We’ve heard this for a while: we’re living in a Golden Age of superhero movies. In the minds of some jaded moviegoers, however, we live in an age of oversaturation of the genre. As great as the Marvel Studios movies are, there is little denying that most of them come across as pretty samey. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the grand scheme of things, audiences usually want more of the same with slight differences, and Marvel Studios has been pretty great on delivering on this expectation.
That being said, I don’t want to downplay the steps Marvel Studios has taken to ensure the longevity of the genre. Yes, their films tend to be quite similar at their core in structure, tone, and overall feel (with some exceptions), but they’ve spread them out over various genres to make them a bit more different than your standard superhero flick. On the whole, they’re the same engine, but different exterior. Let me be clear: this is not a slight against them in any way. Abrupt changes in style would not be a way to establish a strong brand. But if you give it time (as Marvel has), you can make changes little by little, and before we know it, we have a completely different model of car. Just take a look at Iron Man and compare it to Captain America: Civil War, and it becomes clear that we’re a completely different style of storytelling right now.
But at the end of the day, they’re still superhero films. They’re generally big, have lots of explosions, and random cameos here and there. Let me go back and emphasize the word "big." Almost without fail, these films are larger than life.
The X-Men series have been particularly offensive on this front. With the exception of The Wolverine, pretty much each of their films have ended under world-altering circumstances. In addition, each of their films is packed almost to the brim with mutants left and right. Few of these mutants get more than a moment to show off their skills before fading into the background. Again, like Marvel, this is not a slight against Fox. While not all their films are successes, I’d say they’ve hit the mark more often than they missed in terms of creating quality films.
My point is, all of these films are big. Even the Marvel films with smaller stakes have pretty big ones (Ant-Man’s villain had to the potential to change the face of military technology). As fun and personal things get, at the end of the day, the world tends to be in danger.
With the release of the first trailer for Fox’s next Wolverine film, Logan, there seems to be a bit of a shift.
Set to the dulcet tones of Johnny Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails song, “Hurt,” Logan's trailer has more in common with the recent Hell or High Water than it does with the most recent Fox superhero flick, X-Men: Apocalypse. This film is set in a world where mutants are all but gone. Logan and Charles Xavier are alone — the last of a dying breed. Then, they come across this little girl mutant who, from what we can tell, needs protection from some pretty bad men.
Given the flick’s R-rating, we’re sure to get some violence throughout, but I can’t get over how impossibly fresh of a tone it has. The stakes (for the time being) feel incredibly personal, and while the story’s outcome may have world-altering stakes when you look at it (perhaps affecting the future of mutant-kind), I can’t help but feel this is the first step in a potentially new direction for a superhero movie.
As Marvel Studios has proven, they’ve been able to spread out the superhero film into multiple genres, but have been unwilling to go “indie” on us. From what I've seen of Logan, Fox is taking a real risk here, delving into an indie-like film with their most profitable character — Wolverine. With this in mind, I’m beyond anxious to see where this leads.
While the exponential increase in the scope of these superhero films on some levels, it does seem to both close the door on creativity and increase the financial risk with each passing year. Give it a few years, and I worry that each studio will be dependent on the next $300 million picture.
This year’s Deadpool seem to be the first wakeup call that not every superhero movie needs the $100 million+ in order to get an audience, and while Logan has a hefty price tag of $127 million, I still maintain its approach is creatively unique in the current space. This could be the second superhero film to prove that not every film needs a million characters and explosions. These superhero movies have been inching in every which direction, and I think it’s about time they inch towards a more low-key one.
Rather than spend hundreds of millions of dollars for each movie, why not take smaller chances on characters with smaller abilities. Give me a $20 million film that follows Dazzler coming out as a mutant, and facing the social backlash over such a revelation for a pop star — films that explore the human condition while still connecting to comic book lore.
It’s a bit of a risk, for sure, but one that could help the longevity of the genre as a whole. Granted, I could be completely off. There’s a chance that the climax of Logan has a lot more flash than I initially thought, but as it stands, it looks right at home next delightfully violent and smaller films like Drive or A History of Violence.
What do you think? Do you see Logan as the potential to help the superhero film genre expand into a different direction? Let us know your thoughts down below! And if you've yet to see the Logan trailer, what're you doing with your life?