God and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3
'There is no God. That's why I stepped in.' So says Chukwudi Iwuji's High Evolutionary, the brilliantly unhinged villain in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, released last week.
Marvel's latest outing centres on the unfolding backstory of Rocket Raccoon, in which (tiny spoiler) he's created as part of the High Evolutionary's hideous eugenics programme, seeking the creation of a perfect species to build a perfect society. Failed experiments (slightly bigger spoiler) are treated with extreme brutality, to the point where whole worlds are dispassionately incinerated.
So far, so MCU. But the inclusion of this throwaway line of dialogue, almost lost amid one of many set-pieces, hints at an uncharacteristically metaphysical - even spiritual - dimension to Guardians 3. Born as a mere 'step along someone else's path', to quote the big bad, Rocket must wrestle with the question of whether he can have any good purpose of his own.
The way the High Evolutionary treats his creations ('I will destroy your entire civilisation, as is my right as your maker') is a distortion of the omnipotence Paul described in Romans 9:21: 'Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?'
Guardians 2 also featured a god-like villain seeking to create utopia, knowingly called 'Ego' - and he, too, became a galactic mass-murderer. The subtext is not so subtle: those who claim ultimate authority are evil by definition. Even gods - if they existed.
Guardians 3 is a story told in and by and for our post-Christian culture. It might be a schlocky blockbuster, but it will be one of the most seen films this year, and as Christians we need to hear the fears and hopes it shares.
Our culture - the people around us - are suspicious of rigid, top-down authority and dogmatic truth claims. Historically, the church has played an outsized role in causing that fear.
The subtext continues: if our God looks like the High Evolutionary, and if his people behave like enforcers, then they must be defeated. But if we look like the Guardians themselves - self-sacrificial, always running after the one lost member of the group, channelling power for the good of the weak - then we will be heard. In fact, we might find ourselves looking more like Jesus.
Josh Hinton is Head of Communications at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).