"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Gen. 1:27)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Planes: Fire and Rescue

Having won last year’s Wings Around the Globe Rally, Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) has turned into an overnight sensation.  The more races he wins, the more popular he becomes.  However, after a routine stunt breaks a rare part to his engine, Dusty is forced to consider retiring from racing altogether.  In addition, when an accidental fire reveals that Propwash Junction doesn’t meet current safety standards, their small town is forced to search for an additional rescue vehicle in order to stay open.  With his own future in question, Dusty volunteers to be certified and joins a team of fire fighters at Piston Peak to be trained.  As he is challenged by their gruff crew chief Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), Dusty begins to learn the value of sacrifice and what it means to be a true hero.

Admittedly, the Planes franchise is certainly built mostly around merchandising. Accused of playing out like a lighter version of Cars (and rightly so), the first film focused primarily on Dusty’s dream of being a racer in the face of adversity. Originally designed as a ‘straight-to-video’ release, Disney felt they had enough of a film to release on the big screen—and sell tons of toy planes along the way.  Still, in their second outing, Planes: Fire andRescue manages to bring something distinctly more dramatic to the franchise.

Opening with a dedication to those brave men and women who risk their lives fighting fires, Planes: Fire and Rescue does carry with it a sense of urgency.  Rather than the playfulness of a race around the world, Dusty is now faced with genuine risk both for his own safety and that of others.  “When other planes fly out, they fly in,” handyman Sparky remarks about Dusty’s new team.  Whereas the first film emphasizes the glory of winning the ‘big race’, Fire and Rescue connects true honor with risking one’s life for another person.  (In fact, the film’s primary villain is most guilty of serving his own ego, primarily seeking fame and recognition at the expense of the safety of others.)

In addition to this, the film also battles with issues of identity when tied to success as well.  For example, by taking away Dusty’s ability to race, the film places him into the middle of an (kid-friendly) existential crisis.  All of a sudden, he’s left to ask who he is if he can’t do what he loves most?  Although he takes his certification process very seriously, he also does so with the belief that he’ll one day be able to return to racing and, as a result, actually causes strain on his fire safety training. The more tightly he holds onto what he wants, the more difficult it is for him to move forward.   Only after Dusty releases his dream can he truly begin his journey as a firefighter. (Although, to be fair, [spoiler alert] his dream also returns to him at the end.)

As a Christian, I sense a strong duality of the nature of sacrifice in this film.  First and foremost is the obvious sense of physical sacrifice on behalf of another.  As Blade Ranger, Windlifter and the rest of the team throw themselves into the fiery furnace, they do so knowing that every mission could be their last.  “If you give up today, think of all the people you won’t save tomorrow,” Blade sermonizes.  There is a steadfastness to their commitment and a bravery in these characters that trumps anything in the first film.  (Really?  Can you even compare a message like that to the ‘wisdom’ of El Chupacabra?)  Theirs is a sacrifice that few are willing to make – a truly, Christ-like sacrifice for the lives of others.

However, having said this, there is also another form of sacrifice at play in this film.  There is a sacrifice for calling as well.  In order for Dusty to truly become the plane that he is being called to be, he must be willing to sacrifice what he wants.  So often, as we journey with God, we hold on to things tightly when He invites us to loosen our grip.  As with Dusty, there are times when we receive these dreams again.  Still, there is freedom in trusting God with our lives and circumstances in a way that allows us to be changed by Him as well.

Is Planes: Fire and Rescue an instant Disney classic?  No, I’m afraid not.  However, there’s enough insight and depth to the characters in this film that it opens the door for tremendous spiritual conversations with children afterwards.

And hey, they’ll likely sell tons of toys along the way.

Planes: Fire and Rescue
Starring Dane Cook, Ed Harris
*** out of 5

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

“It’s their fault… Don’t tell me that it doesn’t make you sick to your stomach just to look at [the apes].” (Carver, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)

Taking place 10 years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn opens with an ape culture that has become much more highly evolved since their escape into the forest.  Having developed an organized society, they remain loyal to their leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and believe that they are finally free of their previous human oppressors.  However, when a small band of humans are discovered on ape territory, tensions between the two species rise quickly.  As a result, battle lines between humans and apes are quickly drawn with both sides wrestling with whether or not the other can be trusted.

Still, Dawn is more than just a mindless summer blockbuster.  Beneath it’s ground-breaking CGI-work and explosive action, this film offers an incredible portrait of a developing Cold War that is reminiscent of any number of global conflicts (past and present).  However, rather than simply depict one side as ‘good’ and the other ‘evil’, Dawn creates tensions within each species, revealing that these conflicts rarely offer clear answers and perspectives. 

Ultimately, however, the most introspective piece in the film is its exploration of the damage of unresolved anger and unforgiveness.  Given that the origin of their culture came after their escape from captivity, there remains a history of pain that follows them into the darkness.  Yes, they have established a fully functioning society but a terrible rage boils under its surface.  Fear and anger arise within the apes the moment the encounter even one human face to face.  (Incidentally, this rage is also not merely relegated to the apes themselves.  Although mostly wiped out by the simian flu, the humans still very much blame the apes for their extermination as well.)  This is best exemplified through Caesar’s military advisor, Koba.  Still angered over his mistreatment in the labs, Koba remains bitter and believes that the true interest of the humans is ape extermination.  “Caesar trusts humans.  Koba does not,” he growls.

In contrast to this, however, lies Caesar.  Emotionally, Caesar has been forced to deal with his own bitterness and pain.  Although forgiveness is a strong word to use—he still wrestles with a great deal of pain—Caesar is at peace with his past.  He recognizes that not all humans are necessarily evil and, as a result, he is able to move on from the damage he has endured.  As a result, Caesar experiences true emotional freedom whereas Koba remains trapped in a cage built by anger and vengeance.

It’s here that the film treks into spiritual territory.  How do we deal with the rubble of our past?  How does God expect us to let our hurts go?  Having worked with many youth have are wrestling with the trauma associated with a history of abuse, I have seen the damage that one—or many—can cause another.  Forgiveness can seem insurmountable.  The concept of grace can be a difficult one to accept, whether it pertains to the victim or the attacker.  Yet, in the midst of this, Jesus still calls us to love our enemies.  He reminds us that, if we do not forgive, our Father in Heaven will not forgive us.  Without question, God sees value in the broken, even when their actions have caused harm.  (After all, our actions have often caused harm to others, regardless of whether or not it’s ‘as bad’ as theirs.)  In the same way that we accept His grace for ourselves, we are commanded to offer it to others.  Admittedly, this is not something that we can do for ourselves.  Genuine grace always stems from our Father who helps us to ‘no longer see [others] from a human point of view.’  (Even Caesar recognizes that evil is not strictly a trait that lies in humanity but within apes as well.)  In this moment, we understand that the other person’s need for Jesus’ healing is as great as our own and, potentially, opens up space for new beginnings and grace.

When this happens, we experience genuine spiritual freedom.

When this happens, we experience a new Dawn.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke
Directed by Matt Reeves
****1/2 out of 5