Among critics and film purists there seems to be a distain for the big budget superhero films that currently fill studio’s production slates. Personally I do not have a vendetta against the films as I usually anticipate them for months to come and I am excited to see them opening weekend with a packed theater; something most other films are not able to do. While others are fearful that Hollywood will never exit this route, Steven Spielberg said it best to the Hollywood Reporter in 2015, “We were around when the Western died and there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western.” While this quote could not be more true, the difference between the western and superhero genre is that even though a large majority of the westerns that were made were formulaic and throw away there, were handfuls such as Stagecoach (1939) and Unforgiven (1992) that stand out from the genre and offer audiences something that others in the genre were not able to. With the exception of possibly The Dark Knight (2008), most of the films within the superhero genre blend together and do not have a distinct voice; well that was until the release of Logan (2017) this past weekend.
After seventeen years and ten films, the X-men franchise is the longest running superhero franchise in Hollywood today. With its first entry back in 2000, X-Men (2000) took the first step into making superhero films relevant. Now in 2017, the franchises newest film, Logan, has proved to audiences that not all superhero films need to blend together and be devoid of a distinct voice. Set in the year 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman), after living for nearly 200 years is dying and takes care of his life long friend Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is suffering for degenerative brain disease. When Logan comes across Laura (Dafne Keen), the first mutant child in decades, the film kicks into gear as he and Charles race against the government to sanctuary in North Dakota with Laura. While the plot of Logan is simple and contained, the way in which the film grounds itself in realism is where it finds a way to step away from others in the genre.
Last year, Deadpool (2016) became one of the first big budget superhero films to ditch its PG-13 rating and indulge in vulgar language and realistic on-screen violence. As a result, the situations that occurred in the film were much more impactful on the audience as they were actually able to see henchmen ripped apart on screen and understand that they were not just obstacles for the protagonist to get through, but people. Yet, because of the comedic nature of Deadpool, the seriousness of the brutal violence could not be felt in full effect, as the subject matter around it was lighthearted and easier to focus on. This year, 20th Century Fox took it a step further with combining R-rated action with serious subject matter such as having the central plot of Logan revolve around children who are breed as lab rats and experimented on. By diving fully into such a gritty style, the fantastical superpower element that usually dominates superhero films takes a backseat, as the realism of the film overpowers it. By grounding the supercharged characters in realism, they cease being idols for the audience to look up to and instead become just as vulnerable as the audience members causing the audience to find themselves in the characters.
While there was a clear intent to make the subject of the story darker than most Hollywood films, the writers of Logan, Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green, made sure that this darkness with prevalent throughout and did not rest of the shoulders of one singular character or plot element. When a large studio enters into darker subject matter they precede with caution as a large percentage of filmgoers use films to escape the negatives in the world and do not want to see them on film. As a result, the film’s darkness usually hangs on a singular struggle in the film so that the supporting elements of the story can provide optimistic moments. With Logan, the story does not attempt to stray away from its darkness in the slightest. From extensively exploring the effects of Alzheimer’s, to brutally murdering the only pleasant people in the film, to showing government workers dragging children through laboratories, the film provides the audience with hard to watch images. The real feat in doing this, is not only does the parade of violent images help to create a world that seems so different from others in the genre, but also so different from a world that the audience has already experienced in nine other films. This proves to audiences that there is the potential that no matter how deep into a franchise a studio can get, by clearly setting out to accomplish a concrete vision and devoting all of your resources to it, is possible for the film to stand on its own laurels and not be absorbed by the franchise’s name.
In what could be referred to as the later half of the superhero boom, Logan has come along and demonstrated to audiences that films in the superhero genre can do more than just blend together and rely on their spectacle to sell tickets. By having a core story that explores mature themes and characters, Logan’s story contains just as much substance and merit as any other critically acclaimed drama. And by maintaining its dark tone throughout, the fantastical characters the genre is known for are portrayed in such a real manner that, in some way, rejuvenates the idea of superheroes, making them fresh again. Without a doubt, Logan is an important film for the superhero genre, and could potentially open the door for a new wave of films allowing the genre to extend its reign over Hollywood. As a result Logan receives 4 out of 5 Reels from Celluloid Cinema.
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