IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO HAVE THIS MOVIE SPOILED FOR YOU, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO COME BACK TO THIS ARTICLE ONCE YOU’VE SEEN THE MOVIE
Before we begin, let me admit to four different things:
- I enjoy superhero movies
- I did not read comic books growing up
- I am not a film critic
- I did not read or watch any reviews before writing this piece
Knowing that this is my lens should help explain my reaction to this and other superhero movies. Also, this will be more of a broad overview; for actual story points, go see the movie.
In recent weeks, I have tried going into movies as green as possible; that is, trying to go in without knowing much about the movie or having seen any trailers. This decision came after seeing the first two trailers for Logan, and I must say that the first, with the Johnny Cash “Hurt” music overlay, was possibly the best trailer I’ve seen and and showed where the movie would be heading very well. Additionally, having heard online about the “Old Man Logan” storyline and the possibilities for where the story could go (and with the announcement that this was Hugh Jackman’s last time playing Wolverine), I had a general sense of how the story would conclude.
This was the darkest, grittiest, most violent superhero movie I think I’ve seen. I don’t think the Dark Knight trilogy, which formerly held those distinctions, can compete with this movie. All three of the characteristics are increased in Logan due to the presence and participation of a child. Even with the large amount of violence, much of it is justified in its service to the story.
Without rehashing the story too much:
No new mutants have been born in decades, and most have died off. Wolverine is still alive but sick, Professor X is alive but also sick, and a third mutant (Caliban) is in their party. The party discovers a mutant child near the U.S./Mexico border fleeing a company who has been genetically engineering mutants to turn into soldiers.
The violence in the movie is not used in support of violence; instead, it is used to show the problems with violence and the system being created by the company. I don’t dismiss the violence offhand – there was a lot. However, this movie showed how violence, as well as the dark theme and gritty composition, can turn a superhero movie into a great movie through a great story.
In all movies, story is the key to making a great movie. Effects, camerawork, acting, and any other number of factors go into the process, but a great movie needs a great story. Marvel, through the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has (for the most part) understood this in the creation of their movies, taking the time and multiple movies to develop storylines and a wider world. DC, through the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has seemingly felt the need to catch up to the MCU’s progress, flying through three movies (Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad) using much darker and grittier filmmaking, but lacking the depth of story.
X-Men is a Marvel franchise, but the rights are owned by Fox, so it stands outside of the MCU. Logan is a movie that I (unfortunately) believe could not have been made in the MCU. Understandably, Marvel has chosen not to temper the amount of violence in their movies, which at times can lead to a felt lack of reality. This may seem a silly statement to be made about a superhero movie, but if the intention is to make it seem like this is what the world would look like if these things were possible, then playing to reality should be a component of the storytelling.
For Logan, we have seen throughout the X-Men movies that he is a character who continues to play the reluctant hero, haunted by many demons from his incredibly long life, who reacts as one could expect when it seems that there is no hope in the world while his is, for the first time, experiencing what it feels like to actually die. The grit and violence and darkness are not unexpected in the story because he is lost, in pain, seemingly without true purpose, and suddenly forced into a situation where he is once again playing the reluctant hero. The same characteristics are not unexpected from the other forces in the movie because of their intended use of genetically engineered mutants and their desire to keep that secret a secret.
This story doesn’t seek grit or darkness or violence for their own ends, they tell a story where it makes sense for those elements to appear. Being willing to incorporate those elements led to a much truer story with much more depth that didn’t need to be verbalized – it could be felt.
The depth that was created in Logan is what has been missing from superhero movies. In the DCEU, movies have gone more to service spectacle than to storytelling – a move they can get away with because they will continue to be able to sell tickets. Marvel has done a better job of storytelling, but at times the avoidance of much darker material has led to missed opportunities to explore deeper storylines and kept many of the movies from being great movie instead of just being great superhero movies.
The story in Logan has holes, some of which may be due to my lack of knowledge about the X-Men comics or from not having seen all of the X-Men movies. The point here was in taking a chance (in a similar but in no way the same way as Deadpool did) and making decisions in an attempt to make a great movie. Hopefully, as superhero movies continue to progress, it will not take the departure of a character or an actor to take the risks to make a great movie (and ultimately see those risks paid off).