Musings of a Christian Geek about the Word, Geek Culture, Science, Music, Movies, and anything that is deemed noteworthy.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Some of My Thoughts About "Man of Steel"

Man of Steel seems to be the Tim Tebow of superhero movies as critics either seem to love the movie or hate it with a passion. Even a number of my favorite online critics think it is a travesty of a film and have urged people not to see it. I would like to count myself in the love it category. This movie, in my opinion, is the Superman movie I have been waiting for. This all goes back to the fact that I am a big fan of all of the DC animated movies that have been released straight to Blu-ray and DVD. What I love about these films are their epic natures. The battle between Darkseid, Superman, and Supergirl at the end of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse or Green Lantern’s solar radiation blocking construct at the end of Justice League: Doom are epic highlights that are rarely seen in the live action portrayals of superheroes. Why bring this up? Man of Steel is epic to a ridiculous degree. 

One thing is for sure, Zack Snyder, David Goyer, and Christopher Nolan know superheroes. The battles at the end of this film between Superman and the Kryptonians under General Zod seem like they are lifted right from the pages of the comics. Trains go flying, city blocks get destroyed, satellites are hurled to the Earth, and jets plummet to the ground. What’s amazing through all of this is that you definitely get a sense of the human toll of it all. There is one scene in particular that really hits him home about the perils of the regular person trapped in one of these epic brawls. This is something I think really puts the movie above The Avengers in that while it seems like a similar amount of damage is being done to New York City, you never get a sense of dread for the people below. This realization of civilian casualties is also very prevalent in The Dark Knight trilogy as well.

A criticism pertaining to these battles is that they don’t stay true to the comics in that Superman would have located the fight to a more secluded area to prevent further loss of human life. Well, apparently they haven’t read too many comics as probably seventy five percent of time, Superman battles in the middle of Metropolis or another population center. Thus, I think the criticism is unfounded. Plus, with the exception of Batman, who is more about outwitting and out thinking his opponents, superhero comics as a whole are about superhuman free-for-alls. Only three times have I ever felt that a live action movie caught the feel of comic book battles. The first time was in Spiderman 2 in the fight between Doctor Octopus and Spiderman. The second time was in The Avengers during the battle in New York City and the third time was in this movie.
Another criticism I have heard is that the pacing is off with numerous flashbacks to Superman’s childhood. To knock down this criticism, let me mention my favorite theatrical Batman movie, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. In the geek world, this film is almost universally loved as one of the greatest Batman stories ever put to film. What a lot of people probably don’t realize about the movie is that it is an origin story as much as it is a detective story. Both Man of Steel and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm use the same exact flashback type device with similar pacing to tell each character’s origin. Why it works for the latter movie in many critics’ eyes but not in the former, I just couldn’t tell you. 

One thing I’ve noticed about both fanboys and critics is that they like to hype up certain genre movies to the point that no matter what product is shown, it could never live up to that built-up hype. This is why movies like Iron Man 2 (which was not bad) are so universally panned because if a movie doesn’t live up to its hype, it is the worst film ever. The sad thing is that these same people never learn and build up that hype over and over. Only two genre movies have ever lived up to this hype and those two movies are The Dark Knight and The Avengers.
While in my opinion Man of Steel was much better than its hype, I think critics are too attached to Christopher Reeves’ version of the character to give this movie a fair shot. I’ll be honest with you. I have never really cared for his portrayal of Superman. Well, his Superman wasn’t bad, but I just loathe his version of Clark Kent. To me, Reeves’ Clark Kent is so overcompensatingly bumbling that I think it would be very obvious that he is Superman. I much prefer Superman: The Animated Series’ and Lois and Clark’s portrayals of Clark Kent which are much better as you can believe that he actually is an investigative journalist. The jury is still out on Henry Cavill’s Kent as we didn’t see much of him, but hopefully it’s truer to my favorite versions.

Do Any Atheists Live In A Moral Vacuum?

Originally published at the Christian Apologetics Alliance.

GoodWithoutGodCan an atheist really be good without God? This seems to be an age old question and something organizations like the Illini Secular Student Alliance (ISSA) would have you believe with billboards and advertisements to boot. Well, what does God think? Does God agree with this sentiment that someone can be good while not believing in Him? Psalm 53:1 says, “The fool hath said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.” Well, that was very direct from God’s Word. I guess that settles the debate. For the sake of argument, though, let’s dig a little deeper into this question of secular morality. There’s no question atheists are capable of practicing good actions. We all know non-believers who give to charity, work at homeless shelters, and care for hurt animals and people. So how can this be if God’s Word says, “There is none that doeth good?”

You can consider this article somewhat of a sequel to a previous one I wrote: When Christian Reform Met Classical Theory. In that article, I explore some of the foundations of Western Culture. There is no question that different parts of the world have different cultures and cultural norms. Many of the prominent atheistic campaigns out today originate from culturally Western nations. Thus, to attain a better understanding of the influence of these campaigns, we should take a look at the framework of Western Culture itself. Western Culture has seen many changes from Roman culture and philosophy (heavily influenced by the Greeks) to Catholicism to the Renaissance and Reformation, to the Age of Enlightenment, and so on. All of these and more time periods, events, and movements have shaped how we, in the West, feel and think today. Berry, Poortinga, Segall, and Dasen (2002) state, “Human beings acquire patterns of behavior through experiences that are characteristic of the context of which they live.” Thus, we must find the context in which these atheists and their campaigns live.

As you can see with the different time periods which have contributed to the foundation of Western Culture, Christianity can be found to be a central factor. Alvin Schmidt (2001) posits in his book, How Christianity Changed the World, much of Western Culture bears a striking resemblance to Christ’s influence and teachings. Just look at one of the foundational moral codes of Western Culture, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Do you know where the Golden Rule originated from? It comes from Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” What about giving to charity as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have done which has been highlighted by the current Secular Samaritan campaign? Luke 18:22, “Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” 1 Corinthians 13:3, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

Whether they like it or not, these atheists, including Gates and Buffett, live in a Western society which is greatly influenced by Christian principles. Instead of being good without God they are good because of God. The question of the day shouldn’t be, “Can an atheist be good without God?” Rather, the question should be, “Do any of these atheist live in a moral vacuum?”

Berry, John W., Poortinga, Ype H., Segall, Marshall H., & Dasen, Pierre R. (2002). Cross-Cultural Psychology: Research and Applications (2nd Edition). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Schmidt, Alvin J. (2001). How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

My Top 10 Science Fiction and Fantasy Characters: #1

1. Hal Jordan (Green Lantern)

Rewind to about 6 years ago and this number would have probably been a totally different character. Back then, I was not much of a DC comics fan and the Justice League was not my super team of choice. No, I was a huge Spider-Man fan even going so far as enjoying the unfolding of the Clone Saga and reading the heck out of Maximum Carnage, Marvel Knights, New Avengers, and Civil War. All the good will granted from these story lines was not to last for in 2007, the abomination (I am not talking about the Hulk’s villain) that is One More Day hit comic book store shelves. To say this ruined the character of Peter Parker is an understatement. 

For those not initiated, One More Day is a story set after Marvel’s Civil War (I could explain the story, but it is just shorter linking to the Wikipedia page) where Aunt May is shot because Peter Parker revealed his secret identity to the world. All the universe’s most powerful heroes and villains cannot save her; so, enter in Mephisto, Marvel Comics’ embodiment of the devil. Peter, in turn, makes a deal with Mephisto (the devil) to save Aunt May’s life which breaks up Mary Jane and Peter Parker’s marriage. My heroes don’t make deals with the devil, period. Thus, I was no longer a Spider-Man fan similar to thousands of other fans who had felt betrayed after all those years of engrossing oneself in the character. I actually didn’t read comics for a while after that which changed after picking up a copy of Green Lantern: Rebirth written by Geoff Johns.

It is sad to know that Johns’ run on the character is over because reading from Rebirth through the new 52 First Lantern storyline has been a pleasure. I guess it’s time for a little more back story. In the mid-nineties, DC Comics decided that Hal Jordan was not modern or popular enough; so, they initiated Emerald Twilight which turned Hal Jordan into the supervillain Parallax and introduced a new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner. I was never a big fan of Rayner and it seemed comic book fans in general shared my sentiment as the book began to lag in sales and a plan was enacted to bring back Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern proper. The job fell to Johns which culminated in one of the greatest retcons in comic book history and from that point, I just couldn’t stop reading Green Lantern comics. He quickly became my favorite comic book superhero and I converted from Marvel to DC. 

What endures me to the character is that his fight of fear versus will is very close to a Christian’s walk. Fear is our enemy just like it is the main enemy of the Green Lantern Corps. The actual requirement to becoming a Green Lantern is that one must be able to overcome fear. This is also why Batman has not always been a huge fan of Jordan because Hal is not afraid of him. Another thing I like about Green Lantern is that his powers are very unique in that he can make any construct he thinks of with the ring in addition to the standard powers of flight, super strength, and invulnerability. Also, Hal Jordan is a very relatable character for me as he is a guy who likes to “wing it” in many respects. He is most likely a procrastinator and he can be overconfident with the occasional witty line but he won’t stray too far from the right path. Well, unless a cyborg superman and extraterrestrial terrorist come along and destroy his hometown and every in it, that is. 

Best portrayal: War of the Green Lanterns; The Sinestro Corps War 

Favorite moment(s): Hal Jordan straight up kills the evil renegade Guardian, Krona, in epic fashion. The Guardians become scared of this because of their future plans of replacing the Green Lantern Corps and they exile Jordan.

In Rebirth, as Kyler Rayner is having his butt handed to him by Sinestro, Jordan is rejuvenated into his old body from his time as the Spectre and he promptly makes short work of his long-time foe. 

Jordan uses the power of the indigo tribe to trick the ring Sinestro made for him into no longer obeying the commands of Sinestro.

Monday, June 3, 2013

My Top 10 Science Fiction and Fantasy Characters: #2

2. John Spartan-117 (Master Chief)

Colony Wars: Vengeance might be my favorite video game of all time but the Halo series is by far my favorite video game franchise and series of all. Yeah, I know it seems very mainstream, but I continue to play Halo games in the face of such uber-popular fare as Call of Duty (No Russian mission with an evil American payoff, give me a break). Halo just continues to define console first person shooters (FPS) for me and will probably never be unseated as the king. Thus, while Halo is the king of video game franchises, the series’ protagonist, Master Chief, will remain the king of video game characters.

Ever since Star Trek and Star Wars came out in the sixties and seventies, geeks have been looking for the next blockbuster sci-fi franchises. The truth is that it’s very hard to create a property that can be so universally loved by both the mainstream and nerdy alike. Enter Halo, which I totally believe should be considered this generation’s Star Wars because the game not only made LAN and online console gaming a very popular thing to do, but it showed that a video game could be so much more than just a disc you put into a console. I don’t remember a video game before Halo having a book come out alongside the game as The Fall of Reach did. I am sure it happened before with a random game here and there; but, now, it seems par for the course. Added to the Halo canon are many books, comic books, movies, and a soon to be released TV show. 

In addition, much like Star Wars, the story of Halo placed you right in the middle of an ongoing saga and the main character of the saga is the genetic engineered soldier Master Chief. Critics have said that the character is too much of silent protagonist to be considered among the best genre characters; however, I totally disagree. Go back and play the original game again and you will hear quite a bit of dialogue spoken by Spartan-117. With each subsequent game, his personality is fleshed out even more through story elements and dialogue culminating in his best portrayal to date, Halo 4.The last game of the series really did a lot to humanize the character and let you realize his relationship to Cortana, the AI construct he’s carried in his armor for years. 

Master Chief, in my opinion, acts just like someone in his position would. He is driven by duty to the UNSC and was taught from a young age to be a perfect soldier. A guy like that is not going to be a blabbermouth and he is not going to be a one-liner machine. I don’t care what action movies in the eighties have told us. I think this has really endured me to the character because I like stories of soldiers who are driven by duty and honor. Too many stories in the liberal zeitgeist feature sagas of soldiers who question their purpose, are driven crazy with PTSD, or outright rebel against their government. Master Chief is the opposite of those characters.
Best portrayal: Halo 4 

Favorite moment(s): After the Covenant have invaded a space station over Earth and planted a bomb, Master Chief sucks the bomb and himself into space and places the bomb inside a Covenant ship and destroys it.