Seventeen years. One can make the argument that first X-Men movie that came out in 2000 was the first step in rebooting the superhero movie franchise until Iron Man came along in 2008. Fox managed to bring legitimacy and some seriousness to the comic book movie industry while erasing the silliness of former superhero installments from the 90’s like Batman Forever, Captain America and The Fantastic Four. Cut to seventeen years later and the superhero movie franchise is Hollywood’s biggest and most successful cash cow. Every production studio and television network dove deep into the comic-book genre looking for a story and hero they could market, from the popular to the obscure (look at AMC’s very successful first season of Preacher). The average superhero movie brings in over a $100 million on any opening weekend. Netflix was able to grab audiences with their original Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage series. The CW is running wild with The Flash and Arrow. At this point in 2017, it’s safe to say that we’re close to an oversaturation of the superhero character in Hollywood.
Obviously, this growth has been largely due to Marvel and their success with Iron Man in 2008. The success of that movie launched The Avengers Initiative which had effects that still reverberate through the industry almost ten years later. We’re in an age (and have been in it for a few years now) where it feels like studios are more concerned with the idea of franchise and world-building than making a great movie. The X-Men movie franchise has 10 different installments by itself. I would make the argument that the average superhero movie is precisely that, as a movie. Average. Good enough. Entertaining, but overall not that remarkable. The best superhero movies in the last decade have been the ones that seem untethered to the goings-on of their larger respective universe. The Dark Knight, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and now Logan.
It’s hard to imagine Hugh Jackman not playing the role of the X-Men’s leading mutant anymore but Logan was a dramatic, satisfying end to Wolverine’s saga. The thing that sets Logan apart from isn’t just that it’s better than the other movies in the X-franchise. It’s different. Different from most movies in the superhero movie genre. It takes its time establishing the story and its characters but it never feels slow. Rather than the focusing on the glitz and thrills and distracting easter eggs offered by most of its counterparts, it puts the spotlight on the character of Logan and what makes him human. What’s his purpose? What are the emotions that he’s dealing with? Logan brings all those things to the forefront and Hugh Jackman plays the part with more nuance than all his other X-appearances combined. He plays the role of a broken superhero in the bleakest moment of his 200 years of life and it shows with his rough and ragged portrayal of the character.
I’ve had this conversation with friends for years, specifically about the superhero movie genre, about what a “real movie” is. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my view on this is subjective and leans towards the more traditional sense. Old school, if you will. A series of scenes that come together cohesively, with camerawork that establishes the fictional world, telling a story that captivates the audience from start to finish without worrying about setting up for the next possible installment in a franchise. With that being said, I’ve always been of the opinion that it would be best for directors of superhero movies to say that they are interested in telling a real story rather than making a superhero movie.
For example, take a look at Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight which turned culture-reverberating monster whose effects are still prominent in movies we see today. What we got was a movie that worked like a fine psychological crime-thriller. It felt like a grim, gritty urban setting that happened to have Batman in it. Part of that is thanks to Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker. Rather than the quirky, gimmicky character we had been introduced to in previous animated and live-action projects, we got a real life sociopath of a human being playing a villain. Scary, witty, chaotic, but it worked because he seemed real.
The same can be said for Logan. Now don’t get me wrong. The movie is still chock-full of special effects and vivid, imaginative scenes filled with exciting, gory, old-fashioned Wolverine bloody action (thanks to the R-rating inspired by last year’s Deadpool). But when you make a real movie first, the director gives the audience a movie that allows its characters to touch her hearts and our emotions because they’re more relatable as humans than just superheroes. Cause it’s important not to forget. These superheroes we love are still only projections of who we are.