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Defeat

I’ve had Star Wars on my mind as of late, partially because I just binged the entire final season of Clone Wars, and partially because thinking about Star Wars is more or less my default state. Anyway, I’d like to point out that Empire Strikes Back is a movie about failure and defeat.

It’s an oddly dark/dour take on what’s usually considered the best Star Wars movie; you don’t really wanna watch your heroes get beat up and lose and yet, that’s what Empire is.

And I seriously mean in every encounter and obstacle they face, Luke, Han, and Leia lost. The best-case scenario is escape.

The Wampa cave in the beginning sees Luke captured. The dude who blew up the Death Star got beat up by the abominable snowman. When he comes to and grabs his lightsaber, he doesn’t kill the Wampa and return victorious; nope, Luke runs away and almost freezes to death outside. Cool.

The Battle of Hoth. Sure, the Rebels bring down an AT-AT or two, but they’re ultimately unable to repel the Empire and end up escaping. Which is the point, yeah, but it’s still a crushing defeat.

Han and Leia get stuck inside a Space Slug and barely escape. Sure, they make it out, but it’s hardly a win. Then they get betrayed at Cloud City and Han gets frozen. Not good. What happens next? They escape Cloud City, but Leia is unable to rescue Han from Boba Feet and has to leave without him.

But it’s Luke who really, really suffers in Empire. Remember, in the original Star Wars, this is the guy who left Tatooine, inherited his father’s legacy (Jedi, excellent pilot), and defeated the Empire. After the Wampa and Battle of Hoth, he goes to find Yoda on Dagobah to learn to be a better Jedi. So far, so good, we break him down in the first act so he can get better in the second.

Dagobah does not go well for him, and Luke fails every task. Initially, he fails to recognize Yoda, instead dismissing the green alien as a nuisance. Later, in the cave, he ignores Yoda’s advice and brings his weapons with him. He fights a ghost of Vader and attacks, revealing his own face staring back at him. Then the X-wing. It sinks into the swamp and Yoda tells Luke to raise it, but he can’t. So Yoda does. It’s awesome, and Luke can’t believe it. To which Yoda says: “That is why you fail.” Verbatim from the Master’s mouth: Luke failed.

And then the duel with Darth Vader.  Luke does not win. He gets his hand lopped off and finds out his father was a Jedi and excellent pilot… but is now Darth Vader. That legacy he wanted? Yeah, not good. Luke escapes with his life, but soundly defeated in both spirit and body.

Okay, everyone loses. So what?

Character, that’s what.

By bringing the characters to their absolute nadir, Empire clears Return of The Jedi for the triumphant, uh, return. In it, we’re able to see how much the characters have grown, due in no part to the tribulations of Empire. Han and Leia have put aside their bickering and work as a team to take down the shield generator. Han’s gotten over his self-centeredness and Leia, well, Leia’s as great as ever. Of course, it’s Luke, as the main character, who benefits the most.

In Jedi he’s no longer the wide-eyed kid from Tatooine, the one we see infiltrating Jabba’s Palace is relatively calm and collected. When he meets the Ewoks he doesn’t underestimate them as he did Yoda, rather seeing them as potential allies. And in the final fight against Vader? This time he throws away his lightsaber rather than killing his father. It’s a journey of growth that wouldn’t have been possible without Luke losing over and over again in Empire. What’s important is that the payoff happens, and that the payoff builds on what came before.

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Parasite Won

Like many people who claim to not care about award shows, I do begrudgingly give a crap about the Oscars. There’s a reason; it’s effectively a barometer for what is considered a Good Movie for a given year, and even if it’s a horribly skewed system that prefers a certain type of film, it remains a cultural touchstone. ‘Oscar-Winning’ means something, whether we like it or not. No other award comes near as close for the glitz, glamor, and prestige. I like to say I don’t care about it because the things I like and value are seldom acknowledged by it (I maintain that Jackie Chan’s Police Story is a masterwork and that is a hill I will die on).

All that said, my heart skipped a beat when I got the notification that Parasite won Best Picture on Sunday. There’s a lot to why that is.

For starters, Parasite is a plain bonkers movie — in the best possible way. It’s hard to describe it too much without giving away what a roller-coaster ride it is. Suffice to say, it dances between genres with unmatched grace while never losing sight of the sort of story it’s telling.

It’s also in Korean, with a Korean cast, and subtitled in English.

Subtitles, are apparently, a big deal. I grew up watching movies with subtitles (since sometimes the movies I watched weren’t in English, and sometimes I just wanted to be able to read everything that was said). Plus, I remember being told that when watching stuff like Anime, the fan-subs are usually better than the official dubs. Point is, the idea of watching something with subtitles wasn’t unusual, especially if it wasn’t in English.

Thus I was more than a little surprised when I heard the disdain people had for subtitles in the States. The idea of not liking subtitles, or refusing to watch something because of subtitles, made no sense whatsoever. I eventually conceded that I guess it could be distracting, but still, lousy excuse. In the lead-up to last Sunday, there was buzz around Parasite, but a lot of it was about how there’s no way the Academy would vote for a movie that wasn’t in English and, gasp, had a lot of subtitles.


It’s discouraging. Implicit in the commentary is the message that the Establishment doesn’t want a movie done by Outsiders in its space. That if your movie isn’t in English there’s no space for it here. Good luck if it’s Korean-made, or really anywhere non-Western. It’s just not ‘good’ art.

There’s a stratification to art. Pulpy stuff, like science-fiction, superheroes, and other ‘fun’ genres, is at the bottom. Drama’s a big deal, and there’s room aplenty for dramatic French movies because, hey, they’re French, they damn near invented cinema. Stuff from other places just doesn’t pass muster. I firmly believe that the reason Jackie Chan is not held as an auteur like Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino for his work in the 80s is because it’s all in Chinese. And it’s pulpy.

All this to say, finding out that Parasite won blew my mind. Seeing clips of Bong Joon-ho on stage with the awards, speaking in Korean at the Oscars, was delightful. No, I’m not that kind of Asian, but to see someone familiar means a lot.

I still think there’s a diversity problem when it comes to awards (that none of the cast got any acting nominations is ludicrous, and that the Directing candidates were, Bong aside, very white and very male is disappointing). We gotta give the time of day to stories told by people who aren’t white guys because there’s a lot to be told, and, whaddya know, it’s actually good.

So yes. Here’s to more of that, please and thank you.

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Background Diversity

I really liked The Last Jedi, more that I did The Rise of Skywalker, and there are many reasons for that, and really it’s a lot of personal preference. One of my very favorite things in Last Jedi — and, admittedly, this is a very small thing — is the diversity of the Resistance members. Pay attention to the background of the movie, and you’ll notice that many of the Resistance offers and fighters are played by women and people of color.

Like I said, it’s a small detail. But there’s something profoundly affecting at seeing so much of the Resistance being ran by woman, there’s something super cool to me to see a random officer on the bridge walking around being portrayed by an Asian actor. It’s a detail in the movie that’s not only prevalent, it’s consistent: they’re everywhere. The random pilot we cutaway to is as likely to be a woman as it is a white guy, the person giving an update on the fleet too. It’s a thing that once you notice it, it’s delightfully consistent, and, really, quite wonderful.

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Why, then, you ask?

Because in no small way this Resistance feels like one that I could be a part of — without feeling like a token character. Not unlike the Rebellion in Rogue One, this is a group of people composed of all stripes. The Resistance of The Last Jedi demonstrably has space for everyone in their ranks, anyone can be a part of it.

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There’s another aspect to this too. By nature of it being a movie, the camera and the plot follows important people (Rose, for example, a no-name engineer, is deemed important by virtue of being a main character). It’s the principle of showing and not just telling, we’re not being told that there are brave men and women from all over the galaxy fighting the good fight; we get to see them Doing Things. Sure, the books and comics have retroactively added a lot more diversity and representation to the ranks of the Rebellion and Jedi Order in recent years, getting to actually see such on a big screen is profoundly affecting. These people are the heroes of the story, and a few of them look like me.

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Not only that, but many of them are in positions of power or responsibility. They’re members of the bridge crew, cooks; they’re pilots, not ground crew. They do stuff and so are implied to be important members of the team. By the end of the film, with the Resistance reduced to a small core, they aren’t all white guys. And these are the Important Survivors — again, film is a visual medium, what we see is as important, perhaps more so, than what we’re told; so seeing these people alive and as the proverbial spark that will bring about the First Order’s defeat.

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This is something the Prequels did really well too, throwing roles at women and people-of-color because, why not? The Phantom Menace had Captain Panaka and Mace Windu, Attack of The Clones had Queen Jamillia, and Revenge of The Sith revealed that Senator Bail Organa looked a lot like Jimmy Smits. It’s a small thing, but it’s something that tells viewers that, hey, there’s space at this table for people who don’t look like Luke and Han, that Leia isn’t the only woman in the Rebellion.

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The Rise of Skywalker makes a gallant effort at capturing a similar ethos. There is still diversity in the ranks of the Resistance, but it just feels far less prominent than how it was presented in Last Jedi. Don’t get me wrong, I love a cameo from an actor from LOST, but I can’t help but to mourn the loss of something The Last Jedi did so well. Embracing casual, background diversity is a small thing, especially in conjunction with bigger, more prominent representation, (which is super important and done decently in these movies), but it’s still something that I like to see and means a lot to me. It’s a bummer to see it go.

Note: Also, while scrubbing through The Last Jedi for these screencaps, I’m reminded of how damn beautiful of a movie it is.

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A Celebration

In less than a week, I will have seen The Rise of Skywalker, the culmination of the newest Star Wars trilogy. It’s thrilling because the idea of a new Star Wars movie never stops being exciting to my tired, late-twenties brain. ‘cuz, dude, it’s a new Star Wars movie!

The newest trailer (which, admittedly, is no longer quite as new as it once was) feels to be very much of the same sentiment. It’s triumphant, the music is brash and eschews tension in favor of sweeping excitement. Ultimately, it doubles down on a feeling of celebratory joy.

And why shouldn’t it? It’s movie number nine of a trilogy, it oughta have with it the cathartic joy of culmination. If this trailer is indicative of Skywalker’s tone, then I’m so ready for the ride.

Star Wars has always been a romantic series; innate to the main movies is this idea of hopeful adventure. When Lando and Wedge make their run on the Death Star II in Return of The Jedi the music is rousing and lively, not dour and dramatic. It eschews tension for thrills; there’s no doubt that the good guys will win — the question instead is how.

This is something the Sequel Trilogy has done real well in capturing. The battle over Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens is full of derring-do as Poe pilots his X-Wing. Rey grabbing the lightsaber is a beat that screams cool, underscored by the music and the camera. We knew this was going to happen, ever since Maz held it out to her, but watching it is so exciting, and you’d be forgiven for cheering wildly in the theater (I did).

If Rise of Skywalker is, in fact, a joyous celebration, then what The Last Jedi did is all the more key. Consider the relationship between deconstruction and reconstruction.

Deconstruction, in a literary sense, is where a story or trope is taken apart. The LEGO Movie merrily takes the piss out of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, making the Chosen Everyman into an utter nobody. Shrek exposes fairytales for the lie they are by positioning the ogre as the main character who saves the princess. Batman is offered a dosage of reality in The Dark Knight; Bruce Wayne is a bruised shell of a man who has little existence outside of his role as the caped crusader.

On the flip side is reconstruction, which is one of my favorite things. This is where the flaws and cracks highlighted by a deconstruction are acknowledged and built upon. Emmet may be the most boring minifig in the world, but that doesn’t mean he can’t go on a Hero’s Journey. Sure, the prince saving the princess is a tired trope, so Shrek builds its narrative on a genuine relationship between people — and so creates a new fairytale ending. The Dark Knight knows that the idea of someone fighting crime outside the law is ridiculous and so uses Joker as the ultimate deconstructor, forcing Batman and Harvey Dent to the edge. Ultimately, the movie decides that it is Batman’s extralegal nature that allows him to take the fall for Dent’s rampage, because Gotham needs a symbol, and an uncorrupt DA is much more potent than a masked vigilante.

The Last Jedi deconstructs Star Wars hard; what with one of its themes being about letting the past die. So much of the movie is about taking apart myths and our own obsessions with them. Rey and Luke are both consumed by the myth of Luke Skywalker with different takeaways: Rey wants that legend to save the galaxy, Luke is haunted by his failure to live up to it. The synthesis of these viewpoints is a systematic deconstruction of Star Wars. During one of Luke’s lessons, for example, he refutes the idea that the Jedi Knights kept the galaxy safe for generations by pointing out that their hubris allowed Darth Sidious to rise right under their noses. Maybe Luke has a point, maybe it is time for the Jedi to end.

Of course, deconstruction by itself makes for a grim outlook, and there are enough sad stories already. The Last Jedi accepts the power of a myth, while also acknowledging that we can’t always live up to it. Luke does face down the First Order, but he does so to save everyone and inspire the Resistance. Rey finds out that the Force does sometimes mean lifting rocks, but, again, it’s an act done to save her friends. By the end of The Last Jedi, the myth is being put back together in a new way, creating a new legend for a new rebellion.

So now comes The Rise of Skywalker, which has the opportunity to build on the foundation of The Last Jedi. The movie has explored a nadir, and now comes the chance for the heroes to chart their own course through the narrative and to, uh, rise. So the tone of the trailers for Skywalker is plenty apt, with their sweeping music and feelings of heroic fantasy. This is the grand finale! It’s not just about bringing a story to a close, it’s also about celebrating the world that so captured our imaginations.

My hope for the movie is that it draws me into its flight of fantasy; that it, like the trailer, makes my heart sing. I can’t wait for The Rise of Skywalker; I’m ready for the adventure. 

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What Is It Good For?

I’ve logged a really unholy number of hours in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It’s a fun game, and there’s just so much to do. Plus, I’m easily distracted and so merrily go off assassinating nation leaders and taking part in conquest battles. It was during one of those conquest battles where I was fighting alongside the Spartans/Athenians to wrest control of some nation-state or another from Athens/Sparta that I finally got ahold of what Odyssey’s stance is on war.

Before I go any further, yes, the game has a stance on war. Any story that deals with the topic absolutely does. The Call of Duty games fall pretty firmly into the camp of wars must be fought to stop the bad guys. Star Wars sees all-out war as a tragedy (note that the start of the Clone Wars was a downbeat) and sees scrappy insurgencies as the recourse of good guys when others idle around to let evil men run rampant. The ultimate goal of the heroes is peace, not to fight more wars. Tolkien presents war as a place for honor and glory in The Lord of The Rings, but he is not blind to the horrors of warfare. The veteran of World War I spares thought for the horrors of warfare. The first time he sees a battle between Men – not Men and Elves against Orcs, but Men fighting Men – Sam is decidedly unsettled, wondering of a fallen foe “what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace.” Tolkien appears to believe that peace would be preferred.

But can a war story be anti-war? There’s a quip by François Truffaut saying that no war film can be anti-war. There’s a nugget of truth there, no matter how terrible what is presented onscreen, ultimately there will be some pleasure on behalf of the audience for it to work narratively; warfare will be glorified to some extent. I’m not sure if I’m entirely onboard with that.  Dr. Strangelove is a bitter satire of nuclear politics that makes no glory of soldiering, but it’s also not a movie about a war so much as it is about the idea of war. Comparatively, The Hurt Locker does have soldiers doing badass stuff, but we’re also privy to the personal toll it takes on them; epic guitar riffs are meant to be discordant with the reality. It’s hard for a movie to be anti-war.

And video games? Spec-Ops: The Line is fiercely anti-war, and all your badass glory is The Hurt Locker’s discordance ramped up several notches. You’re mowing down fellow American soldiers and burning civilians with white phosphorus. You are not a good person. The Metal Gear Solid games praise the honor of soldiers, but director Hideo Kojima has little good to say of the countries who send them to die. Naked Snake grows disillusioned with the United States in Snake Eater after the Americans order his mentor to betray the country to embed herself with the Soviets to weaken them then ordering Snake to assassinate her — to his commendation and her degradation. Perhaps the absolute that there can be no anti-war films (or games) is too stark a statement, perhaps it’s often a lot more nuanced than that.

So back to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. You are awesome. Kassandra (who you play as lest you’d rather pick Dude McBlandman) kicks all the ass. Spears are stabbed into enemies, opposing soldiers sent running in awe of your might. Conquest Battles — big fights between the warring factions — are another chance for you to prove your martial prowess (and get some sweet loot). Now, Kassandra is a misthios, a mercenary, and so she can fight for whichever side she wants. But here’s some ludonarrative dissonance. As part of the story I’ll be helping Sparta take over a country, then hop across the border and fight for Athens, slaughtering Spartans. Which, okay, I’m a mercenary. Makes sense. But, due to the way the game works, I can roll up into a war camp, kill everyone except for the unkillable NPC who gives me the Conquest quest, and when I talk to said NPC he’ll be happy to see me despite the ground being littered with his dead compatriots. Ah, video games.

And war.

As far as Odyssey is concerned, war is pointless and random. Today’s allies are tomorrow’s enemies; the allegiance of any nation-state is up for grabs at a moment’s notice. Ultimately, it’s all meaningless, small pieces being moved around on a bigger chessboard whose players have no concern for the pawns. If Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is to be ascribed a position on war, and it ought to be since it is a game that takes place during one, it is one of nihilism. No matter how much the narrative may account for a just war or honor, ultimately, it’s just the same dance over and over again with different partners.

But it’s really fun, though.

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Let’s Rank Star Wars Movies!

There’s a thing going around on the internet where people are ranking the Star Wars movies and, of course, other people complaining about people ranking the Star Wars movies. Now because I am who I am, I saw this and thought “Hey, that’d make a great rant essay!” since it’s an opportunity for an introspective look at the Star Wars movies (and definitely not an easy copout).

Of the ten movies to choose from (we’re omitting Clone Wars for obvious reasons), it’s pretty easy for me to put what I’d wager is tenth: Revenge of The Sith. Hold on, you say, Sith as the worst? In a world where Phantom Menace and Clones exist? Yes, strawman, yes. See, Sith is almost entirely reliant on us caring about Anakin’s arc, given that it’s about his fall and how that shapes the galaxy. The problem is that Sith doesn’t sell us on that, with Anakin’s big moment being the equivalent of the sitcom trope of a character walking in on two others in a compromising position and one saying “this isn’t what it looks like!” It’s frustrating, especially since the Clone Wars show would later go on to characterize Anakin in such a better way. Oh, there are some cool moments to be sure, but ultimately the movie is let down by its failure to execute a convincing fall from grace. Also, they completely sideline Padmé, which is terrible.

The other two prequels are in close contention with each other. Attack of The Clones is let down by a… not great love story, but one that’s buoyed by a cool third act, Obi-Wan’s detective story, and the amazing piece of music that is “Across The Stars.” I know The Phantom Menace is a bit of a mess, but it’s a lot of fun and Obi-Wan vs Darth Maul is one of the three best fights in Star Wars. Plus: Qui-Gon! For me, there’s a decent amount of positives for both movies.

Solo is another one that just doesn’t quite hit the mark. It’s certainly a bunch of fun and works well enough (with some great supporting performances and easter eggs that make me happy), but ultimately I’m not sure if it’s really all that more than ‘fine.’ Though it doesn’t annoy me quite as much as Sith, it’s nothing to really write home about it. I think, for now, Solo gets ninth, Phantom Menace eighth, and Clones seventh because, yes, Across The Stars is that freaking good.

The next chunk is when ranking gets tougher. Rogue One scratches so many itches for me (ragtag multinational team! badass woman! AT-ATs!), I want to put it higher. Return of The Jedi has a phenomenal climax, affords Vader so much complexity, and has Ewoks, which also makes me like it so much. A New Hope started it all and The Force Awakens is such a celebration of that spirit of the Original Trilogy that it’s almost difficult to rank one without the other.

Here’s where some of Star Wars rankings get really hairy. We can’t rank them in a vacuum, what with them working together and also being inspired off of each other. I put Solo so low because it doesn’t quite rise to the heights of the others. A New Hope is such an odd little movie (it takes a while before we meet our main character, Luke, and before that, it’s a lot of watching robots wander in the desert) but it somehow works so well it deserves recognition — plus it’s what started this whole thing. Perhaps now it’s time for ties: Rogue One and A New Hope are fifth and Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens are third. I know, Jedi over Hope is an unorthodox choice, but its handling of a climactic battle on three fronts is absolutely masterful. Also, I really like Ewoks, man.

Finally, we’re left with Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi. I used my make-it-a-tie lifeline last time so I can’t do so now, because that’d really be a disappointing copout (and this post is certainly not a copout, y’hear?). Both movies expand on and play with what’s been established by the prior movies, and both magnificently juggle very dark themes with radiant hope. Though I love The Last Jedi for so many things big and small (including the best Star Wars fight in the throne room and also porgs), I think I have to, cliche as it is, give the title to Empire. Its pacing is pitch-perfect, the romance between Han and Leia is excellent, Yoda lifting the X-Wing will never not be profoundly powerful, and Luke vs Vader is the second-best Star Wars fight. Plus: AT-ATs.

In sum, my ranking is:

1. The Empire Strikes Back

2. The Last Jedi

3. The Force Awakens

3. Return of The Jedi

5. A New Hope

5. Rogue One

7. Attack of The Clones

8. The Phantom Menace

9. Solo

10. Revenge of The Sith

Naturally, these are all my opinion and should be treated thusly. In addition, they are liable to change at any given time and I will not be held accountable for them.

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Arthur Fleck and Emmet Brickowski

I saw Joker this week. It’s a movie that’s exceptionally well crafted, and also a movie that’s profoundly disturbed and ill-equipped to handle its subject matter to the point where it enters into the realm of very bad taste. This movie is one that kinda really hates women and also merrily parrots the idea that mentally ill loners are the cause of mass shootings but ultimately doesn’t have anything to say about anything, left me feeling really icky as I left the cinema.

So maybe let’s talk about something else I also did this week that I did really like: putting together a LEGO set while listening to music and drinking a beer. The set, Emmet’s Dream House/Rescue Rocket, is based on The LEGO Movie 2, and is, um, exactly what it sounds like. I built the Dream House (you can choose which one!) because it’s absolutely adorable. Though it ultimately plays a minor role in the film, Emmet’s Dream House is actually pretty dang important to his arc in the film.

The LEGO Movie 2 exchanges Bricksburg of the first movie for Apocalypseburg, a world where everything is dark, bleak, and edgy. Except for Emmet. He builds a house on the edge of town for him and Lucy. This house, by the by, is not dissimilar to a house they crashed through shortly after they first met in the prior movie. Which is a very cute touch because, hey, history. Now Lucy hasn’t got any time for domestic tranquility, because this is not what their life is about (it’s dark and broody!), and so dismisses Emmet out of hand.

When Lucy, Batman, Benny, and several other characters get captured by General Mayhem, it’s up to Emmet to go after them. But he needs a ship. So, using his Master Builder skills, he takes apart his dream house and rebuilds it into a rocket (a rescue rocket) to go save his friends. He’s quite explicitly dismantling his dreams in favor of doing the right thing, since, well, they’re worth it. In space, however, he runs into trouble and is saved by the enigmatic, badass Rex Dangervest. Unlike Emmet, Rex is a Master Breaker — a skill he demonstrates by destroying Emmet’s Rescue Rocket.

Rex is undeniably cool: he’s edgy, he has pet raptors, he’s wise to the world and everything Emmet is not. Emmet wants to be him because, hey, that’s what the world of Apocalypseburg needs now, right? It’s 2019; heroes are anti-heroes, it’s a crappy place, and there’s no space for the happy-go-lucky Emmet. Building stuff’s not cool; breaking stuff is.

Joker is a weird movie in that its protagonist’s fate is to become an iconic villain, not terribly unlike Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. But once Revenge of The Sith sees Anakin’s (poorly executed) arc reach his fall, the movie neither lionizes him nor wants us to sympathize with him. We’re not cheering him on as he massacres children in the Jedi Temple or slaughters the Separatist leadership, we’re supposed to mourn his fall from grace. Joker, however, has Arthur cross a line quite early on and asks us to stay on board with him even as he (and the film) goes more off the rails.

Using a vague, unnamed mental illness to ask for the audience’s sympathy, the movie almost wants to bill itself as The Portrait of the Mass-Murderer As a Young Man, though with not point to its depravity other than “look what society made him do.” Joker’s murders are portrayed as him lashing out from his patheticness, a hurting man gaining the semblance of control. It sparks a movement of sorts, with others taking up the cause of a killer clown who puts the wealthy in their place. But here too the movie is muddled. There are only two camps the movie will let you, the viewer, fall into: either you are part of the system that tramples downtrodden people like Arthur, or you are a member of the downtrodden for whom Joker is your martyrial icon. The latter an extrapolation; the film’s finale sees Joker’s unconscious body carried by rioters like a perverse Pietá, and the unruly masses watch him in vigil.

The Joker is a fantastic villain. Mark Hamill’s portrayal of him in the Batman cartoons and Arkham Asylum video games offer a twisted, psychopathic maniac with outlandish plots to steal and destroy. The Dark Knight positioned the Joker as chaos personified, a Hobbesian foil to Batman’s belief in justice and order. That film, with its psyche split into the Freudian trio of Batman, Joker, and Harvey Dent, explored the idea of heroism and villainy, and whether goodness can stand in the face of men who just want to watch the world burn. Joker, conversely, has no such ideas, instead choosing to echo the manifestos of white terrorists I see on the news and play it off as some profound observation about life.

Forgive me, then, if I don’t enjoy a nihilistic film that hasn’t much more to say about nihilism than how it means nothing. Forgive me if I’d rather not watch a film that lionizes the lone gunman and reiterates that mental-illness is what causes mass shootings (it’s not). Forgive me if I’m sickened by a film that climaxes in a self-described mentally ill loner in clown makeup shooting in a theatre of people, barely seven years since a man in clown makeup shot up a theater in real life.

It turns out, in The LEGO Movie 2, that Rex is really an Emmet from the future, who grew disillusioned and believes that the only way to deal with anything is by being gruff and edgy, that there is no space for childish things. But Emmet realizes that, no, his hope and joy is valuable even in a terrible world. Dark grittiness only gets you so far, and expecting everything to be antagonistic and malicious only fosters more of the same. Taking stuff apart is cool and all, but where’s its worth without building something too? Amid an apocalyptic wasteland, it is worth building a bright yellow dream house for you and your loved ones.

This isn’t to say that isolating yourself from reality is the right course of action, far from it. The world’s terrible enough as it is, and though there are times when it’s worth it to engage with it thoughtfully. Emmet, and the other characters in The Lego Movie 2, come to realize that everything’s not awesome, but that doesn’t mean things are hopeless, turns out it’s still worth it to try and make things better, you can still choose joy. I do like a bleak and twisted story (Roald Dahl’s “Genesis and Catastrophe” comes to mind, alongside Taxi Driver and Spec Ops: The Line), but I like them to have a point to it all. Darkness can be used to highlight society’s ills and our own relation to them, but grimdark bleakness for its own sake is, ultimately, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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