Recently, it was my 36th birthday (hooray! Or maybe boo…I still haven’t decided). For the past 5 years I have been celebrating my birthday the same way: I have a Marvel movie marathon. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a massive Marvel fan- I love the comics and the MCU equally. In fact, you can hear my own “origin story” on the Cinema After Dark Podcast! In fact, working in the Publicity Department of Marvel Studios was definitely my dream job. But, hey, I love what I do now.
Each year, the selection of films in the marathon tend to change due to the fact that the Marvel cinematic universe grows more each year, but the level of enjoyment is still the same.
You may know that on the blog there is a semi-regular feature about cinematic life lessons (Doctor Strange was one of the films to feature recently). During my Marvel movie marathon this year, I thought about how so many of the Marvel films have a wealth of lessons in them (as do the Marvel comics themselves). So seeing as today is National Comic Book Day, I’m bringing you cinematic life lessons from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To avoid frustration: SPOILER ALERT! Yes, there will be spoilers. Hopefully there’s a little bit of inspiration for everyone in this post.
Ready? Suit up and let’s get down to business:
Let the past make you better, not bitter: Ahhh, Loki. He’s got more daddy issues than Gamora and Nebula (and let’s face it- they have a right to be screwed up due to the fact that they have Thanos as a father). Abandoned by his Jotun father for being sickly and small, he was taken in by Odin in case he could be used as a bartering chip with the Jotuns (considering he had been abandoned to die by his father, he’s not exactly going to be a particularly useful bartering chip, but I digress…). Growing up without knowing that he was really an Ice Giant and believing that he was the blood brother of Thor, Loki discovers the secret of his heritage to his horror…and things go downhill from there. Cue slaughtering his birth father, falling from the Bifröst, attempting to enslave Earth, faking his death and ousting his adoptive father from the throne of Asgard. Oh dear.
Now, Loki wasn’t exactly snow white to begin with (no pun intended), but the truth behind his heritage solidified his stance. Instead of rising above his untraditional start in life, he channeled his efforts into rage and maliciousness.
But look at some of the other characters in the Marvelverse- Tony Stark loses both parents in his early twenties, Steve Rogers becomes an orphan as well, and even though T’Challa seeks revenge initially after the death of his father, he ends up offering refuge to the man he believed was responsible for his father’s death.
Every one of us goes through tragedies in our lives. They’re painful, unexpected and life-altering. And while it’s so easy to feel helpless, we have the choice to be better, or remain bitter.
This too shall pass: Who’d have thought the MCU could teach you about impermanence! Doctor Stephen Strange is a hotshot neurosurgeon. He’s pretty sure that his prowess, success and accolades will last forever. He will save lives and be rewarded for it with praise and a hefty salary. That’s what he went to medical school for, right?
But then a near fatal car accident strips everything away. What he thought was permanent was not. On the flip side, when he came to Kamar-Taj almost completely penniless and hopeless with hands that he believed were worthless, he discovers that this was an impermanent state as well. With the guidance of the Ancient One and opening up his own latent metaphysical abilities, he saw that he could again use his hands for something better. He could again save lives but in a different capacity.
Bad things do not last. But neither do good things. Our lives resemble an ocean’s tide patterns: it ebbs, it flows. So what does one do with this impermanence? I’m not eloquent enough to explain it, but I discovered a beautiful post about the lessons of impermanence and the story of King Solomon’s Ring (which is where the phrase ‘this too shall pass’ comes from) over at The Emotion Machine. It really is worth a read.
Got goals? Find a mentor: Peter Parker has Tony. Doctor Strange had the Ancient One. When you’re learning new skills, or reaching for your goals a mentor is a huge asset. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to traipse through the streets of Kathmandu or be found via YouTube by a billionaire philanthropist playboy. Check out our post on How To Find A Mentor (And Be A Fabulous Mentoree).
With friends, it’s quality, not quantity: in the digital age we’re likely to have a huge amount of friends and followers on social media, but how many good friends do we have in ‘real life’? The most poignant friendship in the whole of the MCU has got to be that of Cap and Bucky. Steve and Bucky were childhood friends who grew up together and eventually fought together after Steve managed to rescue Bucky’s captured squadron in Italy during WWII. They would end up fighting together again in order to keep Bucky from being captured after he was wrongly accused of the bombing which killed T’Challa’s father during the signing of the Sokovia Accords. Even though Steve counts Sam Wilson (Falcon) as one of his close friends, and was close to Tony Stark pre-Civil War, Bucky will always be the numero uno bestie in Cap’s life.
As for other prominent BFFs in the Marvelverse? Tony’s got a lot of fame and prestige, and that has a tendency to draw a lot of fake friends. Thankfully, he’s found a cerebral chum in Bruce Banner, the two of them sharing a love of science and tech (even if they did unleash Ultron and have to clean up the mess afterwards). Peter Parker’s got Ned, a massively devoted bestie who ends up being able to help Peter under pressure (and sometimes egging him on to do things he shouldn’t do, like disabling the tracker in his new enhanced Spidey suit and unlocking the full range of features in the suit). You don’t need a million friends to make your life interesting! You’re an interesting person as you are and a few good friends are worth more than a million fakes.
Don’t just settle for what you’re good at: Post- Super Serum infusion (and the melee that followed), Steve was offered a role touring with the USO as Captain America, a patriotic character to help bolster support for the war effort and the purchasing of war bonds. After initial reluctance, he began to shine in the role, the character of Captain America being good publicity for the US war effort overseas. But there’s only so many times you can punch Hitler onstage without getting tired of it. By the time Steve and the USO land in Italy to entertain the troops, he’s pretty much had enough of not being able to fight alongside the troops. So when he hears that Bucky’s squadron is MIA, he defies direct orders, saves the squad…and the rest is history.
You can spend a lifetime doing what you’re good at, or you can stretch yourself further, gain new skills and expand your world even more.
Sometimes family are the people we choose: the Marvelverse is definitely a place of family dysfunction. There’s the whole Loki situation, Gamora and Nebula’s fractious relationship (which, when your Papa is an intergalactic megalomaniac who forced you to fight one another is pretty understandable), Natasha never knew the meaning of the word ‘family’ and was trained to be an assassin from a young age, and Peter Quill’s papa was a Celestial! These families aren’t the stuff of dreams by any imagination. Sometimes, instead of having close ties to blood relatives, we form bonds with people that are unrelated to us. We create a family. The most obvious example of this in the MCU is the Guardians of the Galaxy. Here’s a ragtag bunch of intergalactic outlaws, but they’ve banded together as a familial unit (albeit a chaotic one). And before Peter met up with Gamora, Groot, Drax and Rocket, he was welcomed into the fold by Yondu and his Ravagers…even if Peter spent most of his life convincing the Ravagers not to eat him. Of course, by the end of GotG Vol 2 the team have got a teenaged Groot on their hands…ohhh boy…!
It’s not about the super-suit: it’s cheesy but true: it’s what’s inside that counts. Look at Steve Rogers! Even when facing Red Skull he declares he’s “just a kid from Brooklyn”. Well, that kid from Brooklyn was skinny and small until he was given the Super Soldier Serum via Dr Erskine and a dose of Vita Rays thanks to Stark Industries. But the Serum enhances what is already inside the patient. In Johan Schmidt’s case, it amplified his evil and turned him into the grotesque Red Skull. In Steve’s case it made him faster and stronger. But pre-Serum or post-Serum, one thing remained the same with Steve: he had a good heart and a sense of right or wrong. He lined up countless times at recruiting offices (albeit illegally sometimes), because he was passionate about serving his country and defeating the enemy. When he hears about Bucky’s squadron being captured in Italy, he’s not going to wait for anyone else to intervene when he knows he can help. His good nature may have enhanced his abilities post-Serum, but it was there all along.
Here’s another example: Peter Parker. Yes, he’s got superpowers, but before Tony Stark got involved (and gave him a tricked out new suit), he was saving people in a DIY suit. He doesn’t just have the superpowers, he’s got the brain to match, something that no bite from a radioactive spider could provide. And when he gets into a massive mess and Tony takes the enhanced suit away, he’s left without web options, suit warming and other functions the Stark suit had provided. He’s got to rely on the powers he has, his cunning, and the help of bestie Ned.
And speaking of Tony Stark, remember Iron Man 3? Tony spent most of the movie without his suit. He has to rely on his ingenuity and an array of home-made weapons. What happens when you lose everything you’ve relied on, including your home and your tech? You summon up your wits, your strength, and everything you have inside you to face the challenge.
Doctor Strange may have become the owner of the Cloak of Levitation, but prior to the Cloak becoming part of his arsenal he was a fast learner of sorcery, using his photographic memory to whiz through ancient texts that would take another student twice as long. He transcended the failing of his hands as a surgeon to become a sorcerer and defend the world from intergalactic threats. This ability had been in him all along, but he needed the right guidance and training in order to bring it to light.
The suit, the tech, the outside trappings….they’re nothing compared to what’s inside us all. We don’t need capes to be heroes. We don’t have to be genetically enhanced or be the child of a Celestial to achieve greatness. It’s all there inside us, an untapped source of power and greatness. Go forth and find your own inner superpowers.