Warning: MAJOR spoilers ahead for Logan. Don't read any further if you have not seen Hugh Jackman's final outing as Wolverine yet.
James Mangold's Logan does so many things right that it is honestly difficult to figure out where to begin a discussion about the film's merits. Hugh Jackman's last Wolverine adventure has already achieved massive critical and commercial acclaim, and many are hailing it as one of the best comic book movies of all time. One of the most obvious reasons for Logan's success is the fact that the R rating does away with many of the traps that previously tripped up this character. The more severe MPAA rating has sharpened the anti-hero's previously dull edges, and now it has become increasingly clear that an R-rating is exactly what Wolverine, and the superhero movie genre, needs to prevent fatigue from setting in.
Logan owes lots of debt to the success of 20th Century Fox's last R-rated X-Men adventure. Deadpool hit theaters like a freight train last year, and it got the ball rolling with regards to whether or not R-rated superhero movies can be viable in the long run. That film has gone on to become the highest-grossing R-rated comic book movie of all time, and it seems to have paved a road that Logan is now traveling.
From the very beginning, almost as soon as Logan (or Wolverine 3, as it was initially called) was announced, fans wanted an R-rating. This is because Wolverine is a character whose basic persona lends itself to a very gritty and raw characterization on film. He has knives that pop out of his knuckles, he swears like a sailor, and any wounds he suffers during his vicious battles will instantly heal in gruesome fashion. Make no mistake, fans had loved just about every single one of Hugh Jackman's PG-13 Wolverine performances (even when the quality of the movies wavered), but they have also wanted to see an entirely R-rated Berserker Wolverine since the very first X-Men hit theaters all the way back in 2000. We finally saw a genuinely vulnerable and authentic version of this silver screen icon (culminating in the character's heart-wrenching death), and it has become one of the most satisfying payoffs in the history of the comic book movie genre. The R-rated, uninhibited approach to the storytelling played a significant role in that.
However, for all of the good that Deadpool did when it hit theaters last year, it is Logan that has solidified the viability of the R-rated superhero movie. Deadpool's unique nature and fourth wall breaking style have a very specific niche, and a very easy argument can be made that it is unique from most other superhero movies for that very reason. By contrast, despite all of the ways in which Logan breaks from typical conventions of the X-Men franchise, it still feels like a more traditional comic book movie than Deadpool -- albeit darker and more dangerous. If nothing else, it proves that we can replicate this formula.
Oddly enough, it honestly seemed like an R-rated comic book movie would've been more feasible over a decade ago when movies like The Punisher and various installments in the Blade series hit theaters. At that point, the comic book genre had not yet truly come into its own, and R-rated comic book movies were still being produced on relatively small budgets to yield respectable (but not blockbuster) box office returns.
Then movies like Iron Man and The Dark Knight happened. The comic book movie genre became a billion dollar industry, and every studio started churning out PG-13 blockbusters that cast the widest possible net -- regardless of whether or not these properties were actually appropriately suited for the PG-13 treatment. The result of this shift? Movies like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which neutered the titular mutant with CGI claws, and quite literally sewed Deadpool's mouth shut. Now that Logan and Deadpool have proven themselves as legitimate successes with mainstream audiences, let's hope that studios start to catch on to this trend of fidelity to the source material over a widespread appeal.
Does this mean that all comic book movies should embrace the R-rating going forward? Of course not. Captain America: Civil War was a phenomenal PG-13 movie, and it did not need more than that to resonate with audiences. It was a grand spectacle, and it captured the tone of Mark Millar's source material while adhering to everything that we have come to expect from a real Marvel story.
However, it is worth acknowledging the fact that limiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe's more mature stories involving characters like Jessica Jones and The Punisher to the Netflix properties might not be feasible in the long run. If Marvel Studios wants to embrace the idea of a cohesive cinematic universe, then they might need to finally come around to the idea that some of these Marvel characters (even the ones popular enough to receive movies) are more ideally suited for more adult-oriented stories. What good does it do to have Spider-Man and Kingpin in the same universe if they are never going to cross paths with one another in any meaningful way?
To make a long story short: future comic book movies need to take a cue from Logan. They need to combine prevalent and popular mainstream superheroes with the relatively low-budget approach used on earlier comic book films like The Punisher and Sin City-- which were both cheap by comparison to modern blockbusters. This change will lead to more creative freedom with well-worn characters from the DCEU, Marvel Cinematic Universe, and X-Men universe, and foster more innovation in a genre that could use it right now. People regularly talk about the fear of "superhero fatigue" setting in and derailing the entire genre. I do not know if that will ever actually happen, but it seems far more likely a possibility when studios will not commit to embracing one of the most common and useful MPAA ratings in existence.
What do you think? Do we need more R-rated superhero movies, or do you think movies like Logan and Deadpool are unique in this regard? Let us know what you think in the comments section below to keep this conversation going!
Logan is currently in theaters, so make sure to check it out while you can!