Image: Heroic Hollywood
Article by Alex Lansche
In the wake of Marvel’s Infinity War grossing the highest opening weekend domestically of all time, I wanted to dive into this film and contrast it with another recent box office giant – Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Why am I contrasting these films? I believe that there is much to be learned from why one film is almost universally loved by fans and why the other is hated by more than half of its fans. “Politics is downstream from culture” Andrew Breitbart once said, and these films are huge, cultural landmarks which can give us an indication into how people feel about certain beliefs, values, and worldviews. I’m going to analyze those elements in this and subsequent articles. There are a great many political, cultural, and philosophical points to analyze from these films, so I will be authoring at least 3 separate articles (maybe more) to go in depth to each point.
Before we get into the analysis, let’s set the stage and see how audiences reacted to each film. According to the audience scores at Rotten Tomatoes, each film was received quite differently. One was met with resounding praise from audiences; the other, with much controversy and disdain.
As you can see, The Last Jedi (TLJ) and Infinity War (IW), received audience ratings of 47% and 92% respectively. A huge disparity – why are they so different? Both films have Disney as their parent company, both had massive budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars, and both boasted storylines and characters from well established fictional universes. I believe in large part that the answer to why audiences love Infinity War and hate The Last Jedi is because of the beliefs, values, stories and philosophies espoused by both films.
Each point shall stated as “What Infinity War did well” which shall then be contrasted against how The Last Jedi handled that same point (Hint – they are going to contradict and be in conflict). Let’s begin the analysis now:
WARNING! This is where my article becomes politically incorrect. I shall be discussing and clearly explicating the beliefs, values, stories and philosophies of both films as they are. If you are offended by the analysis, or don’t like the implications I make, you are free to read something else (I love liberty!).
Also, SPOILER WARNING! If you read further, there will be spoilers for Marvel’s Infinity War & The Last Jedi. You have been warned!
POINT #1: Infinity War elevates masculinity and treats its White Male Characters with respect – The Last Jedi does not.
In IW, all the white, male heroes are treated as real characters who have depth and who have zero white guilt. Tony Stark doesn’t apologize for being a rich, white man. In fact, he uses his wealth and genius intellect to create the Iron Man suit and serve humanity. Dr. Strange doesn’t apologize for being a very powerful magician just because he is white. Captain America and Thor are white and they are certainly held up in the film as men with virtues to emulate – self-sacrifice, courage under fire, skill in battle, doing the right thing even when your own government says to stand down, and learning how to work as a team with new people that you don’t know (in the case of Dr. Strange, Tony Stark, Spider-man, and The Guardians of the Galaxy). The same virtues can be said for ALL the male characters and heroes of IW. IW doesn’t play the race-baiting game. It doesn’t treat its black hero (Black Panther) as a token who is subjected to the bigotry of low expectations and it doesn’t force its white heroes to feel sorry for being born white (an immutable birth trait they cannot control).
Little boys who watch IW can look up to Iron Man, Thor, Cap, Spidey, and even Dr. Strange who exchanges an infinity stone to save Iron Man even after he told Stark he wouldn’t save him. Why can they look up to them? Because the characters uphold moral virtue – courage, love, personal sacrifice for the greater good, and no one is made to apologize for being born with a certain skin color.
The heroes are portrayed as competent men of intellect and action, who have the virtue to do the right thing even when it’s hard and the ability to act alone or work as a team. Do all of IW’s heroes have flaws? Of course. But they do their best to be the best they can be. Just like you have to do in real life. You identify with their struggles to save their loved ones, fight against an unspeakable, genocidal maniac in Thanos, and the near hopeless odds they are up against due to Thanos’ mounting power. In short, the white, male viewers of IW were given solid archetypes of ideal, masculine strength and virtue. You can picture yourself as Iron Man, or Captain America, or even as Hulk, doing your best to save the world.
Contrast this with the Last Jedi…
In TLJ, how are the white, male characters treated? With complete and utter disrespect. The main character who fits this profile is obviously Luke Skywalker. In order to show the full depth of how viciously director Rian Johnson eviscerated this character, we need to remember who Luke was in the Original Trilogy (OT). Luke was the great optimist, who courageously sacrifices himself for his friends. He believed that his father, Darth Vader, could still repent and convert to the good side after decades of being the most evil man in the galaxy short of the Emperor. He ended his own training with Yoda prematurely because his friends needed his help. He was courageous, loyal, powerful, skilled, and daring. Many young boys looked up to that character. Has he retained any of these qualities in TLJ? No. Not even a little bit.
In TLJ, we are told that despite his best friend Han Solo being murdered by Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, Luke doesn’t even know about this until Rey tells him. His sister, Leia, and his other friends like Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 are all in peril and what does he do? Nothing. He does nothing because he is oblivious to their need due to shutting down his force powers. He came to a hidden planet to “wait to die.” He is pictured as a disheveled, beaten-down, old man who couldn’t care less about his friend’s and family’s suffering. What virtue does he espouse now? Cowardice, laziness, apathy, despair, and utter brokenness. Not exactly the role model you want your boys to emulate. Two scenes in particular capture exactly how the storytellers thought of Luke in TLJ.
When Rey first finds Luke overlooking the cliffs, she hands him his father’s blue lightsaber. A lightsaber is a highly phallic symbol. Symbolically, Rey is handing Luke his masculinity back and what does Luke do? He limp wristed-ly tosses it over his shoulder with disgust. In case you thought Luke was going to be a hero in this film, they show you right away that won’t be happening. The other scene is even worse – Luke squeezes milk from the breasts of a large, space-sea-cow and drinks it down with a bitter look of disgust on his face. The great masculine Luke Skywalker has been reduced to this; the man who defeated Darth Vader with his optimism and love for family, the man who blew up the Death Star, the man who risked his life to save his friends, has been brought to this – sucking juice from the breast of a sea-cow while hoping he dies alone in his hut.
The treatment of the white, male characters in each film could not be more diametrically opposed. While viewers can look at the many heroes of IW and say, “Yes, I wish I could be like him”, they can’t say the same when it comes to Luke in TLJ. You are left feeling sorry for Luke, and also angry at him for his cowardice. You find yourself thinking, “I would never do that and abandon my friends! Why would Luke do that?” You don’t want to emulate him at all.
Marvel and the creators of IW got the masculinity of their heroes 100% right. They realize a vital piece of telling a good story: Films are escapism. People watch them and they want to be able to imagine themselves as the main characters. Why? Because the characters can be and do things that we can never be and do. It allows you to imagine the best of yourself. For Star Wars, in the OT, every little boy was Luke Skywalker – Saving the princess, flying cool ships, blowing up evil battle stations, defeating your arch nemesis in hand to hand combat and then sparing his life and refusing to turn to the dark side. For IW, each little boy can imagine himself as Tony Stark, Thor, Cap, Spider-man, Dr. Strange, Black Panther, Hulk, and the many others as men who are using their powers to save the world at great personal risk to their own life. Maybe you like a lesser known hero like War Machine, or the Winter Soldier better than the main heroes of Cap and Iron Man; maybe your favorite hero is Groot. Regardless, all of them are doing their part to save the world and be virtuous heroes.
IW didn’t play far-left identity politics with its characters. TLJ did. IW gave the middle finger to white guilt, TLJ embraced it. This is why when I left the theatre after IW, I was excited, and couldn’t wait to see the next film. After I saw TLJ, I left feeling very confused, shocked and disappointed. I have zero desire to see Star Wars: Episode IX, because Luke’s character has been destroyed. TLJ bowed at the altar of political correctness and sacrificed its main white, male character, Luke; IW elevated its male characters and made them powerful, competent, and heroic.
In conclusion for Part I, if you have seen both of these films, I want you to ask yourself: “Would I rather be Luke Skywalker from TLJ or any of the many male heroes from IW?” The answer is obvious. IW chose to elevate masculinity, didn’t apologize for having strong, white, male characters, and gave young boys heroes who possess virtues we want them to emulate. TLJ took a dump on masculinity, completely eviscerated & degraded its white, male characters, and provided little boys with zero male heroes we would want them to emulate.
We shall discuss more of the cultural and philosophical implications of these films in upcoming articles such as the politics each advocates for, the beliefs of Thanos and how they relate to the modern, regressive left, and more!