Why Our Heroes Are Different Now (God of War, The Last Jedi, Logan) – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on The Age of the Post-Hero!
Written & Directed by: Michael Luxemburg
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Mark Potts
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Emily Dunbar
Why Our Heroes Are Different Now (God of War, The Last Jedi, Logan) – Wisecrack Edition
Hey, guys. Stick around to the end of the video for a behind-the-scenes look of what we’ve got cookin’ up for the future of Wisecrack! Enjoy the show.
Hey, Wisecrack. Jared here. So, just like everyone else with a PS4, I’ve been grinding my thumbs to nubs playing God of War. And if you haven’t had the pleasure to play it yet – things are pretty different this time around. “Did something change? The forest feels… different now.” “Everything is different, boy. Try not to dwell on it.” Instead of a ‘roid raging Greek god of destruction who f**ks for experience points, Kratos is now a melancholy dream daddy, complete with a child and a dead wife. This stark change in Kratos, got me thinking: is this part of a much larger zeitgeist?
See, something is happening to our heroes and if you don’t believe me, look no further than Wolverine and Luke Skywalker. How did Wolverine go from this colorful murder machine, to this angsty old man; and how did Luke go from this starry-eyed wunderkind, to this disenchanted recluse. And in the same vein, how did Kratos go from this blade-swinging harbinger of death, to this bummed out widower. Well to figure out why this is happening, we’re going to have to visit the era defined by the king of swagger The Duke.
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on The Age of The Post-hero. And stay frosty guys, spoilers ahead.
Before the Marvel-industrial complex was even a glimmer in Stan Lee’s eye, there was another genre that dominated film in an all too familiar way: the Western. According to theorist Will Wright, all Westerns are born from one basic formulation: “the story of the lone stranger who rides into a troubled town and cleans it up, winning the respect of the townsfolk and the love of the schoolmarm… the other plots… are all built upon its symbolic foundation.” Westerns from the likes of John Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Sergio Leone dominated the Hollywood landscape for decades. There was no need for Iron Man or Captain America when you had Clint Eastwood being a badass and John Wayne leaking Americana all over every set he walked on. “Young fella, if you’re lookin’ for trouble, I’ll accommodate ya.” So, what happened? Where’d all the cowboys go? Well, Hollywood had a sort of Western backlash. Instead of producing traditional westerns they started making a kind of anti-Westerns – or what were called Post-Westerns. Whereas your traditional Western would bask in the heroics of this, — “Dyin’ ain’t much of a livin’ boy.” — the Post-Western would show us this, “Slim, get me — get me some water please. Please, Slim. I’m bleedin’, Slim!”
The basic idea is that post-westerns redeployed Western tropes to make new arguments about the ideas that Westerns took for granted. Now, like anything else it’s easier to show you how it works, so let’s take a look at a true classic Post-western, Unforgiven. Unforgiven follows William Munny, a retired gunslinger whose legendary talent for shooting was fueled by his old friend whisky. “I ain’t like that anymore, kid. It was whiskey done it, as much as anything else. I ain’t had a drop in over ten years.” Now sober and trying to live a peaceful life raising pigs, William gets pulled back in to the gunslinger life to save his farm and family.
Unforgiven is a post-western because it takes the formulation of the Western and flips it. The heroes aren’t mysterious and hardly clean anything up, but rather bring chaos with them in a quest for peace that isn’t about a town or a ranch, but about themselves and the future. This structure, of the hero leaving the world of violence and myth behind only to be pulled back in, is exactly the structure of, you guessed it: God of War, Logan, and The Last Jedi. In fact, they resemble the qualities of a post-western almost perfectly. So, let’s start with God of War. Kratos left behind his violent past in “Sparta!” and went to the woods to raise a family. After his wife dies, he and his son Atreus travel across the realms to sprinkle her ashes from the tallest peak. So, we can already see a retired warrior, looking for a calm life of chopping down trees, hunting, and yelling at his son, — “Look at me, boy!” “Boy.” “Boy.” “Boy.” “Boy.” “Boy.” “Boy.” “Boy.” “BOY!” — but of course nothing is easy and he gets roped back in when Baldur gets wind of his presence and tries to hunt him and Atreus on their journey.
Similar to William Munny, who must drink whisky to revert back to the legendary murderer in order to save the town, and ensure his family’s safety, Kratos is forced to bust out the chaos blades and revert to the death machine we know and love in order to save Atreus. Immediately, he’s confronted by the ghosts of his past and the reality that he can’t escape it. “You cannot change. You will always be a monster.” Sound familiar? ” A man has to be what he is, Joey. You can’t break the mould.” Just like Kratos, Logan used to be a turbo badass death dealer. I mean, his bones are covered in metal! But wait, who’s that living in the desert like some kinda weird hermit? It’s our boy Wolverine, but he’s old. And sad. And has a daughter, now. And goes by Logan. “You were an animal, but we took you in. I gave you a family.”
Logan imagines The Wolverine as a past-his-prime limo driver who takes care of his elderly foster father. In the first few minutes of the film, his aversion to violence is put on display, “Guys, seriously, you don’t want to do this.” But soon, he’s caught up protecting a young girl from assassins, cyborgs, and other goons. Like in God of War and Unforgiven, Logan is only drawn back into violence by his desire to protect and help a younger generation. But despite his intentions, the violence follows him, and an innocent family’s farm is turned into a slaughterhouse. In response, Logan tries again to leave the violence behind, but it sneaks back into his life, as Laura and the other children are captured, and Logan’s gotta do some saving. Finally, he comes to terms with the violence, takes a serum,
like a certain whiskey shot, and goes hog wild. He embraces the violence as the only way to save Laura and finally finds peace. “Ah, so this is what it feels like.”
Similar to Unforgiven, not to mention Shane. “There’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back from it. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand that sticks.” Logan and God of War show us a former warrior, turned protector, who must swap the shield for a sword, or gun, or claws, or blades of chaos, despite the fact that all they want is to leave that life behind. They try over and over to get away, but they get pulled back in. “Just when I thought I was out. They pull me back in!” Kratos wants a peaceful life for his son, and that means war with the Gods. Logan wants to protect Laura, that means releasing the beast. Munny wants to help his kids, that means hunting down those who might come after him. It’s the choice to confront their painful nature for the sake of helping others that ultimately redeems Kratos, Logan, and Munny.
So, how does The Last Jedi fit into this? It’s not quite the same, but just as those characters are forced to don a mantle they’ve dreamt of leaving behind, so, too, does space hobo Luke Skywalker. He isolates himself, renounces his legend, and even gives up using the force. “You’ve closed yourself off from the force. Of course you have.” Just as the post-western re-evaluates the glory of the traditional Western, so, too, does The Last Jedi re-evaluate the deeds of the Jedi Order and the mess they’ve left the galaxy in. “At the height of their powers, they allowed Darth Sidious to rise, create The Empire and wipe them out. It was a Jedi master who was responsible for the training and creation of Darth Vader.”
But when the resistance is about to be completely snuffed out, Luke must stop fleeing from his past and reignite the legend once again to sustain the light and save his sister. Luke is ready to die because just like the other characters, he’s giving something to the future. The myth of Luke Skywalker. So, why is this happening to our heroes? Well, it all goes back to myths. As Wright said, “A myth is a communication from a society to its members: the social concepts, and attitudes determined by the history and institutions of a society are communicated to its members through its myths.” Put simply, myths are the stories society tells itself, about itself. That’s why we saw the post-western emerge in the shadow of Watergate and Vietnam. We needed stories that reflected an age of distrust in institutions and a lack of belief in the American myth. It’s similar to where we ended up as a culture after the 2008 financial crisis, and why suddenly, we’re seeing this pattern re-emerge all over the place.
We’re even seeing this self critical turn in the greatest mythic framework of our time: the superhero movie. Think about the best Marvel movies. Winter Soldier has Captain America, the poster boy for the American way, questioning the US government. “We’re not just taking down the carriers, Nick, we’re taking down SHIELD.” Thor learns a real leader has to confront their nation’s ugly history and all the pain that comes with that. Tony Stark has space combat PTSD in Iron Man 3. And in Civil War, the consequences of his actions come back to haunt him. Even Superman has issues figuring out right and wrong, which is the one thing Superman is supposed to know for sure. None of our mythical figures are spared. And this is what I mean by the age of the Post-Hero.
If Post-Westerns emerged as people tired of the same myths from an era past, are Post-heroes like Kratos, Logan, and Luke Skywalker signaling the same? And, if we’re currently in the process of questioning our cultural myths, what kind of myths will we make to replace them? And what will these myths tell us about the society we want to build?