Comics

With Logan, Has Fox Found Its R-Rated Superhero Niche?

logan comics
We live in a golden age of superhero cinema. Akin to westerns populating movie theaters in the mid-20th century, we can always count on catching one or two comic book characters for a post-brunch matinee. As an added benefit for the companies that produce them, (e.g., Disney, Warner Bros., Sony, and 20th Century Fox) they tend to make a killing at the box office.

But not all do. Sony’s Spider-Man reboot stumbled through two entries before the studio handed the reins to Marvel. Warner Bros.’ billion-dollar expectations for Batman v. Superman fell short of Marvel’s ensemble movies before it, and Fox’s X-Men: Apocalypse offered little more than a handful of well-crafted Michael Fassbender scenes. The latter was an entry in the now 17-year-old X-Men franchise that came across as largely stale and unimaginative, especially considering the record-breaking success that came just three months before it: Deadpool.

Deadpool

Deadpool confused experts for many reasons. It was a February release, the title character was relatively new to general audiences, and it had a tiny production budget for a blockbuster. Most baffling of all was its R-rating. Before Deadpool, most comic book movies landed firmly in PG-13 territory.

Despite everything against it, the movie was both a critical and commercial success. Deadpool transformed the landscape, begging the question as to what studio might next attempt to ride the R-rated gravy train. Now, more than a year later, Fox has jumped back onto the platform with Logan, a one-way, gravy-stained ticket clutched nervously in their hands.

Logan movie

I saw Logan this past weekend, putting aside my disinterest in an Old Man Logan adaptation (sans blind Hawkeye) in anticipation of testing the critics. See, critics have lauded Logan not just as the greatest superhero film since The Dark Knight, but as a great film that happens to feature superheroic characters. Currently, Rotten Tomatoes has Logan as Certified Fresh at 92%.

The critics aren’t wrong; Logan is a great film. It draws on just enough of Wolverine and Professor X’s established history to give the audience an emotional precedent as it completely and utterly deconstructs the mutants we’ve come to know and love. It’s a consistent story that plays to its familial themes in every scene, refusing to let any scene feel hokey, inefficient or contrived. Logan is the polar opposite of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But did this movie need an R rating? Could Fox have told the same story in PG-13?

Logan movie

The answer to that question falls somewhere between yes and no. I’m not the type of viewer who needs or wants his action sequences punctuated with visceral carnage or his dialogue laden with lewd language, but neither Logan nor Deadpool could have garnered the audience reactions I witnessed and participated in without it.

Wolverine has been a violent hack-and-slasher in most X-Men movies, but I have never heard so many wincing “oohs” in a single showing. Decapitations, eviscerations, involuntary amputations, and the occasional impalements streak blood and viscera across the scenery in each of Logan’s action sequences. Keeping spoilers to a minimum, Logan’s first uttered words are expletives, and its first scene is a bloodbath that immediately and distinctly separates it from previous X-Men and Wolverine-standalone movies of the past 17 years.

logan and laura

Despite that, Logan shows its heart and humanity in scenes that, minus a few F-bombs, could work in PG-13. Sure, some of the humor only works because a doddering Charles Xavier eschews obscenities as comically as your more senile relatives, but it feels disingenuous to credit the film’s critical success to “strong brutal violence and language throughout,” as the MPAA warns us. Logan ultimately succeeds because it effectively makes us care.
Deadpool worked similarly, letting the blossoming relationship between a couple of sociopaths drive the film’s plot. While Deadpool lacked Logan’s emotional weight, it offered a lot more than violence and one-liners.

That’s something that Fox’s PG-13 X-Men movies have also succeeded at. The best scenes in First Class and Days of Future Past focus on the volatile relationships that develop between the young Professor X, Magneto, Beast, and Mystique. However, they lack consistency in their presentation and constantly let their story arcs fall into mundane genre pitfalls such as cameos, underutilized characters, and climaxes that revolve around an expensive CG setpieces.

An R-rating seems to give X-Men movies more room to breathe. Fox can safely invest in a smaller production budget and interfere less with the creative talent behind the camera. Whether an R-rating enhances the movie or not, it may be easing the movie-making process and allowing for far more originality in a genre often described as cookie-cutter.

Logan is fast approaching the domestic grosses of both previous Wolverine standalone movies and will likely surpass First Class and Apocalypse within the next two weeks. A steady second or third weekend could spell a future of family-unfriendly X-flicks. Maybe we’ll get a gruesome Magneto: Nazi Hunter or a steamy Gambit: N’Orleans Nights.

Not quite schlocky enough for my taste. I’m off to watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine again.