The Edge of Seventeen
Logan (Read Jim’s glowing review here) is out and the general consensus is that it’s pretty damn good but why did it take so long for this version of Wolverine to finally hit the silver screen? There’s a relatively layered answer to that question but it also has a fairly simple answer too: Deadpool.
For the record the director James Mangold revealed that the plan was always for an R-rated farewell for Logan (Jackman even took a pay cut to ensure the R-rating) but it would be naive to think that after Fox’s surprise success with Deadpool that the executives at Fox weren’t clamouring to bring more R-rated authenticity to the X-Men universe.
Authenticity is a key word here but I’ll get back to that later. The layered answer as to why Logan can be made now falls down to the fact that it has been 17 years since we first saw Wolverine and Professor X on screen. That’s a teenager right there. A lot of people who were kids (or a young teen in my case) when X-Men first came out have grown up with it and have a certain rapport with the franchise and those characters.
Wolverine in particular has a solid place in our collective affections and can more than hold his own against the screen iterations of Spiderman and Batman that came to be in the early to mid 2000s.
So over that space of time, we have gotten to know these characters in the same way that we might get to know characters in a book and or a TV show. Sure there were some blips along the way but we more than likely identify Hugh Jackman with Wolverine and Patrick Stewart with Professor X (though I am a fan of McAvoy’s work, especially in First Class).
It’s a useful shorthand and movie stars, just like normal folks, get older. They can’t really keep doing the same thing over and over again; sooner or later they have to stop and Logan is that stop. It’s a full stop in fact but one that points to a much brighter future for Fox and the X-Men franchise if they stay bold and are willing to change up what we expect from comic book adaptations.
The Road to Logan
Early on in the development of The Wolverine, Darren Aronofsky was hired to direct with scripting duties being done by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Jack Reacher). Aronofsky even went as far as to say that The Wolverine was a “one-off” rather than a sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (obligatory shudder).
Sadly it wasn’t to be and Aronofsky left the project due to the amount of time he would have to be out of the country to make the film (The Wolverine was originally to be shot Japan but was in the end almost entirely filmed in Australia). Whilst that’s the official version, it is known (and Jackman confirmed this in interviews) that Aronofsky wanted to make an R-rated Wolverine which likely went against studio wishes. Jackman, himself, also didn’t want to exclude younger audiences.
James Mangold went on to direct The Wolverine but it was very much connected to the X-Men franchise as it essentially served as a sequel to X-Men: The Last Stand and rather annoyingly too, teed up Days of Future Past: A film which basically erased the first 3 X-Men films and The Wolverine from the timeline.
But Fox doesn’t care about that and neither should you. The Wolverine was just ok and Mangold did the best he could with the material. When word got out that not only would there be a final outing for Jackman as Wolverine but that Mangold was back to direct too, I can’t say I was terribly excited. He’s a fine director but The Wolverine was lacking bite and the third act was very, very silly. When it was announced, strangely enough after the success of Deadpool, that Wolverine 3 would be R-rated, ears all over the interwebs perked up in unison.
Going into Logan, that Aronofsky idea of a “one-off” Wolverine film more than likely percolated in Mangold’s (Jackman’s too no doubt) mind. And that’s another reason, not often mentioned in reviews, that Logan works so well. Logan basically has no connection to the previous X-Men films other than our collective memories of these two actors playing these characters.
There’s a reference to Liberty Island (that could refer to the first film) that’s vague at best – and don’t even bother trying to make sense of the X-Men timeline – however it frees up Logan to be its own thing entirely, unshackled from timeline changes and events from previous movies. There’s no mention of Jean Grey or the world impacting events of X-Men Apocalypse: all we are presented with are the characters of Wolverine and Professor X but they aren’t where we expect them to be.
Why Logan Worked
For arguably the first time, on screen at least, these characters seemed like real people. The stakes aren’t world ending but far more intimate and personal. The quotidian despair is palpable from the very first scenes of Logan and for all the talk about Logan being a Western or Neo-Western, it’s still a Sci-Fi film too and a pretty great one at that. Sci-fi, done correctly, usually has something to say about us as human beings and, if not where we are at, where we might be going.
Logan touches on topics of immigration, borders and covert government agendas and it’s hard to ignore the prescience of a film like Logan, which was in development long before recent political developments in America.The other interesting fact is that comics exist in the world of Logan and for some this might just serve as a nice little meta touch akin to a wink and a nod from the makers to the comic book origins of Wolverine and the X-Men but it serves a far deeper purpose in Logan.
As well as being rather integral to the plot – Laura/X23 and other mutant children believe in, and are trying to reach, a mutant sanctuary called Eden that comes directly from the X-Men comics they read – it highlights the importance and effectiveness of story-telling in troubled times.
The mutant kids of Logan are using fiction as a guide for them to create a more inclusive and better world. The world they currently know wants them either dead or under control. Some stories point us towards a better version of ourselves and the world but when the current reality seems harsh and cruel, there is a tendency to accept that as the only reality.
We are the stories we tell ourselves and Logan highlights that point rather explicitly. Having comics exist in Logan is also a tacit acknowledgement that what has come before (and by that I mean the previous films) can be disregarded to a certain extent. This is real life, people get hurt, they bleed and when they die they’re dead. As Logan points out in the film, most comics are just exaggeration and excess.
The violence is also worth noting because for once it feels real. Like if a guy with claws was up against some bad guys, said bad guys would bleed a lot, lose limbs and die. In a sense it becomes the perfect antidote to the abstracted from reality (and somewhat disturbing in its abstraction) violence we find in PG-13 movies that really only serves to detach us from the reality of violence.It’s bloody, it hurts and it has consequences. By engaging with the tangible, we are at a place that is infinitely more human and relatable.
That’s not to say a guy with claws is normal or even human but we are in a much more grounded place and relating to and empathising with these characters becomes a whole lot easier. It still says a lot unfortunately about where we are as a society that people dying en masse and getting the shit kicked out of them is ok (minus the blood which would up the rating) but show a pair of tits and you’ve got yourself an R/15 rating. Show a penis and you’ve likely got yourself an NC-17/18 rating.
The Argument for Authenticity
Authenticity is a rarity in comic book adaptations but that doesn’t necessarily have to translate to gritty or dark. Deadpool is far from gritty but it is authentic to the character and that authenticity was largely achieved because the director, writers and Ryan Reynolds were given a degree of control and freedom to be authentic. The budget was just small enough for Fox to allow them that control and it paid off rather handsomely. It is no coincidence that two of the highest grossing X-Men films to date (Logan is up to $524.1 million and counting) allowed the creative forces behind them more control than they ever had before.
It would seem somewhat obvious there is an audience out there who want something different, and dare I say a little more adult, from comic book adaptations. Yet there are articles popping up in the wake of Logan, like this one, that argue it won’t happen: but articles like these, when comparing Box Office of Logan or Deadpool to Captain America:Civil War, fail to note that Logan and Deadpool were made for relatively little money in the big studio landscape. They are practically independent films from that perspective.
Disney/Marvel are obviously making more money than Fox/Marvel but when you boil it down, Disney/Marvel are making corporate product: Films with absolutely nothing to say and, from a purely filmic perspective, films that have no real identity. Their purpose is effectively to advertise the next Avengers.
Read the Second part of Gavin’s feature next week as he looks at his hopes for the future of the X-Men Franchise and the lessons Fox should learn from Logan and Legion.
Check out some of the movies within the X-Men back-catalogue