Logan: A Western Comic Book Drama

Superhero movies are extremely popular nowadays, as fans enjoy seeing their favorite comic book characters on the big screen. From Marvel to DC, we’ve come so far in bringing these heroes to life, to the extent that it has become a worldwide phenomenon. However, some people have complained that comic book films all feel the same, which results in them having superhero fatigue. James Mangold’s Logan (2017) is one of those rare examples that ultimately redefines the comic book movie genre. It truly showcases the fact that superhero flicks can also portray compelling and important themes that might heavily resonate with their audience. Wolverine has always been my favorite comic book character, because I’ve related to his pain and suffering, and especially his grief. I grew up watching the X-Men cartoon series when I was a kid, which made me a fan of Marvel from the get-go. Logan is Hugh Jackman’s final portrayal as the iconic X-Men anti-hero, Wolverine, and with this film they decided to make his concluding chapter a more gritty, grounded, and personal story. As a small town story, it actually feels like a Western drama, and the scales are a lot smaller compared to the rest of the X-Men movie franchise. The actor has played this role for 17 years, but he always wanted to do an installment that would heavily deepen the character with depth and emotion. The fact that it’s a small town story helps Logan stand out as a unique comic book film.

Logan takes place in an alternate future of the X-Men timeline where mutants have been extinct for many years. Logan/Wolverine is one of the few surviving mutants along with Charles Xavier/Professor X, who has been like a father figure to him this whole time. Logan finds out that he has a daughter named Laura, and he then goes on a journey to take her to North Dakota in order to protect her from the evil Transigen corporation that plans to kidnap and experiment on mutant children for their own sinister purposes. As the movie goes on, Logan starts to reevaluate his life and become a proper dad to Laura. Ultimately, it’s a very tragic story about someone who’s looking for redemption and realizing the importance of family.

Unlike most comic book film adaptations, Logan feels more like a Western with its setting and tone. For the most part, it’s a road trip movie that goes from one location to another, set in a rural environment. Westerns are known for representing the theme of self-discovery and purpose, which is obviously something the filmmakers wanted to depict in their screenplay for Logan. You can tell they were inspired by classic filmmaking from the 20th century while they were still in pre-production. There’s a scene where the characters are watching George Stevens’ classic Western feature Shane (1953) in their hotel room, which is one of the thematic and cinematic influences for Logan. By placing Wolverine in a Western-like setting, it allows us to see the vulnerable side of his character. He’s both a physically and emotionally damaged person who suffers from PTSD of being experimented on and treated like a weapon by the U.S. government. He eventually starts to realize the true meaning of life and humanity. After the official theatrical release, the director, James Mangold, also announced a black-and-white version of the film simply called Logan Noir, which helped amplify the gritty Western feel of the premise. Westerns are known for being small town stories, and Logan is no exception.

Superhero movies in general have stakes for their characters to overcome. In this case, much more personal and emotional stakes. By choice, Logan is a sombre and tragic tale on redemption and family in a small town setting. Comic book films are often big budget blockbusters with a ton of special effects and explosions that usually take place in large cities, such as New York and Washington. They’re undeniably fun to watch and make a lot of money for the studios, however not every director has the intention of making their comic book movies into popcorn extravaganzas. In Logan, they really toned down on the cinematic spectacle aspect that you normally see in the X-Men franchise by focusing more on storytelling and characterization. From the intro alone, it perfectly sets up the tone and atmosphere, especially with him being depicted as a weak and broken man. He’s trying to escape his painful past, which is why he has decided to live a  secluded life in a smelting plant in Mexico, after many years of losing friends and family. Now, he’s taking care of his daughter Laura and a sick Charles Xavier. Logan wants to showcase itself as a dark and devastating drama with important themes, even if it’s based on popular source material from Marvel Comics. Instead of filming in front of a green screen, like most comic book adaptations, the location shooting certainly helps develop the realistic, grounded feel of the film. Rather than a highly populated city, it’s pretty interesting that the movie takes place in locations such as New Mexico and North Dakota, which adds a lot of depth to the character of Logan. That sense of pain and suffering is present throughout because the filmmakers had the intention of exploring more of his backstory, instead of just making another typical X-Men film. His whole life has been a tragedy, and the small town setting helps evolve the smaller scales of the overall narrative.

By examining this film through the small town angle, Logan shows that not all comic book movies have to be mindless fun popcorn blockbusters. They can also tell interesting stories with compelling characters. It allows the audience to realize that the Western vibe and smaller scales of the X-Men universe add a lot to the premise. As Hugh Jackman’s final installment as the legendary antihero, Wolverine, Logan is a sad but meaningful farewell to the role that has launched his acting career. 

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