By now we’ve all seen Logan, and if you haven’t then you wasted your Thursday night by not going to it. My guess is that it’s a bit of a divisive film. Some people are going to come out of it loving it, like we did, and others are going to come out scratching their heads. It is so drastically different from any superhero film we’ve seen yet, and I don’t think everyone is going to respond well to that.
Logan takes a lot of risks. Risks that Hollywood studios never, ever take. I mean things go on in this film that would make a studio executive have nightmares for months. If reports were true, then executives at Fox did actually worry about it. And it’s plain to see why. This is by far the ballsiest big studio film we’re likely to see all year. Yes, there will be other films with more divisive stories, and yes there will be other films with more daring direction, and yes there will be some big studio Oscar darling. However, there won’t be another film this out of character for Hollywood. It’s hard to congratulate Hollywood for not being scared, but giving credit where credit is due: Logan is the boldest Hollywood movie of the year.
We all like to complain that Marvel superhero films have become codified (and DC’s just suck), but one of the reasons they have is because the formula works. It works over and over and over again. Hollywood sticks to formulas that work, and they do not tip the boat. When you’re putting millions and millions of dollars into something you want that money back. It’s a simple reason why studios are insanely risk adverse. For every Deadpool there’s five John Carters. John Carters lead to people getting fired.
That’s why Logan stands out so boldly among every studio film we’ll see this year. The studio actually let it take risks. They actually let it do what it needed to do.
Let’s start with the R rating. Wolverine as a character desperately needed this, though, the comic books never had him or Professor X cussing this much. Anyone who saw the underrated The Wolverine knows that a good sharp dose of blood and violence would have made the character actually work. Constraining a wild beast to a PG-13 was not helping.
You may say that this wasn’t a big risk thanks to Deadpool pulling in massive money, but that’s a completely different situation. The Pool isn’t as well known as Wolverine, and didn’t already have an established, and young, fan base. An R rating is alienating every kid out there who loves superhero movies, and there are a lot of them. That’s a huge audience that was able to see the previous films that won’t be able to see this one, and that makes Logan‘s R rating that much more risky than Deadpool‘s.
But it’s not just the rating that makes Logan brave as hell. In fact a lot of the risk comes despite the R. With that rating they could have gone full blood bath (Logan has plenty bloody, don’t worry), with action sequence after action sequence. Instead director James Mangold rolls the film at a incredibly slow pace. While it doesn’t pull this off perfectly, Logan is far more character study than superhero movie. It may fall into a few traps here and there, but just getting this screenplay greenlit must have been one hell of an uphill battle. The film goes long periods without a single claw being “snikted.” For a film franchise that could barely stop the action when it first launched with X:Men Origins: Wolverine this is a major divergence.
Though it may have been hinted at when Mangold deftly maneuvered The Wolverine into a samurai-style film, only to abandon that in that film’s latter third, Logan fully commits to treating its characters as just that. Instead of action pieces to be moved around we get characters who happen to have claws and psychic powers. In the vein of the classic westerns the film apes a little too on-the-nose, our heroes are flawed and violent, but human. Other comic franchises do have well developed characters to be sure, but we rarely see such a focus like this that character. It was a hell of a risky move for a big studio considering no major superhero film as gone this headlong into thematic development.
On top of this the screenplay calls for an aging hero and a dying Professor X set in a future that is stunningly disconnected from the rest of the X universe. Logan could easily be a stand alone film, an almost alternate universe. Comic books do this all the time with one off or limited runs, but movie studios have been remiss to push outside their universes. Part of this resistance is because the idea of a cinematic universe is still so new. Marvel is defining and re-defining what having one means with every film they release. But Fox has finally decided to go their own route. Instead of mimicking Marvel’s Avenger’s
universe they’re branching out and defining theirs by a unique one-shot. If their plan is to bridge their X-Men tentpoles with smaller character studies then its a bold stroke in creating a cinematic universe differently from Marvel’s cohesive whole and DC’s… clusterfuck.
And now I really need to warn you about spoilers because probably the biggest and ballsiest move comes at the end of the film.
They killed their star. No wait, they didn’t just kill their start, they killed two of their stars. I doubt anyone is going to give this movie enough credit for doing this. You do not kill your heroic lead in an action blockbuster. Yes, it happens here and there as I’m sure many could point out, but it doesn’t happen with established franchise characters twice in the same movie. Sure, you could argue that it was easier because the story is set in the future so it doesn’t affect the current universe’s “present” timeline, but that just makes the entire thing more of a risk. In order to execute this movie correctly they not only had to set up an entire separate time frame, but then pull the trigger on killing two X-Men (and major Hollywood actors) in one film. Hollywood doesn’t do it like this, and yet here we have Logan. A movie that knew to be as truly powerful as it could be it had to break our hearts… twice. And they let it. The studio let them do it.
I am well aware that this is Jackman’s goodbye to the character so a death makes sense, but that’s just it. It makes sense! That’s not something I’m use to saying about studio decisions when it comes to money making franchises.
It feels weird to commend a Hollywood studio for taking risks and doing things that make sense. This is what they should be doing, right? They don’t, though. For many of the reasons outlined above it is not the norm for a studio to go out on a limb like Fox did with Logan. Yet in this case it truly paid off. By allowing Logan to be the film that it needed to be instead of meddling in what they thought it should be Fox let Mangold make the Wolverine film that everyone had always wanted, and then take it even further. So here’s to a studio doing what it should be doing. Here’s to Fox showing some guts, bub. Here’s to more like it in the future.