and therefore a creation of man – showing that once again, man is his own greatest hope. This isn’t just unbiblical, it’s totally counter to the Biblical narrative. I shouldn’t have to tell you that in scripture we’re told repeatedly that we’ve all sinned and rebelled against God, that the wages of that sin is death (ergo we’re all doomed) but the gift of God is eternal life. Nothing else can supply that. Sorry if that isn’t “positive” thinking enough for you Tomorrowland fans.
In a post on this review, I made the statement that I believe this theme is one of the reasons why this film bombed, and someone (who no doubt didn’t actually read this entry) commented that the theme is present in Star Trek, so it’s not possible that the theme had anything to do with the film’s poor reception. I agreed with him Star Trek has a heavy secular humanist vibe to them, but I pointed out that arguably the most secular humanist of the films was the first one, which almost killed the franchise. And arguably the least secular humanist of the films is the 2009 reboot, the most successful of the films. I do want to say that even thought I do believe this played into why this film wasn’t a success doesn’t mean that secular humanism is a death sentence. I think it is for Disney films however, because arguably the more clear a Biblical truth there is the more successful those films have been. IE Lion King: your father died for you, you squandered it, then he called you back to take your rightful place as being his image to a lost world – and it was the most successful home video release of all time.
It’s not all bad
First I’d like to say that secular humanism is a shade closer to Christianity than many worldviews such as naturalism, existentialism, state-ism, and most other atheist world views are not only far less positive, they also elevate other things above humans, such as nature, knowledge, or government. Arguably Jesus was a humanist – he promoted the idea that human life is sacred and went as far as to die for all men so that they wouldn’t have to go to hell. But this is still different from a secularized view of humanism wherein humanity is the highest force. I also think this is why some nominal Christians may fail to see the humanistic values, because if Christ isn’t the at the absolute center of your worldview, but you like all the “love” and “community” and “social justice” parts of Christianity, then you are basically just a secular humanist. If you think that the goal of Christianity is to get your “best life now” in the material sense, then you are basically a secular humanist and a capitalist, with a dash of optimism-as-religion.
Really the most positive thing in this film is found in a thorough discussion on eschatology – that is, the study end times. Many Christians, especially those in the older generation who hold to a highly traditionalist view of their faith, have adopted a “The end is near” worldview and use that as an excuse to disengage from the larger culture. These people may have a great deal to offer, but they’ve given up because in their view, if Jesus is returning soon it’s just better to stay out of things until he comes back to make everything right. Not only is this a crappy way to live, it’s totally non-biblical.
Setting aside the question of whether or not we’re living in the end times (which is at least debatable) we’re told by Jesus himself that when he returns we are to be about the Father’s business. In other words, we’re not supposed to give up – ever – regardless of how near or far we believe his return to be. This is the greatest truth that can be mined out of Tomorroland. And in my opinion it almost makes the film worth it, as it is such a pervasive issue in the church. I only wish that the other philosophies displayed in the story were less overt so that it was harder to miss this point: Don’t give up. According to scripture things are going to get worse before they get better, but we’re never told that means the church should withdraw. As long as we’re on this earth (that one’s for you hard-core rapture people) we’re supposed to do the work of the church and we’re never given any instruction to give up or withdraw regardless of what is happening, quite the opposite, we’re told to be instant in-season and out of season. We’re told to love one another as Christ loved the church.
At the same time we are told that there will be wars and rumors of wars. We’re told that there will be sickness and famine and that things are going to get worse. To ignore this is to ignore scripture. To act as if we can beat the scripture prophesy with positive thinking, it might sound noble, but you cannot argue that is scriptural. If we could save ourselves from destruction then we wouldn’t need Jesus to return.
Is it worth seeing?
In my opinion, that’s a solid No. It might be one to rent from redbox when there is nothing else and you’re just really bored. It is slightly entertaining at moments, but the plot leaves something to be desired, and the worldview is not consistent with itself. Perhaps the film’s greatest offense to me personally is that because of its poor box office reception, Disney cancelled its sequel to Tron (it’s only non-pirate, non-fairy-tale live action property that hasn’t bombed in the last ten years) So you can expect more remakes of classic Disney animated films into live action films and yes, a fifth pirates movie. Because of films like Tomorrowland, John Carter, and Lone Ranger, we’ll likely never see another Tron film because Disney has, ironically, given up on it. TRON Legacy had a considerable Zen/Buddhist slant to that, but if you actually look at the plot, there’s a fabulous Christ story in the midst of it that is hard to miss – which is why I enjoyed the film and was sorry to see the sequel get cancelled the week that Tomorrowland failed to perform on one of the worst memorial day weekends in recent box office history.
Someone commented, “I don’t think it was humanist. If anything its misanthropic” not sure if we watched the same film – the bad guys were misanthropic, the good guys were totally “positive thinking” humanists as evidence by the end wherein they were gathering the best of humanity to save humanity.
If you have Netflix then undoubtedly you’ve been reminded this past week of that their latest series just dropped; a Marvel property by the name of Daredevil. You may recall the Ben Affleck Daredevil film way back in 2003. If you were among the few who did go to see it, you were probably were like most of the audience, dissappointed that it didn’t feel more like Sam Raimi’s Spiderman. The real problem with the movie was that it wasn’t realistic and logically consistent enough to reach the audience that didn’t like Spiderman for it’s comic book sensability, but it wasn’t fun enough to capture the fans of the Spiderman film either. So where does this rendition of “The Man Without Fear” rank? Read on…
First who is Daredevil
Daredevil is a second-tier Marvel hero, who hasn’t enjoyed the success or popularity of Spiderman or the X-Men, nor is he as integral to the universe as Iron Man or Captain America. First off he’s kind of hard to explain. He’s not a Norse God, or a man in a Iron Suit, or a Super Solder. He’s actually a blind guy. Matt Murdock was in an accident when he was young wherein toxic chemicals sprayed onto his eyes, leaving him blind. As time went by he began to realize that his other senses were heightened and that by focusing he had a sort-of sixth sense (there are actually more than five senses anyway as mentioned in the series, but that’s another blog entry) that works a lot like radar. So while he is still effectively blind, he can hear, smell, taste, and feel so well that he can detect specifics about the people on the floor above him, tell if someone is lying, and sense an attacker’s adrenaline pumping, giving him a near precognitive ability to sense attacks. In addition, his inner ear is also extremely balanced, making him very good at acrobatics and extremely agile.
Matt’s father was a boxer in New York, where he grew up in the real-life neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, which despite the name, is actually now quite a pleasant place to live due to a number of re-gentrification movements that have taken place in the area since the creation of the character in the 60s. Anyway, Matt’s dad wasn’t a great boxer, but even if didn’t win many fights he was never beaten by a knock-out, only a TKO. “Battling Jack Murdock” was known for being able to take a beating and stay standing. Matt’s father refused to take the fall in a fight and was killed for his honesty. Shortly thereafter a man named “Stick” found Matt in an orphanage. Stick was a member of a group of blind martial artists, who believed that sight only offered distraction and used their enhanced senses to best their opponents. Stick became a father figure to young Matt Murdock and he trained him to hone his abilities.
Matt, wanting to fight the kind of corruption and injustice that led to his father’s death, decided that he wanted to become a lawyer to stand up for the little guy. He wanted to stay in his neighborhood and with the help of his business partner and friend, Foggy Nelson, he started the Nelson and Murdock law firm. Any description of the character of Matt Murdock would not be complete without a discussion of his faith. While many superheros are vaguely protestant (Superman is Methodist, as specified in action comics #850) Daredevil’s Christian, Catholic faith is a foundational part of his character. It’s no mistake that both this new version of Daredevil and the 2003 Movie have early scenes of him in confessional.
So there you have it. Lawyer by day, Superhero by night, blind all the time, and fundamentally Catholic.
I’ve already been berated by fan-boys who loved the series immediately for having a less-than stellar opinion of the new series. That isn’t to say that I don’t think it is very good, but I do feel that I need to say that I was disappointed in one major way. This is the third TV series in the already enormous Marvel cinematic universe that includes all the characters in the eight various Avengers films, Guardians of the Galaxy, Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, as well as the upcoming Ant Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Inhumans films in addition to the pending Jessica Jones, Defenders, and Luke Cage Netflix series. Up to this point all of the films and TV series have had the same sensibility; they don’t take themselves too seriously and they have fun. Humor is a huge element in all of the Marvel films up to this point, and even in the Agents of SHIELD television show. The violence in these films has always had a measure of un-reality to it that gave it the feel of a comic book movie; so no matter if the world or galaxy is in danger, the stakes are low and the fun is high. Daredevil is the first to break from this world which bothers me on two levels: I personally prefer the “fun” over the realistic. If I wanted realism, I’d live my life. More bothersome than that, however is that this is actually a problem for the cinematic universe. The reality presented in Daredevil is totally inconsistent with the rest of the world it proposes to be in. Some will not be bothered by this, but it upsets me because it marks the end of the continuity that has been so great within the MCU up to this point.
What is the difference? Well Daredevil is trying to reach out to fans of HBO series by having a show with the kind of extreme violence you’d expect from an R-rated film. Things like characters impaling themselves on rusty fence posts, a bad guy beheading someone with a car door, a guy’s head getting crushed with a bowling ball, and lots of cuts, and punches that draw blood like a Tarantino film. This is one of the most violent TV show’s I’ve watched. I’m certain that the production team had a tanker of fake blood ordered for this season. Every opportunity they get, someone is bleeding from the mouth. Every time someone punches someone, they have to do it twice as much as they usually do. A friend pointed out the Foley effects, that is the sound effects that relate to humans, is louder and more visceral. The enhanced sounds make the hits seem harder, the cracking of bones and spurting of blood all the more agonizing. I wonder if part of this was to put us in Matt Murdock’s shoes, who perceives the world based more on sound than the visual.
Yes, fans of the comic tell me that this level of violence is consistent with the comics, but I would argue that reading a comic with cartoon-depicted fights cannot ever reach the same level of visceral impact that watching a bloody fistfight happen on screen between real people. Red ink is very different from looking at a person covered in what appears to be real bloo as it seeps out of their mouths and from wounds all over their bodies. I was still hoping for an interpretation of Daredevil that didn’t take the darker tones, but had that lightheartedness that we get from Iron Man or Guardians.
As such this is NOT for children. I wouldn’t have much of a problem watching the Avengers, or Agents of Shield with a ten-year-old, I wouldn’t suggest this for kids younger than 15. It is very intense and not just because of the violence. The entire world is bleak. The bad guy is also more complex and at points, seems arguably more sympathetic than the “hero.” Also, this probably won’t entertain kids. There were many moments where it wasn’t very entertaining to me. Between the extreme violence there are many long scenes where characters are talking, often in other languages – requiring me to read subtitles, and offering the very serious dialogue that sometimes makes me feel like I’m watching an episode of law and order rather than a show about a superhero. There’s almost two full episodes where Matt is sitting on the couch after a particularly bad beating, during which there is little-to-no action. I’m all for character development, but I’m watching an action/adventure series here. Even some of the more action-packed scenes can get a little boring; there’s an entire episode where Matt is trapped in a building with someone he’s trying to get information from. There’s another one where the only action sequence takes place at the end of the plot, so they break it up across the episode, which only makes for really disjointed storytelling.
Matt Murdock as “The Masked Man” in this first season he doesn’t dawn the familiar red costume until the last episode.
The likability of the characters is occasionally an issue in this series as well. Most of the characters a likable, but also a little annoying. There’s no one that you look at and feel like they’re someone you really enjoy watching all the time. Matt is generally likeable, though we go through periods of time where you question his logic (instead of getting the dying dirty cop to give you “information” about his boss, why not get a confession on record?) Foggy is likable most of the time, but there are times where his not knowing Matt’s secret identity really makes him a frustratingly ignorant voice. Also he has some lines that are clearly intended to be humorous that don’t quite land. Karen is likable except you don’t really understand why she doesn’t feel free to tell Foggy and Matt what she’s up to in the background, as she investigates with Ben, the reporter. Ben is a likable character, but it’s questionable that we need him in the story. He’s one of a handful of characters that make the whole thing feel like there are a few-too-many characters in the series. Or, at least that they’re trying too hard to check in with all of them regularly.
The BIG Upside (for me, at least)
The saving grace for the show is Matt’s faith. This is the only thing that grounds the show in a reality with which I can identify. The reason for all this bleakness? In the reality of Daredevil, unlike other comic book worlds, God exists. As such, people are imperfect like they are in the real world while God is perfect and is looking out for them. How does this play into the series? Well as I mentioned above, Matt Murdock is a devout Catholic, and he visits with his priest several times. While the priest only appears in four episodes, he is heavily featured in one that is especially interesting. Whereas most pastors or priests are often depicted as bumbling at best and devious at worst, the priest might be the only truly “good” character in the whole bunch. He is smart, he’s the only one who is able to intuit that Matt is the “masked man.” He’s loving, He’s aware of what’s going on outside the walls of his church, and he actually seems to know scripture. He reminds Matt that “vengeance is the Lord’s.” And he calls Matt on his continual questioning about whether it would be wrong to kill someone, asking “Is it that you don’t want to take a man’s life but you fear you have to, or is it that you shouldn’t take a man’s life, but you want to?”
There is a large on-going discussion with the priest about right and wrong, good and evil, and God’s will. The most interesting point to me comes in a scene where Matt asks the priest if he believes in the Devil. He starts by making the (reasonably accurate) assertion that the language that refers to the Devil in scripture is somewhat ambiguous at times as to whether it’s referring to a specific person or a more amorphous idea of an “adversary.” He says when he was young he believed that medieval theologians just combined all these ides into one character. But then he goes on to say that years later when he was a missionary in Rwanda he saw a local, peaceful and well-respected priest brutally murdered along his entire family by a guerrilla militia captain in front of his entire village. He said in that moment he saw the Devil, “So yes, I believe he walks among us, taking many forms.”
This may seem like a something peripheral to Christianity, but it is very important. Today’s popular philosophy is to destroy or at lest stridently discount any notion of the existence of absolute evil. In the church it often takes the form of rewriting the intentions of scripture by discounting the many great theologians that have come before us, and acting as if we know better today. It shows that priest realizing that the collections of references to an enemy weren’t made into one person, but rather they were discovered to have been referring to the same person. It actually discusses an important theological topic on a popular TV show with reasonable respect for Christian orthodoxy.
The Priest isn’t the only one discussing matters of faith. Throughout the series Matt brings up God, God’s will, and God’s gifts. While he is often frustrated or even angry with God, he trusts and believes in Him. It’s a constant and very real tension that Matt believes his gifts are from God, but struggles with knowing how to use them, and what God’s will is. He also prays and makes the sign of the cross before putting his outfit on.
What’s more is that the bad guy, Wilson Fisk, AKA “The Kingpin” states two different times that he is not a man of faith. The second time he makes this assertion is toward the end of the last episode wherein he then tells the story of the good Samaritan, explaining that he used to believe he was the the good Samaritan, but now he realizes that he is “the ill-intent” who attacked the man on the road that day. Murdock and Fisk have similar back-stories, as we see, but one became the enemy he was trying the fight and carries guilt with him everywhere, and the other humbly protects people from the shadows. We’re offered the possibility that the primary difference between the two is their faith.
a few more thoughts
There is a real sense in which this is not a superhero series at all. Similar to “The Dark Night” it’s a crime story, a detective story first. The scale is much smaller than what we see in most marvel films, as it takes place in one neighborhood on Manhattan. The small scale only adds to the grittiness of it. There’s a sense in which it’s about real world problems of drugs, human trafficking, gangs, politics, and corruption. This is another reason why I’m not a huge fan of the series. If I wanted these kinds of issues I could watch almost any police procedural. Some however have reacted to the opposite. Lost of guys really respond to the raw, dark realism. There is a very noir sensibility to it both in the flavor of the plot and in the way it is photographed. If you want to watch a series about a super hero, watch the Flash on the CW. It’s just a fun superhero TV show. This is not that at all. This is a painful walk through a very real world that is intended to make you stop and ponder right and wrong. It is also slower than many superhero shows, which I can’t decide if it is exacerbated by the fact that it’s available to watch all at once, or if that helps alleviate the problem. While many shows have bottle episodes, that is episodes that take place on established sets to save money, usually in the middle of the season and often taking place entirely in one room, there is a sense in which the whole season feels bottled when compared to the larger scale of other marvel movies. Even some of the more action packed episodes are cooped up in a single location.
Is it a good show? Someone just asked me this question and I said “that’s a complicated question.” They then asked me if they would like it, and that is less complicated. If you like violent action, then you will like this series. If you like slow-burn plot where people in suits make veiled threats toward each other, then this is your series. If you don’t mind a large portion of the plot examining the life of the bad guy, you might like this series. If you don’t like the marvel movies up to this point, because they’re not real or gritty enough, I’d say give this one a try. If you liked Dark Knight, then you’ll probably like this one.
If however, you don’t like seeing lots of blood you will probably not like this. If you want your plot to move quickly, straight forward to the resolution you won’t enjoy this. If you need a little more than a drop of comic relief, I’d say skip this one. If you get tired of long scenes where bad guys are talking to each other about subplots that will have no effect on the larger story then you won’t enjoy this show. If Captain America, Iron Man, or Guardians, rank among your favorite movies – this might be a bit much for you. If you thought “Dark Knight” was a bit too dark, then I don’t recommend this series.
Is it a good show? Arguably, yes. But it’s not for families with kids. It’s not as broad-appeal as I believe the Avengers is, and it definitely isn’t aiming for the same audience. I’d be curious to see where they would take it in a second season, but the basically happy ending of this first season almost makes me wish they’d stop now and perhaps bring Daredevil into a few guest appearances of other Marvel shows. It definitely has a few fun moments though, if only in the last episode. So, if you’re into this kind of dark action, check it out – it has some good truth to it.