He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.
There’s a recipe that will guarantee a movie leaves my cheeks wet. It simply requires a plot or subplot that revolves around father-son drama and a couple well written lines about the importance of that relationship. It’s a direct hit to my heartstrings, and I’m a sucker for any movie that includes it.
This plot line is so memorable in the Star Wars franchise, that the famous “I am your father” line has been imitated and played upon ad nauseum with no signs of letting up soon. September will bring the release of the newest Lego Movie, Ninjago. The trailer masterfully parodies the famous exchange by inverting the epic reveal. Even better, it manages to expose a deeper truth through humor: father figures have a tremendous effect on our development. The protagonist, Lloyd (do we pronounce both “L”s?) tells his villainous father, Garmadon, “you ruined my life!” to which Garmadon replies, “that’s not true. I haven’t even been a part of your life! How could I ruin it? I wasn’t even there.”
The role a father plays in the life of his children is so important, that not performing or underperforming the role has negative effects on the child’s development. Previously, this was only speculation, with little hard science to back it up. But recent studies have shown what has been suspected for a long time: lack of involvement by fathers is detrimental to their children.
While many children will sadly go through life without meaningful relationships with their fathers, thankfully, there are no shortage of strong and courageous men who step in the gap to fill the shoes of fathers who have abdicated their role or died before fulfilling their paternal duties.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has delivered a double portion of father-son drama in its latest two installments: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II and Spider-Man: Homecoming.
(The following contains spoilers!!!)
The Guardian Of The Guardian
“He may have been your father, boy. But he wasn’t your daddy.” This line, uttered by Yondu, was worth the admission price for GotG2. And it resulted in instant tears for me. The film was full of surprises that otherwise wouldn’t have been memorable if not for the emotional stake the audience is expected to place in the characters.
The main story revolves around Peter’s (Chris Pratt) introduction to his father, Ego (Kurt Russell) and their mutual attempts to rebuild their relationship. Lots of secrets that move the MCU forward are revealed. Peter is no average earthling, his father being a god of sorts.
As the plot unfolds, however, we discover that Peter’s father is no benevolent king. He’s created his own meaning for life in the wiping out of the lives of others. The isolation of his life’s work can only be cured if Peter will join him in his destruction. But these revelations pale in comparison to the complexities of Yondu’s character and the insight we’re given into his role.
While Ego may be a god, Yondu proves to be a man of much stronger character. At no small cost, he’s protected Peter from the painful truth of his true father’s identity. He plays the long-game at parenting. By filling the void as a surrogate father to Peter, much of their relationship has revolved around the practical (supposedly, he kept Peter around because he could fit into small places), but there is more that has been left unspoken until now.
Yondu will go to great lengths to protect Peter, including the laying down of his own life. The cliched truth is powerfully displayed: anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy.
What is it about full grown men using the word daddy that brings other full grown men to tears? Could it be that God has placed an innate desire in men for good father figures? Could this be a reflection of the relationship we were created for with our Heavenly Father (Eccl. 3:11)?
For Peter Quill, his search for his father ended in disappointment when he discovered him to be a malevolent monster with an appetite for death. But the journey to get there was necessary in order to learn and appreciate that his true daddy was there all along. While Ego uses a lot of flashy tricks to impress Peter and hypnotize him into affection, Yondu displayed the often boring reality of a true dad: standing by Peter’s side, day in and day out. The first has an undeniable appeal, but the second is like a still small whisper (1 Kings 19:12, 13) that if we’re not careful, we might overlook or take for granted.
While GotG2 aptly handles the drama when a father abdicates and another steps up, Spider-Man: Homecoming tackles the problems that arise when someone is left fatherless by death (in addition to finally delivering a half-decent villain).
Peter Parker’s Surrogate Parents
The Spider-Man origin is well-known. His father was a good man and a brilliant scientist taken before his time. His uncle Ben, was also a good man who lost his life in tragic petty crime. Perhaps due to their familiarity the latest Spider-Man reboot doesn’t depict these events. Nonetheless, it dives headfirst into the problems they create: who will be the daddy to a teenage boy navigating high school while coming to terms with his superpowers?
The person who rises to the challenge is the unlikely Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. reprises).
There is no wasted screen time with Tony Stark and his super alias, Iron Man. A teen with superpowers needs a mentor. Tony’s dialogues with the young Peter (Tom Holland) show he is this and more. The memorable line, and Marvel knows it, is when Tony tells him, “if you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” A lesson on identity that every dad wants to tell his son.
In the same exchange the audience’s collective heart is prodded when Peter says, “I wanted to be like you,” only to be quickly retorted by Tony, “I wanted you to be better.” Again Marvel masterfully portrays the timeless toil of so many dads who work hard in hopes that their children will someday become more than them.
As the plot unfolds Peter comes to terms with these lessons from his unlikely father-figure. With the coming of age scene where he sees his reflection overlaying half of the Spider-Man mask, he is born again and rises from the water and rubble. Now realizing the truth that the Proverbs so aptly depict: like the water reflects the face, so the heart reflects the man (Prov. 27:19). Tony’s advice hits home, but not without conflict, the suit doesn’t make the man; the heart does.
Will Spider-Man fulfill Tony’s wishes and become better? The audience is left guessing, but the movie hints that he will. The young Peter has wisely begun to wrestle with the importance of humility, ironically taught to him through his haughty daddy. He is beginning to exemplify the exception to JC Ryle’s observation: ”Two things are said to be rare sights in the world, one is a young man humble, and the other is an old man content.”
The Coming Kingdom
While I didn’t grow up with comics and was into everything but superheroes as a child, I’ve been an unlikely convert to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’ve pioneered the idea of an all-encompassing alternate reality that’s easy to get lost in. This summer’s offerings draw me in altogether differently. I may have grown up without comics, but, thankfully, I grew up with a pretty awesome dad. By God’s grace, so will my three kids, that’s why I’m a sucker for these sorts of plot lines. They tap into something different, and something innate for humanity: we long for father-figures. For those that are deprived of them in this fallen universe, there is a coming kingdom in which the true God will be the best father to all who trust in his self-sacrificing Son.