When Claws Break
By Brian Cho
James “Logan” Howlett, also known as the Wolverine, possesses a skeletal system made of adamantium, an indestructible metal alloy that has permitted his survival for 197 years. The iconic claws that protrude from his hands are too made of the same material. However, this seemingly immortal beast met his quietus in 2017’s Logan, in perhaps the most brutal and uncharacteristic manner possible—impaled on a whetted branch. This atypical death wasn’t the only deviation from regular superhero films as unlike many conventional superhero blockbusters: Hugh Jackman’s final-outing of the character was done in a non-flamboyant and rather somber approach. This digression from tradition may seem hazardous; yet, it was an apt one and something that should be considered frequently for the benefit of the superhero industry.
Logan’s key difference from traditional superhero movies is its R-rating. The norm set by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the most popular superhero franchise, was to create PG-13 films that are accessible for everyone in order to make the most box office revenue possible. However, 20th Century Fox took a different approach, shifting the focus from the movie’s accessibility to younger viewers to creating the proper conclusion for a universally loved character. As a result, the film explored darker and more mature themes such as aging. Wolverine is depicted as an old man withered not only by the adamantium poisoning in his body but also the centuries of trauma that he has endured. Tonally, it is even comparable to 2008’s Best Picture Winner No Country for Old Men, a film with a similar ambiance and homogeneous themes.
Critically, Logan was a hit, receiving a rather high rating of 77/100 on Metacritic, 3.5/4 on the Rolling Stones and 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. The audience widely acclaimed this film as well, rating it an 8.1/10 on IMDb, which makes Logan the seventh highest IMDb rated film among all comic book movies. Furthermore, there have even been cries of fury sparked across the globe after the film was not nominated for best picture in the 2018 Academy Awards. Finally, in spite of its R-rating, Logan performed superbly at the box office and earned 619 million dollars internationally, making it the seventh most commercially successful R-rated film in history.
It is evident that Logan itself was an unconventional take on a superhero movie. And while this may be considered a risky move, it may in fact be the better one to take to cure the current fatigue growing around formulaic and repetitive films that is developing among movies of the MCU. Though the franchise is considered one of the most successful ones in the history of film, with their total movie list grossing an accumulation of more than 23 billion dollars, the MCU has created a rather mundane formula which they apply to most of the films they make. This safe, low-risk practice has led to its films being dull and unappealing despite having different characters due to similar plot structures that become increasingly repetitive.
Logan is a perfect antidote to the current “Marvel problem.” By breaking boundaries, by shattering this unbreakable formula that the MCU has created for comic book movies, 20th Century Fox created a film that is unlike what many individuals are used to from the past, allowing for a positive reception and accumulated love for it worldwide. In spite of taking tremendous risks, the MCU was still able to produce a critically and commercially successful film. In fact, Logan is not the only superhero film that has been successful for being different. 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier surprised fans by taking the form of a dark political thriller, which deviated from the traditional portrayal of the usual patriotic Captain America. 2018’s Joker completely turned away from the explosions and well-choreographed fight sequences of comic book movies and developed into a sinister social commentary on class division and mental illness. Like Logan, both films were excellently received, the former considered one of the best films of the MCU and the latter nominated for 11 Oscars.
Ultimately, comic book movies, like Logan, should take greater risks and attempt to use this seemingly adamantine formula that Marvel has created. In the end, the select few of these unique movies that are designed for young moviegoers can have far-reaching impacts by exposing them to different styles and genres of films that can help enrich their knowledge on the endlessly creative palette that is cinema. In short, unlike Wolverine’s adamantium claws, the process of filmmaking isn’t unbreakable.