Wolverine is at his most violent and vulnerable in the adventurous Logan

Logan approaches the super hero movie in a new way with varying levels of benefit

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Why do people want to see Wolverine films? It always seemed strange to me that the character has had two solo films completely independent of the rest of the X-Men. The character of Wolverine is invariably a loner, but a loner thrust into the spotlight and forced to work in a team. For me as a young boy watching the X-Men animated show, I was always greatly entertained by the clashing of personalities of Wolverine and Cyclops – a dynamic leader, meticulous and measured – battling wits with a self-sufficient wild card, as skilled as he is fed up. It makes for great motivation when two people who dislike each other put aside their differences to take down future robots or ancient giants or people who are 90% head mass.

That is what Wolverine is to me, however, I am not representative of the population, and the fact that Wolverine is one of the most prolific characters in comic book history shows that the character must appeal to many people for different reasons. Yet it is still strange to me to have such a primarily straightforward antihero take the lead in three films when his character is so reluctant to perform as a hero at all.

Logan is the logical conclusion to the character that Hugh Jackman embodied first over 17 years ago in X-Men (2001). This final instalment takes place in 2029 after James Howlett/ Logan considers himself finally retired and like a thousand action stars before him is thrust back into his old lifestyle for one last job. The job is an escort mission of a young girl who shares his own characteristics, sporting matching adamantium claws and a similar violent blood lust. But the years have caught up to Logan, his face is transformed to an old man, his biceps stay in his sleeves, his beard encases his face. The Wolverine’s healing factors are weakening and he’s lumbered with the responsibility of looking after an ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart this time), who is beginning to suffer from a form of an issue which is causing concentrated releases of the professor’s dangerous powers.

Structurally, the film is a simple point A to B road trip movie, it’s all pretty straight forward and is enhanced by a light seasoning of dystopia. It is the visuals that first stand out about Logan, and may be what has attracted many people to the cinema to see it. Trailers for the film were everywhere and Johnny Cash’s Hurt playing over saturated images of desert landscapes was enough to reignite interest in people who were put off by the previous two solo Wolverine films, the original trailers seemed to point towards Mad Max: Fury Road as an inspiration for Logan but unfortunately this style slowly dissipates over the two hours.

That is not to say that the film is not good looking because it is. It puts more effort into aesthetics rather than flashy CGI or imagined worlds, clearly the director of photography was given free rein to play with the potential of the American landscapes that passed them by on the trail. The film takes its time to let shots breathe and takes a more measured approach to exposition than ham-handed dialogue cues.

However, this is my indulgence and I know that people watch Wolverine to see Wolverine doing what he does best so how does the action fare in Logan?

Pretty well. Pretty damn well. With the film’s new R-rating it has acquisitioned the freedom to explore the disgusting reality of Wolverine’s adamantium claws. In the original X-Men, Wolverine let loose on an army of goons in Xavier’s mansion and it was all very exciting but nevertheless exceedingly clean. There was no blood, no guttural penetration, a cacophony of snikts and tings was all that could be heard – it was all a bit too tame. Logan goes all out on the visceral reality of the weapons, allowing blood to spatter and squirt and throats to gurgle, the final product benefits from it. The action is at an all-time high for the franchise and it used just sparingly enough to still be exciting each time it happens. This is the most real Wolverine has ever been and the movie does not shy away from the dark undercurrent that every person Wolverine has ever killed with his claws has been killed in this brutal manner, it adds to the traumatised characterisation that is so central to his conflict in the film.

Once again, a marvel film has let its viewers down by churning out another run of the mill villain. Here taking the form of Richard E Grant, some guy with modern hair and a super soldier right out of the most unoriginal fan fiction ever made. All are disposable and uninteresting archetypes that offer nothing that hasn’t been seen a dozen times in the last 17 years of comic book movies.

Wolverine on cinema has often had an issue with motivation, he always needs something to force him into the story, whether it is Rogue in X-Men or leadership thrust upon him in X-Men: The Last Stand. Here the job falls to the close to senile Professor Xavier, staying in the backseat of cars whispering into Logan’s ears that he must do the right thing. This comes across as a bit too on the nose at times. However, it is preferable to the effect that the villains have at driving the plot. Logan has a lot of weaknesses, it is overlong and takes itself too serious for a movie that features dozens of claw flailing hurricanranas. The dialogue is trying to serve the long contemplative style but isn’t quite at that level where it can grip on the quality of writing alone but it is hard to hold that against it. Logan is in the minority of superhero films that attempts to incorporate new styles into the sub genre, in an era of predictability and in house style, Logan is an outlier.

Recommendation

It focuses on the character of Logan in a nice way while still allowing for the best Wolverine action ever put on film. The near future is incredibly realised and lived in and performances on all parts do the characters proud. The film is a faithful send off to a prolific character.

Logan uses the extended universe of the X-Men as flavour to enhance the drama of the story instead of abusing aspects to allow for tie-ins, sequels or prequels. Despite it being the ninth Wolverine film, Logan is far and away the most unique, stand alone movie of the bunch.

Piece by Piece: Can Superhero Movies Take Risks?

Superhero movies have exploded in popularity in the last 17 years. But is there room for serious drama?

 

There have been three different Bruce Waynes and three Peter Parkers since Hugh Jackman first adopted The Wolverine’s claws and mutton chops. Two generations of the Fantastic Four, Professor Xavier and Magneto have been reincarnated and redesigned, collided with their new selves and The Green Lantern has gone the way of the Green Hornet and decided to make fun of superheroes instead. Careers have been made by superhero movies and some have already faded into obscurity. The Marvel cinematic universe has been entirely constructed and collided into two Avengers movies with a third on the way and through all this Hugh Jackman has been Wolverine.

Seventeen years as the same character, with nine film appearances as the man is an impressive feat (Roger Moore is the most prolific Bond with seven film appearances) but there is something equally admirable about Jackman’s commitment to portraying the Canadian loner throughout his entire career. X-Men was only his third career film appearance and is what thrust him into the public eye. Jackman’s career was jump started by the very film that is responsible for the seismic shift we have seen in box office cinema and the start of superhero movies as more than childish. His career has progressed along with the popularity of the superhero movie and with him bowing out with the incredibly final Logan it is fair to look at the changing nature and development of the superhero movie.

Real stakes, fake world

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I make no secret of the fact that my favourite superhero movies are those that have fun with the concept first and foremost. It’s why Guardians of the Galaxy was such a breath of fresh air and why Deadpool made it into my top 20 films of the year while Dr Strange sat on the bench. It’s why I believe that Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad the worst things to come out of Hollywood in 2016. There is room for the serious in the comic book flick, yet outside of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, how many can you name that have plumbed into real darkness and serious drama. It is true that Peter Parker is spurred by the death of Uncle Ben, that Wolverine and Black Widow are the results of experimentation and that Peter Quill’s mother dies slowly at the start of Guardians of the Galaxy but with it all there is a level of detachment.

The drama is merely a background – a motivation to spur on a character – to allow for moments where the audience can pump their fists and cheer over their hero overcoming. The actual meat of the drama in superhero films invariably comes from an outside source threatening the physical world with force; an alien horde, a Machiavellian God, a Nazi invasion.

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic

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One film that comes to mind as a film motivated by more than outward force is Captain America: The Winter Soldier which disposed of the basic superhero structure in exchange for a militaristic, political framework. It applied a superhero theme to a Bourne film, it had no single villain, there was no Apocalypse tearing the world apart or horde of alien invaders, its threat was based in the reality of the situation and Captain America, had he failed, would have been the main victim of the film. Unlike the city of New York in The Avengers or Gotham in Batman Begins, the danger in The Winter Soldier was focused primarily on Steve Rogers.

Its story was driven by character principles rather than an immediate threat to the world, it just so happens that Captain America’s principles are also the same as Americas. The world of The Winter Soldier was threatened by being overrun but the specifics of the takeover were not stated, the film simply placed its viewers in Steve Roger’s state of mind.

Age of Ultron is an example where the threat demeans the drama and action at the centre of it. The general threat of the world being overrun is too large, too vague and expansive that people cannot really engage with it. Even when Ultron focuses his attack on Sokovia, it’s honestly hard to care about these nameless faces and crowds. These kids and parents in car pile ups, stuck on broken bridges are simply objects, tools to tell a story. In Civil War Scarlet Witch accidentally causes a huge accident and multiple deaths in a busy city, it is an affecting moment not because of the civilians who die in the street but because the grief is focused solely on Scarlet Witch and how she feels about it, it’s just how empathy works.

The majority of people can’t bring themselves to be emotionally invested in the trials of real world horrors because it is too far detached from them, never mind a fictional comic book country. Film is best when it is smaller in scale, Die Hard is so effective at conveying the stakes because it is John McClane and HIS wife that are in danger, the drama unfolds in real time and we feel each small inconvenience because each small inconvenience is his. No one cares about Nakatomi’s bonds or any of the office workers, not even the pregnant woman who needs to sit on a couch, even Hans Gruber cares enough about her to let her sit down, so why don’t viewers?

It is because viewers connect with who they have had time to connect with, upping the number of people in danger never ups the stakes if the people in danger are undefined. Yet comic book movies abuse this trick to no end. It’s something that they struggle to grasp time and time again. But that is not to say that comic book movies should have Man of Steel’s complete disregard for the population, forcing buildings down and levelling an entire city all for the sake of a grudge match. It is that comic book movies will benefit from delving into the personal rather than the expansive.

The Anti-Cinematic Universe

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Yet, superhero movies are exclusively a box office deal, they are designed to be spectacle cinema, to sell popcorn, to please large crowds and sell IMAX tickets. They need to amaze, to meet expectations and simultaneously subvert the expectations of myriad subsections of fans who know every possible route that can be taken with a character. The rights to these films are also owned exclusively by larger companies, and Marvel, DC and Fox are keeping their rights close to their chest, meaning that every superhero movie must be excessively vetted to ensure it makes optimal economic sense. A small-scale Batman film that doubled as a detective story would be extremely feasible to pull off, but if it diverts from the larger goal of the studio then it cannot be created. Since Iron Man’s post credits sequence the cinematic universe has become the goal, each new film must serve to that. It even makes sense for Fox to split up the X-Men franchise into three separate franchises to allow themselves the gratification of the merging of these franchises in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The movies made to serve the cinematic universe are for the most part frustratingly similar, they follow the same character moments and story beats, feature unmemorable villains and share a tone. Whether it is the glum drabness of DC or the larger than life wit of Marvel, the point stands that there is less room for risk when all the chips are kept in the same pot.

Logan is far from a perfect movie but what it is film that shows a different direction for superhero movies, it is a sign that the subgenre could become its own genre, it has already developed enough tropes, actors such as Tilda Swinton, Chitewel Efijor and Anthony Hopkins are becoming more commonplace, and styles are being developed on different ends of the spectrum. Deadpool is a comedy, Logan is a drama, The Avengers is action, Winter Soldier is a thriller and Batman Vs Superman is CSPAN. Logan shows a proliferation that can only be good for the industry, and while it follows the Marvel route of struggling to create convincing villains it has taken inroads to create a more personal story, a road trip driven by self-destruction. It is adventurous with its direction and indulgent in its message. While viewers have been standing on the tracks waiting to be hit by the Marvel train of homogenisation Logan is prepping the ground work for an alternative track.