When it comes to comic book films, the “big two” brands are Marvel Studios and DC Films. But, before acquiring the company, Marvel outsourced the X-Men to 20th Century Fox and Logan is the perfect example of the kind of films Marvel wouldn’t have made with the character themselves. Not only is it R-rated but it also develops themes and ideas too internal for family-family crowd-pleasers like Marvel Studios to risk taking.
The main idea being: what happens to superheroes when they inevitably age? Their adventures can’t last forever and sooner or later, they must face their unstoppable decline. From that concept comes a story in which an established character, portrayed in 8 previous films over 17 years by the same actor, now finds himself at the end of his series and facing a literal franchise fatigue, his sense of adventurousness long since faded. It’s about the way in which a person’s inner youth will leave them for the nostalgia of their own glory days and take the excitement of the world with it. Logan is the culmination of all the previous X-Men films, most other mutants gone from the Earth and the few pieces left behind now raging against the dying of their own last lights.
It’s the conclusion of a lifetime’s work that’s daring enough to definitively kill its protagonist and say “That’s it, no more”. Long-running stories only have value when they end and few studios are ever daring enough to bring them to a close.
In the same way, Logan is also the end of an era. The X-Men film series started before the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Logan character was the link connecting them together. With him gone, it was simply binding its time until its end. With 20th Century Fox now a Walt Disney company and future X-Men films being developed within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Logan is the last major chapter of a unique franchise that no longer exists and was experimental enough to produce films which didn’t follow the same cookie-cutter format. Perhaps, in years to come, Logan will still be a film people are talking about rather than one featuring any iteration of the character Disney brings us. Perhaps it will be an indictment into the monotonous process of a studio coming to encompass yet more of Hollywood.
Whatever happens, for future generations studying this genre, Logan will arguably be the best example. It’s a watershed moment demonstrating what more can be done with comic book characters and a raising of the bar that the more mainstream superhero films may never overcome. Logan is perhaps the first film based on a comic book that should’ve been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, though it remains the only one nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (and claims that its fantasy source material is inspired by this more realistic adaptation rather than the other way around). It’s the final, rousing movement in a great symphony that marks the watershed between what it established as being possible to achieve for the genre and how little was afterwards.
Logan will be streaming on Hulu soon.