To begin, I really do not expect anyone to be reading this (and if you are, hello, that brings my total readership to one). I have considered writing a blog before. Many of my peers in academia do so, as a reflection of their own ideas in their respective field, and they also occasionally comment on current affairs as well. I enjoy writing (although I find the copy-editing process far more tedious, and I apologise for any typos or other mistakes that you may find if you are reading this) and I have decided to produce this blog discussing two of my main interests: early modern history and the superhero genre (yes, you read that right). Although not particularly compatible, I consider both to be stereotypes of the “nerd” culture that is now increasingly popular in modern society. In the future, I intend to develop two separate columns in this space that are devoted to these themes and I am going to start today (writing at 23.00 on Wednesday evening) by providing my perspective on the Twentieth Century Fox film ‘Logan’. You may have already seen this film, but I will write with the presumption that you have not, and so, with this in mind, I will avoid spoilers (except one tiny one near the end which has been highlighted).
First, like many comic book fans, I was looking forward to the release of ‘Logan’ ever since I heard that a new Wolverine film was in production that would finally adapt the far less corny Old Man Logan series. As a consequence, having watched ‘Logan’ on the day of its U.K. release, I have now returned home, and I am immediately jotting down my thoughts. Perhaps my take on this film is relatively typical of the wider audience’s perspective – in fact, I hope so as overall I believe that ‘Logan’ justly deserves the positive reception received from the critics.
In recent years, Marvel Comics has revamped its comic book series since its incorporation into the Disney Company. This was partially in reaction to similar developments at DC (last year the Rebirth event was very successful), but it was also to complement the Marvel Universe movie saga (of which ‘Logan’ is not part). Many of Marvel Comic’s story arcs have not been well received (especially Civil War II, which tried to profit from the success of the Captain America: Civil War film). What Marvel have managed to do, however, is integrate a sense of humanity into its comics in recent year. This has been done in order to adapt to popular cultural trends, but also to increase sales by making the superhero genre more relatable and less “nerdy”. For example, the traditionally unpopular Jane Foster became the centre of a story arc where she was diagnosed with terminal cancer before being saved by Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, and taking up the mantle of the Thor character; in doing so, she became, arguably, Marvel’s first mainstream female superhero (but then again, as Marvel is now part of Disney, a company that rightly promotes “kick ass female characters”, this is only in tune with modernity). In another example, which is highly relevant here, in 2014 the decision was made to kill one of Marvel’s most popular characters, Wolverine, during an Old Man Logan story arc, extending this new sense of humanity to one of Marvel’s most inhuman characters on account of his regenerative healing factor. In doing so, Marvel was attempting to make the superhero genre far more relatable to its audience. It allowed its readers to sympathize and relate to what are essentially unrelatable superbeings, which had also been attempted with the 2006-7 Civil War story arch. This, I believe, is also what Fox and James Mangold (who directed and co-wrote the screenplay) endeavoured to achieve with ‘Logan’.
‘Logan’, at least for me, was a huge success. It does not acknowledge the mistake of ‘X3: The Last Stand’, as the film is set in a sort of dystopian world where it has distanced itself from its predecessors (the Old Man Logan comic book arc also does this). Its storyline focuses on genetics, as all X-Men storylines do to some degree, but considers the theme (or at least the tampering of genetics) with highly negative connotations. If you are a fan of Marvel then you will most likely know the origins of Wolverine and X-23, and to avoid spoilers, I will not go into this any further, except to say that for me, it was not the storyline that made ‘Logan’ excel. I will also note here, that although ‘Logan’ is a well-accomplished film, it was not perfect. I felt that the writers could have been a little more inventive when deciding who the figure in the genetic’s tank was, who later serves as one of the main antagonists (I am attempting to make this as spoiler free as possible, so I will leave this point here).
The success of ‘Logan’ is a result of it making the inhuman, human. The film worked because it showed the franchise’s characters at their weakest, creating far more relatable characters than any superhero film (although the 2000 film Unbreakable may come close) or Marvel comic in the past. The protagonists (Logan, Charles Xavier and Laura/X-23) are shown “warts and all”, and you sympathize with their characters having followed them for ten films (eleven if you include Deadpool, which I don’t). Whether on account of age, physical decline, or personal trauma, these characters are all relatable, and this is clearly the intention of the film. The best scenes for me were those that were the most representative of daily life, from grocery shopping to fixing a water main, this film was truly the most relatable of all previous adaptations associated with the Marvel franchise. A personal highlight was the many mischievous actions of Laura/X-23 and the reactions of Logan to them, such as the elevator scene where the young child intentionally presses every button in the elevator much to the annoyance of everyone in it (as a father of a young daughter who is developing her own playful personality, I certainly sympathised with this scene).
In many ways then, what made ‘Logan’ so great was not the superpowers, which could be removed from the plot, but instead, it was a captivating film because the plot managed to pull at many of the audience’s emotions. It was essentially a story of the subjugation and suppression of anyone different (it is very clear from the onset why there are so very few mutants left in this dystopian world), and this is a concept that has very strong political comparisons to today. Indeed, the writers must have been influenced by the events of the twentieth-century genocides, especially the Holocaust, and eugenics’s movements when developing the script. Yet, it is also clear that in this comparison, any sense of humanity firmly rests with Logan (a traditional anti-hero) and his companions, and not the humans who are hunting them. This is equally reflected in the character of Caliban. The character of Caliban, originally created in the 1980s, was influenced by William Shakespeare’s Tempest character of the same name. Just like Shakespeare’s character, Caliban in ‘Logan’ is the only character in the film to be depicted with clear physical, almost alien differences, which make him appear to be inhuman. Similarly to Shakespeare, whereas in the Tempest Caliban’s prison is the island (and I guess also Prospero’s manipulation) in ‘Logan’, Caliban’s personal prison is daylight, and yes, later **SPOILER** his actual imprisonment and torture. As a result, the audience is led to feel compassion for the character (just as was also the case with The Tempest, at least in the majority of its adaptations) and his humanity is reflected in his deeds, in stark comparison to the human antagonists.
Coming to a final note then, ‘Logan’ is a success largely because it decides to cut back on what traditionally makes a superhero film. This is reflected in its final scenes, where there are no fireworks, excessive pyrotechnics or major CGI effects at play, but instead, the film ends by relying upon human emotions, allowing Hugh Jackman and the cast to demonstrate their acting abilities, which combined, makes this film so different, and ultimately enjoyable, when compared to other adaptations in the popular genre. I wonder what Fox will do next as it looks to adapt the Dark Phoenix and New Mutants comic books.