On LOGAN, And Letting Mediums Be Mediums

On LOGAN, And Letting Mediums Be Mediums

Movies aren't comics.

Look, I'm gonna be up front here. I'm not into labels. And this piece is all about labels. So let me qualify first by saying nobody is the same, and I acknowledge that there are people in between the sects that I'm going to bring up below. But still, this needs to be addressed, because it leads to a bigger point.

There's been a huge division of audience brewing for all these superhero films that have been coming out in the past seventeen years. It wasn't sudden; it's been rearing its ugly head for some time now. But I think the pot boiled over when Iron Man 3 came out.

The line is thus - film fans, as in people who want to see a good movie; and die hard comic fans, people who've wanted to see their beloved characters do things and appear in the exact same way that they saw on the page. If you ask the latter group about The Avengers film, they'd be quicker to mention the Thanos appearance at the end before any of the deftly handled character beats.  

So when Iron Man 3 released, it was a critical success! Shane Black had done it again! Things that had long been established were subverted, and we were given nuanced character growth, some wonderfully crafted dialogue, and earned, risky turns.

Except that comic book fans weren't having it.

For those who don't remember what happened four years ago, Ben Kingsley was not just signed to be The Mandarin, Tony Stark's greatest nemesis. To comic fans, this was a promise that they were gonna see their favorite villain (okay, who the fuck's favorite bad guy is The Mandarin?) realized on the silver screen.

Yeah, that guy.

Shane Black changed it up with a twist, revealing that Ben Kingsley was playing a drunk stage actor, and comic book fans threw a tantrum. Sorry, tantrum's not a strong enough word. They fucking rioted. To the point where Kevin Feige produced a short film explaining that the real Mandarin is still out there.

You can't please everybody, and I think this marks where Feige and the MCU decided to try and do just that. Since Iron Man 3, Marvel really hasn't tried to make anything with a message or a statement. Sure, you can say Guardians of the Galaxy is a risky movie, but they get to do their thing out in space without "affecting" the brand.

And that's what these things have become, right? A brand. A baseline. It makes me sad, but it makes total sense to me why artists like Shane Black and Joss Whedon bailed. Now, I enjoyed Captain America: Civil War like the rest of the world, but can anyone actually express what that film was trying to say? The movie, whose marketing demanded that you "Choose a Side" could not ask the audience to make any such decision. Even when it was called Captain America, the movie basically says "Hey, sometimes Cap is wrong and sometimes he's right".

After walking out of Civil War, I was more worried as a fan of film than anything else. If this studio was going out of its way to please fans of every character ever by tossing them into the same movie and making them all right, then what is that as a movie? Where do we go from here? Are all the stakes moot? Have we given into "tune in next time to see more of that thing you like"?

So basically, thank fucking GOD for Logan.

MANY SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT, SO GO SEE LOGAN.

I talked to a bunch of folks after seeing the movie, and I saw that same dividing line of comic die hards and movie fans appear again. But something wonderful happened this time. Lots of comic fanatics hated it. Now, I'm not one to ever want somebody hating something, but the reason this excited me was because Logan proved it wasn't out to please everybody on the planet.

The Laura we see in Logan is not the Laura Kinney we know from the comic books. The Charles we see in Logan isn't the Charles Xavier we know from the comics. Characters in this film are created and painted to serve the narrative of the film. This movie is only interested in one story: its own. It's not a comic book, and it not only knows its own limits in the medium, but it uses the differentiation as an actual narrative device. It's fucking genius. 

"But Terry," you ask, "don't all movies do this?"

Nope, this is 2017. We have six Marvel movies coming by the end of next year, all carefully crafted to make sure they don't betray each other in any way. Franchises have become bloated, ineffectual television, opting to become clickbait fodder and fuel for Tumblr.

Yeah, fuck you if you wrote a "10 Cool Things You Missed" article.

Logan doesn't even really think about the previous X films. It doesn't dismiss what happened before, but it's sure as shit not doing a "remember when?" tour like, say, Star Wars has been running into the ground. Thematics are far more important.

This movie is such a gift - would any other film in this age take a break and give us a thematically symbolic evening with family of farmers? I wanna go on for days about Eriq LaSalle's low-key brilliant performance as the man who shows Logan the life he wants, but ultimately only gets a glimpse of before he dies.

Would any other film in this genre restrain itself and refuse to show you what happened to the X-Men? We're given just enough information, and it's brilliantly left alone. Whatever horror we assumed happened in Westchester is effectively created in our heads, not on the screen. The movie just isn't about that.

Logan's heart rending burial of Professor X exemplifies the core of what this movie wants to do; the quietly sobbing man can only sputter a few words as he stands over his grave. Charles devoted his entire life to helping others, giving them everything he could to show them the world is a kind place, and all Logan can do is bury him by a nice stream and some trees. It's the best acting moment from Jackman in the best film in the genre.

As I exited the theater, my mind was awash with feelings I didn't know I had for these characters, on film and the page. The movie accomplished what it wanted. As I headed to the subway back to my hotel room, I noticed a guy in a Wolverine shirt woefully missing the point, saying "Logan's totally not dead, and Charles will be back too. Watch."

Logan is dead, and Patrick Stewart won't be back.

I feel bad that some folks can't see the forest for the trees. Things like this, miracle movies like this, they're finite.

If you want things to continue on for forever with no actual impact, pick up a Marvel comic. It'll happen for you in there. If you want to make movies that continue on for forever with no actual impact, then prepare to become stale. Let's hope studios take the advice Logan imparts - just make a fucking movie. 

By the way, while it's on my mind - stop saying Logan is just like The Last Of Us. It's not only wrong, it's fucking lazy.

Terry Erickson is a screenwriter, lifelong film fan, and all around good guy based in Baltimore, MD. He's driven across America twice, is obsessed with Back To The Future, and loves almost everybody.