Warning: This post will contain MAJOR spoilers for Logan.
Logan gained a staggering global haul of $241 million in its opening weekend. The message was clear — Deadpool wasn’t a fluke, moviegoers dig R-rated superhero movies, and the film was more than deserving of the hype and critical acclaim, getting an A- Cinemascore from audiences.
It’s already been declared one of the best, if not the best, comic book movie of all time. Logan‘s commercial and critical success means we’ll be getting plenty more R-rated superhero flicks, while also giving movie studios the courage to try something different. It wasn’t just the blood, guts, and cursing that made Logan a hit, it’s the fact that it broke the mold, jettisoning clichéd superhero move plots and opting to tell a story with little concern of franchise tie-ins, selling merchandise or appealing to audiences of all age groups.
So let’s take at look 15 ways Logan has changed the comic movie medium going forward, and why it was so successful.
15. A PLOT THAT’S OPEN TO INTERPRETATION
Much has been made of the mysterious elements of Logan’s plot. Why are Wolverine, Caliban, and Charles Xavier the only living mutants (until the discovery of X-23)? What exactly happened to the other X-Men? Does the mutant sanctuary Eden even exist? Logan doesn’t bother giving hard answers to any of these questions.
This is anathema in superhero movies, where every plot point is telegraphed, often repeatedly, to audiences. This is largely due to the fact that most comic book movies are PG-13 and they want to keep children and teenagers (or adults with short attention spans) engaged.
The problem with that approach is that it insults the intelligence of its audience. Logan has no interest in filling in every blank, letting the viewer decipher clues left open to interpretation (fan theories are already emerging). Or as Logan’s director James Mangold explained “we watch movies too literally…we want answers…Life never gives us these answers…The comic books never answered every question. Somehow the movies are expected to…When you do…you end up with these endless scenes with people explaining stuff, ad infinitum…I like movies where there are mysteries.”
14. SMALLER SCALE STORIES
Think about the plots of most blockbuster comic book movies: The Avengers films show heroes fighting hordes of aliens and Ultron’s robot armies. Man of Steel featured a battle that threatened all of Earth and flattened Metropolis. And previous X-Men movies all featured epic battles on a grand scale. This is the norm for the genre.
Logan take a completely different approach. We’re never shown how all the mutants died. There isn’t any cataclysmic conflict that threatens all of humanity. Instead we have a small-scale story, with Wolverine and Professor-X helping the young mutant Laura aka X-23 reach safe harbor.
Certainly there are battles, conflicts, and major action set-pieces, but they’re balanced with quiet moments of reflection, insightful dialogue (more on that in a minute), and a self-contained, dramatically satisfying story. In this way, Logan offers a lesson for the medium: not every comic book movie needs constant bombast. By offering contrast between character beats and action sequences, you get a much richer, more memorable, and less fatiguing story.
13. RAISING THE DRAMATIC STAKES
There are moments in Logan that create a sense of dread you don’t normally feel in comic book movies. The Dark Knight came close, but just the simple fact that this film ends Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s involvement in the franchise gave a sense of stark finality that made you realize nothing was too sacred to upend.
From a feeble (yet dangerous) Charles Xavier, to the meek Caliban, or the loving family that invite Logan, Laura, and Xavier into their home, there were moments of genuine tragedy that are rare for the genre. And this was contrasted with other scenes that were warm, comedic, and touching. It covers all the bases.
The payoff from such a well-rounded film is the emotional resonance of the performances. Jackman, Stewart, and Dafne Keen truly give Award-worthy portrayals. It’s rare to see a film that is both ruthlessly violent, yet deeply touching — Logan isn’t a movie you walk away from and forget. It sticks with you. It makes you think. And that’s exactly how an artistic cinematic experience should make you feel.
12. THE EMOTIONAL TOLL OF VIOLENCE
Every superhero movie features fights. From the beginning, comic books have shown costumed do-gooders duking it out with the bad guys. In both mediums, these scuffles are largely bloodless affairs.
Logan takes a very different approach to violence: visceral, gory, and with moral consequences. Wolverine has killed dozens of times over the course of the X-Men film series, but a PG-13 rating kept his maulings from being overly grisly. Mangold’s decision to show very graphic fight scenes and the emotional toll they take upon Logan and his daughter Laura makes it wholly unique. He crosses a moral line many superheroes would never consider.
The best example of these tragic consequences comes near the film’s end. After Logan wakes up from a nightmare, Laura says she suffers from them as well, always dreaming of people hurting her. When he replies that in his, he hurts people, they discuss how both are guilty of murder. Laura defends her actions, saying she’s only killed bad people. In response, Logan says she must learn to live with her choices, no matter how guilty the other party may be.
11. THE “GIVE THE X-MEN BACK TO MARVEL” ARGUMENT IS NOW INVALID
If you’ve spent time perusing message boards on articles about Marvel superhero properties not owned by their studio subsidiary, you should be familiar with this phrase “give (franchise in question) back to Marvel!” This applied to Sony’s ownership of Spider-Man (which made the transition), and it is a battle cry leveled at 20th Century Fox’s Fantastic Four and X-Men films as well.
One can understand Spider-Man (which has, partially reverted back to Marvel) and Fantastic Four, given the botched adaptations, but the X-Men quibbles have largely come down to everything from costume design (or lack thereof) to continuity differences from the comics, or even the series’ own event timeline (X-Men: Days of Future Past, anyone?).
But as we’ve seen with Deadpool, and now with Logan, this argument doesn’t always hold merit. Marvel Studios would never have signed off on a hard-R, relentlessly dark superhero movie where two of its most beloved characters bite the dust. Director James Mangold would have been hamstrung by studio-head Kevin Feige, given the company’s aversion to auteur filmmaking. This umbrella approach may please most Marvel fanboys, but Logan has been critically acclaimed for a reason. It’s uncompromising, it breaks with convention, and the genre is now much richer for it. One size doesn’t always fit all.
10. THE LIBERATION OF R-RATED COMIC BOOK MOVIES
Despite comics being aimed primarily at adult readers ever since the late ’80s, there is still an association that superhero movies are primarily kid’s stuff. There is an undeniable element of wish-fulfillment that superheroes hold for children, and Hollywood has milked that demographic to the tunes of billions of dollars.
The PG-13 rating has been the grand compromise for superhero movies, allowing kids, teens and adults to enjoy films designed to appease every age group. While this is a commercially viable strategy, it’s a formula that’s become too predictable.
Mangold explained the liberation of an R-Rating to Rolling Stone: “Getting an R rating doesn’t just free you for blue language and more blood. It also frees you to make a more interesting movie. And the reason is that there’s a marketing machine in every one of these studios…that machine plans on how to squeeze every drop of milk out of the film…children, boys and girls, grownups, men and women…The second the movie is R….you lose the worry of, can you talk about that in front of children…and when that pressure is gone, the movie suddenly never gets another note aimed basically at making sure the plot is decipherable for a nine-year-old child…that’s a big freedom.”
9. LESS IS MORE WITH CGI
CGI has become an indispensable tool for comic book movies. When you’re showing mass battles among super powered beings, some digital magic helps bring these bravura moments of mythic combat to life.
There is a cost to this, however — an endless CGI onslaught becomes fatiguing for the eye, and despite all the technological advances of the medium, it can feel too cartoonish at times, as Mangold explained to Rolling Stone: “This kind of massive, city-leveling spectacular. I found myself recently in another film with a similar third act, literally as I was getting bombarded with sound and light, falling asleep. Like someone wearing really loud headphones and your eyes rolling up in your head.”
Logan definitely uses CGI during action sequences, but with more restraint. Most of the stunts are practical, with Jackman and Daphne Keen’s likenesses seamlessly replacing stunt performers faces. It never approaches overkill, however. Dialing down the CGI allows for quieter character beats, making moments of spectacle all the more impressive. As we stated earlier, not every comic book movie needs a scene of mass destruction. Less is more–and working with limitations is often the element that leads to classic films.
8. DRAMATIC DIALOGUE VS ENDLESS EXPOSITION
Earlier, we covered why one of Logan’s strengths is its ambiguous plot. And one of the many wonderful byproducts of a film with unanswered questions is a merciful lack of exposition. You know what we’re talking about–every other superhero movie you can think of has actors spending much of the running time explaining plot mechanics. “We have to grab this to stop this, otherwise this will be happening”…repeated every five minutes rather than exercising their acting chops.
This is not the case with Logan. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart enjoy rich character moments that resemble actual conversations. This allows elements of their characters to shine through more than ever before — their odd father-son relationship, Logan revealing his personal demons and failings, etc. The dinner scene with the Munson family is one notable example of warm personal connection. And when Laura, who remains mute for much of the film, finally speaks, more rich dialogue emerges, leading to the film’s poignant farewell between father and daughter.
Can we take a moment and gush on how amazing Daphne Keen was as X-23/Laura? She’s the biggest breakout child star since Stranger Things‘ Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven (interesting how both have numeric monikers).
Laura is the antithesis of the annoying child sidekick. Her character stole nearly every scene she was in, and possessed a savagery and wise-beyond-her-years persona that is unique in cinema. Her relationship with Logan and Xavier offered a truly unique makeshift family dynamic, and added a whole other dimension to the film.
Her role leads to a very interesting concept that hasn’t really been explored in comic book movies: a hyper-violent R-rated spinoff featuring a child in the leading role (well, played straight anyway, unlike the comedic antics of Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass).
Make no mistake, an X-23 movie feels not only plausible, but inevitable. Most R-rated films featuring children are horror movies with demonically possessed tykes. A little girl who is also an antiheroic badass/killing machine is something else entirely. We can’t wait.
6. A SUPERHERO MOVIE CONTEMPLATING MORTALITY
In comic books, death is temporary. Every major character from Superman to Batman to Captain America and even Wolverine have croaked at one time or another. This is almost always a tactic to drive up comic book sales and spur controversy, until said deceased character emerges anew.
The movies aren’t much different. Agent Coulson, Nick Fury, Commissioner Gordon, and several X-Men have all died (or faked their death), only to return safe and sound. This is yet another way in which Logan marks a stark departure from the genre, killing not one, but TWO iconic characters, including the hero that shares the film’s title!
This makes it unique and daring, showing something that never seemed possible — we see a hero once thought immortal finally laid to rest. This gives it a literary quality akin to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or the western Shane (which X-23 quotes while eulogizing her father).
While his death is truly a bummer, our hero finally finds the peace he’s been denied his whole life, and now his daughter can carry his memory to help chart her own path. It’s about embracing mortality, not fearing it, and cementing his legacy as the ultimate reluctant hero.
5. STANDALONE STORIES VS. SHARED UNIVERSE
Thanks to Marvel’s innovative marketing strategy, the shared cinematic universe is the golden goose of the 21st-century box office. And now the DCEU, Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse, and Universal’s Monsters are all getting in on the act. It’s a novel concept, but it has its limitations. If every film has so many continuity points shoehorned in the plot, it can get in the way of storytelling.
Logan is a rejection of that business model, and Mangold makes no bones about it, saying an interview that: “I just can’t deal with some of the tropes of comic book movies in general…if you pick up a Superman comic … the [character] in the original Joe Shuster [and Jerry Siegel] comic book has been completely redesigned and retooled and reinvented multiple times. The same with Batman, the X-Men, Wolverine, et al. So to me, the biggest thing would be actually respecting these stories the way we respect Shakespeare and say, ‘Let directors and writers come on and do what they will.’”
In other words, just as comic books have one-shot specials and miniseries with self-contained stories free of continuity, Logan can exist freely from all other X-Men films.
4. ITS OKAY FOR A COMIC BOOK MOVIE TO MAKE YOU SAD
We’re so used to seeing the good guys prevail in superhero movies, failure rarely seems an option these days. Good conquers evil, makes witty quips, and lives to fight another day. Logan isn’t so black and white.
Logan is a film full of sorrow, from the main character’s broken soul to Xavier’s transformation from world’s most potent telepath to a feeble old man that can no longer care for himself. Human suffering is tantamount throughout — the abused children in the lab facility, X-23’s tragic childhood, the mercilessly cruel death of Xavier and the Munson family. And to cap it off, our beloved protagonist dies. Rough stuff.
While Logan has garnered critical acclaim, there are a few naysayers saying it’s too downbeat, wallowing in misery for misery’s sake. Well…they’re wrong. Logan is a journey that speaks to the human condition. It’s a film about love and loss, and in the end, a sprinkle of hope. The fact that it has overtones that resemble our current political climate makes it even more thought-provoking. It’s okay for a film about superheroes to make you sad, because it also makes you think. There’s no reason a comic book movie can’t ask life’s bigger questions.
3. TAKING RISKS REINVIGORATES THE GENRE
There’s a reason Logan has a sterling 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes. We’ve discussed why it’s so refreshing in a genre that, while still financially viable, has hit a point of creative fatigue. And that’s also why an R-Rated Wolverine movie would have been impossible to make until recently.
You can thank the boffo box-office receipts from Deadpool for showing that yes, there is an audience who is more than receptive to mature-themed (okay, with Deadpool “mature” feels weird to say) superhero movies. There is a market to be mined, and 20th Century Fox has cornered it (not to mention their utterly unique X-Men series Legion on FX).
Logan took some major risks, and was brutal and heartbreaking in ways we just haven’t seen in a comic book movie before. It’s amazing that Mangold didn’t have to deal with meddling from studio heads. It was obviously a gamble they were willing to chance. Hugh Jackman even took a pay cut, because he wanted to give the definitive take on his character. And now we have endless possibilities for the future of superhero flicks.
2. TAKING CREATIVE LIBERTIES WITH A COMIC BOOK PROPERTY ISN’T ALWAYS A BAD THING
You’ve heard the quibbles over the years with comic book films — Peter Parker shouldn’t have organic web-shooters, The Joker should never have killed Batman’s parents, and…let’s not even get started on The Mandarin. When comic book films deliberately ignore, or totally change, the well-known mythology of established characters, fans become angry. And as previously mentioned, the X-Men movies aren’t immune either. Often, these complaints are totally justified. (See: X-Men Origins: Wolverine sewing Deadpool’s mouth shut.)
Despite all these grievances, ignoring or taking liberties with established characters and iconic comic book storylines isn’t always a horrible tactic (Christopher Nolan’s Bat-films being one of the most notable examples).
Logan is loosely based on Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s 2008 Old Man Logan comic series, and by loosely we mean in every sense of the word. Sure, it would have been cool to see a loyal adaptation, but Logan shows how creative liberties can work wonders if they serve a story that’s just as strong as the source material, even with dramatic differences. Besides, literal comic book adaptations offer no surprises. Adding creative liberties keeps things unpredictable.
1. A CHARACTER ARC LIKE NO OTHER
While Logan is a testament to the powerful mythos of Wolverine, and a send-off to an enormously popular character, it’s also an indelible conclusion to Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of everyone’s favorite surly mutant.
This is no mean feat, and should not be underestimated. Jackman has played Logan over the course of 9 films. That’s an unprecedented run for any actor inhabiting a role, let alone one that required him to undergo rigorous physical training to capture the ripped physique of a comic book hero.
The actor has never taken the part that made his career for granted, and he’s been loyal and giving to fans during his tenure as the adamantium-clawed hero. And with Logan, he collaborated with director James Mangold to give the definitive performance as the character, finally showing him in all of his berserker-raging, slicing and dicing glory.
Jackman has never been better at portraying Logan than in his last performance. While fans will miss (and mourn) his final bow as the character (unless he changes his mind), he’s gone out on top, and left a milestone no other actor can lay claim to.