There has been a great deal of commentary with the release of Logan in cinemas about how it isn't just a great superhero movie, but a great movie overall. Repeatedly, the tired phrase 'it transcends genre' is trotted out, which is usually stuck up film critic snobbery code for 'I think sci fi/fantasy/superhero/genre films are beneath me, but I liked this one'.
One of the latest is a piece for Variety where the writer repeatedly praises Logan as a 'real movie' and alludes to many other superhero movies not being 'real movies' and that they are eschewing telling full proper stories in lieu of massive special effects set pieces, setting up future films and breakneck spectacle pace. Ultimately, this piece, among others, is lauding plot over everything else.
Whilst yes, obviously plot is important, or you have a disjointed, awkward mess of a movie like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which feels more like scene after scene of someone going 'Wouldn't it be cool if…' and stitched them together with next to no connective tissue to make sense of these events in a truly cohesive way. But that is not where the strength of Logan lies.
Of course not. The plot of Logan is thread bare, a simple get package from point A to point B whilst surmounting various obstacles and detours, but that is all it really is.
No, the strength of Logan, and what many superhero movies could learn from, is character.
Hugh Jackman turns in some of the greatest work of his career. Sir Patrick Stewart's Professor Xavier is wonderful, both different and unrecognisable to the great character we know and love, and yet the recognition that it's the same character is what makes it all the more painful. Dafne Keen is a revelation, spending over half the movie acting through nothing more than pointed glares and growls and grunts. Hell, even comedian Stephen Merchant manages to bring forth a role that is painfully straight, tragic and emotional, whilst covered in tons of makeup and rags.
And it is what has made the role of Wolverine a career defining role for Hugh Jackman and made that character such an important part of the X-Men franchise of films – the amount of character work put into him, the amount of craft Jackman works into a guy who heals from any injury and has metal claws. He didn't look at this role and think this is a fun, silly bit of enjoyable work for a paycheck, he really layered in levels of pain, of implied history, of emotion into his portrayal, all of which culminates in this final swing at the character.
Logan is a culmination of all those performances, but may also have worked without those previous films – the amount of characterisation and work put into this film alone far surpasses some others in the genre.
It reminded me of tweets I'd seen from comic writer Mark Waid this morning discussing the film, where he points out the almost irrelevance of plot if the audience can relate to and feel for the characters.
If the characters aren't really 'there', then neither is the audience, and it doesn't matter how many faceless CGI adversaries or beams of light blasting straight up into the sky you put into the film. Look at Suicide Squad. Many of the characters are given barely any characterisation, and hell, for most their backstories are presented in blink-and-you'll-miss-them cue cards when they first appear. The only possible exception being Captain Boomerang, who despite having pretty much no back story or relevant motivations or details other than he likes unicorns (and presumably boomerangs) is a great character…because the energy, wackiness and drunken Aussie charm that Jai Courtney brings to the character.
Many superhero movies have found themselves purely concerned with placing a new superhero physically on screen for the first time with little in the way of true characterisation or a full arc, as well as focusing too much on setting up the next movies instead of just on this movie.
Logan did away with that. It didn't tease a sequel or even another film in the franchise. It didn't introduce a ton of characters from the comics just to say that they have. It focused on the characters. It allowed the actors to delve into those roles and pull brilliant performances out of them.
That is what Logan did right, and what makes it a good movie. It's not about 'transcending genre' or being a 'real movie' or even about the plot. It's about the character. And that is something other superhero films would do well to remember.
Other Recent Logan posts:
- 'Logan' Is The Devastatingly Brutal Wolverine Film We've Been Clawing For
- Scenes Explaining Xavier's Backstory Cut From Final Logan Script, According To Screenwriter (SPOILERS)
- Hasbro Marvel Legends Old Man Logan Needs To Be Added To Your Toy Shelf
- Spoiler Alert: Logan's Ending, What The Hell Just Happened?
- Is There A Secret Scene In Logan? Well…SPOILERS