The Badassification of Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Once I saw a picture of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and I decided I would just stop ever trying to be cool because I knew I would never best him. Yeah, that’s why I’m not cool, I stopped trying because of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. That’s the story I’m gonna stick with.

And he is cool. I think he might be the coolest working actor at the moment, the heir apparent to Brando, maybe. JGL–as I often refer to him–is one of our greatest modern badasses. JGL embodies that very specific niche of cooldom called “badassocity,” the genre of cool that most dudes want to achieve. Sure, girls can be badass too, and often are, but most girls don’t have the burning desire to be badass that guys do. JGL is living the badass dream.

But he wasn’t always badass. He’s always been a talented actor, sure, and he’s been funny for awhile. And yeah, he’s been “OMG sooooo dreamy” for most of his career. But JGL is a gradual badass, kind of like a Pokemon who evolves from a kid who believes in angels to an awesome dream heistman.

I won’t go into the specific socio-cultural definition of badass, the meaning of what it is to be a true badass, or any analysis of what differentiates a badass from a regular cool person—I’ll save that for my thesis for my Ph.D in badass studies—this is just a simple timeline of the gradual rise from lovable goofball to badass of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And you can trust me because I theoretically have a future Ph.D in badass studies.

Let’s start off at his current apex of badass then go back in time to see the seeds in his past.

I am going to ignore the many fine small independent films JGL was in and focus on the big widely-viewed Hollywood stuff, just cover his most popular appearances, because it is mainstream cinema that sculpts our view of a performer in the canon. Yeah, that sounds good.

2012: “The Dark Knight Rises”: In this climactic series-ender JGL plays a Gotham City police officer. How badass do you have to be to be a cop in a city where there are criminal masterminds dressed as clowns (RIP!) running around, the mob runs everything, and a billionaire vigilante dressed as a bat is trying to do your job for you? That was a rhetorical question; the answer is very, very. Very, very badass.

2011: “50/50″: Oh, not that much, he just BEATS CANCER WITH HIS BARE HANDS. Badass.

2010: “Inception”: He gets in like a crazy upside down hallway fight. He is a memory thief mercenary. He chills hardcore with Leo. He’s also totally non-chalant about all the crazy things that happen, it could be because it’s a dream and not endangering him in real life, but its still pretty cool to go in someone’s dreams and get in a crazy battle then be like, “Whatever, I’ll just make out with Ellen Page now.” Badass.

2009 “(500) Days of Summer”: It’s hard to be badass in a romcom, but JGL pulls it off. Badasses can fall in love. In 500DOS, JGL feels nothing but love, lust, heartbreak, and despair. Of course, despair and heartbreak cause brooding, and brooding is badass. Therefore getting dumped is cool. Right?

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