Logan hits cinemas in March in what’s being referred to as Hugh Jackman’s final turn as Wolverine. As the curtain falls on an era, we might be leaving behind the old breed of superhero movies as the likes of Deadpool ushers in the new.
Deadpool was a runaway hit in 2016. Its success has already had a ripple effect on the superhero genre and industry template. But could its high-profile triumph spell disaster for Logan? Possibly. Here’s why.
Deadpool wasn’t a summer release; it came out in February. Hollywood has historically focused on blockbusters in the summer, traditionally a time when there are more bums on seats. But in the wake of Deadpool’s box office triumph, and poor performances from a swathe of summer releases, studios are pressing ahead with re-evaluating the notion that its tentpole superhero stock needs to hit cinemas in the summer months.
February is customarily a ‘dump month’, when people visit the cinema less often and in fewer numbers. But coming out in February is just the sort of thing a film like Deadpool would do. It makes total sense, adding another level of ‘meta’ to its layers of self-reflexivity and subversive tactics. The beginning of the year is also awards season, with the Oscars falling in February.
That films like Deadpool aren’t seriously considered for Oscars, Golden Globes or Baftas, beyond awards for effects and the like, has long been a bone of contention for some. To come out in February is a smart move for a film like Deadpool – it’s a light-hearted two-fingered salute to an industry that lavishes praise on its more earnest cousins, and very much in keeping with its whole being. And, as we now know, it paid off.
Logan’s March release also bypasses the summer blockbuster window. Some might say it’s part of a strategy to separate itself from the conventional big-budget summer releases. And although the end of the year is traditionally the time of release for films pursuing awards nominations, Ryan Reynolds has declared it a contender – the opposite of Deadpool’s ambitions. This could be the first nail in Logan’s coffin – Oscar success isn’t necessarily the marker of a good film, or an outcome that’s any good for it, since the spotlight can be harsh.
A Tired Franchise
Although Deadpool is strictly speaking part of the X-Men universe, it has a very different feel to the other X-Men films, and its story does not include the characters we’ve grown accustomed to from this world.
We’ve sat through eight X-Men movies since 2000, excluding Deadpool, all similar in scope and tone. These include two Wolverine films.
However, it can feel like you’ve seen it all before as each new instalment comes along, particularly when there’s often an emphasis on Wolverine, even outside his own films. He’s a character who doesn’t seem to develop beyond feeling angry and bitter.
I’m half tempted to leap to his defence – he’s a man who’s been alive for ages through some pretty hellish times – but as a viewer, frankly, I’m just bored now. And I think we all would have got bored a lot sooner had it not been for the innate charm of Hugh Jackman in the role.
To be fair, the synopsis for Logan definitely indicates that Wolverine isn’t the same man he used to be. The film asserts that it’s changing things up. So does director James Mangold, who promises a more ‘human’ film about ageing and loneliness.
Set in the future, Logan is growing old and his healing powers aren’t what they once were. He’s turned to booze to help manage his pain. In addition, Professor X’s powers have also gone screwy because of old age. Mutants are dying out.
But is this really the kind of change we’re after? Do we want to see a more vulnerable Wolverine? Do we want to feel sorry for an ailing Professor X? I’m not so sure we do.
Following in the footsteps of Guardians of the Galaxy which delighted audiences with its sense of humour, tight script and elements of self-awareness, Deadpool raised the bar even further. It overhauled our expectations of what a comic book movie should deliver, amplifying all of Guardians of the Galaxy’s best qualities and bringing R-rated violence into the mix. Deadpool is fresh, inventive and very funny, and makes Wolverine and his associated films look tired and outdated.
A High-Concept Background
We love high-concept. The vast majority of superhero movies fall into this category. But in the case of the X-Men, the franchise’s modus operandi has become stale. If James Mangold is to be believed, Logan will delve more deeply into character and subtler themes more akin to low-concept cinema. This should be a good thing – ring the changes and all that – but, honestly, this makes me uneasy.
You wouldn’t call Deadpool low-concept exactly, but compared to films like those in the wider X-Men franchise which frequently focus on huge-scale stuff like the war between humans and mutants, it’s a small story about a man seeking revenge. This allows the creative team to focus on the things that often win over audiences – character development, great script, an individual touch – instead of making a film that is solely about big-budget special effects and convoluted plots.
Will Logan really stray from the X-Men formula? And will it work as well as Deadpool’s approach to blending a flirtation with low-concept characteristics with clever, adult humour and violence?
The X-Men films have had a patchy reception over the years. Films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and last year’s X-Men: Apocalypse took particularly harsh maulings – but because of audiences’ initial love for the franchise, which began in 2000, and this see-sawing success that promises and then takes away, we’re constantly hopeful that the next instalment will be a winner.
Expectations are high for Logan, not least because it’s finally got the R-rating James Mangold feels it needs. He’s also been talking about making it a character-driven piece, grounding it more solidly in reality.
One of the things that contributed to Deadpool’s success was the fact that Deadpool as a character feels human. In spite of the emphasis on humour and self-awareness, Wade Wilson is a flawed individual – he’s like us. He talks and thinks like us. He references pop culture and does human things like playing around with the window in the taxi, eating pizza and masturbating.
There’s no room in a Wolverine movie for moments like this. And you could never imagine Wolverine using a car’s cigarette lighter like Deadpool does: burning a man’s forehead with it then shoving it in his mouth. We haven’t seen scenes like this in a superhero movie before – they’re new and exciting.
While Mangold thinks Logan will become more humanised in his film, he’s likely to be a long way off what audiences recognise as ‘real’. Deadpool, by vivid contrast, is an everyday hero we can identify with.
And so back to my original point, which is that expectations for Logan are high; we hope that it will be the Wolverine movie we’ve always wanted. But because Deadpool, which was surrounded by low expectations ahead of its release, has moved the goalposts for what a superhero movie should be, my fear is that Wolverine will be a tedious and humourless addition to the franchise that will underwhelm.
‘Batman v Superman’ Taught Us A Lesson
If there’s anything to highlight our growing disdain for superhero movies that take themselves too seriously, it’s 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Zack Snyder’s film, which brings DC Comics’ Batman and Superman together on screen and pits them against each other, was sapped of any sense of fun. Critics didn’t like it, and audiences were split.
Could this be a warning for Logan, a superhero film that looks set to be moody, dark and largely joyless?
A Reactive R-Rating?
It feels like Logan’s R-rating could be a reaction to the success of Deadpool. And while the franchise needs shaking up, it feels like rather than leading the way, Logan is actually following.
There’s always been the threat of graphic violence with Wolverine, but it’s never really been shown on screen before despite a call for it. Maybe Deadpool’s success made the studio less afraid to grant the request for an R-rating but, whatever, they’re probably too late for it to make the impact they crave.
X-Men: Apocalypse failed to perform well at the UK and US box offices last summer. It did worse, in fact, than 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.
The strongest superhero films tend to focus on one character and take time to explore and develop that character. The X-Men franchise hasn’t been exploring its individual characters in much depth beyond Wolverine – and in Wolverine it feels like they’ve done him to death. It almost feels like we’re going round in circles with him.
Logan, partly because of the way it’s been publicised and partly because of the story it’s telling, feels like an ending; a full-stop to the previous chapter. It doesn’t feel like something new and exciting. Deadpool, on the other hand, is a segue into the new – and audiences have already moved on, embracing the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange which both feel fresh.
Sticking To The Rules
Even in the trailer and marketing for Logan, it feels like the film toes the line – albeit a more graphically violent line. But more graphic scenes don’t necessarily mean a change in tone, or an inclination to break rules.
All of the X-Men films come with a sense of abiding by the rules that are set for a superhero or comic book movie, and I can’t help feeling that Logan won’t be any different.
Deadpool, from its unusual and eye-catching marketing campaign to its opening credits which list ‘A British Villain’, “A Moody Teen’, ‘A CGI Character’ and ‘An Overpaid Tool’ instead of naming any cast or crew, very definitely breaks the rules. And audiences like that.
How Logan performs at the box office, and how it’s received by fans and critics remains to be seen. But, although I’m still hopeful, I can’t help feeling that it might let me down. Logan is released in the UK on March 2 and in the US on March 3.