It’s been interesting to see the progression of comic book movies over the decades. Each era is marked with their own take on the mythos of the superhero, some of which hold up better than others. These days, it’s difficult to imagine why anyone would think Batman Forever or Batman and Robin were ever good ideas, but a lot has changed in the ensuing years. Comic book movies, once relegated to cinematic purgatory of niche films, have become worldwide money makers and critically acclaimed powerhouses of cinema.
A movie like Logan, for instance, is a culmination of the ever-evolving philosophy of making a comic book movie. Where once the genre was steeped in fantasy, they’ve become more grounded and real; where once they were marketed solely for kids, they’ve become films meant for mature audiences. More mature themes are being explored than ever before – Logan finds Hugh Jackman playing the titular character as a man facing his own mortality, wary of his legacy and what he’s leaving behind. It’s a stark contrast to what’s come before it, both from its own franchise and the genre as a whole. That doesn’t mean, however, it wasn’t influenced by what came before it.
In a new interview with Empire, director James Mangold discussed some of the influences other movies had on Logan. As much as we’d like to think that Logan stands on its own, Mangold revealed Richard Donner’s Superman to be a major influence on the film and how it portrayed its hero, specifically the humanizing of a superhuman:
“Richard Donner’s Superman was extremely human to me – a different tone to Logan by far, but still. Those beautifully-written scenes by Robert Benton between him and Lois Lane on the terrace, the beautiful humanity and simplicity of those scenes, and the lyrical joy of being swept in the air by a god who also happens to have a crush on [her], the contradictions in all of that are beautiful to me.”
Differences in tone aside, it’s interesting to consider how both movies work towards humanizing the superpowered. In Logan, we’re shown a side of Wolverine we haven’t seen before on film. The movie draws much of its power on the little moments, the interactions between Logan and Charles or Logan and Laura. We’re taken deeper into the hero’s psyche than we’ve even been taken before, and the movie becomes something much bigger and more meaningful than its counterparts in the genre.
This represents a sea change in the way we think about comic book movies. It used to be that it was an excuse solely for large action set pieces and special effects extravaganzas. While clearly those still exist, comic book movies are going to have to start evolving if they want to stay relevant. We can only watch major cities being destroyed so many times before it starts to get boring. That we haven’t seen much evolution since the MCU began is largely the reason why “superhero fatigue” is a fear studios have.
The lesson of Logan, and even Donner’s Superman, is that writers and directors can’t neglect character when crafting their stories. World ending danger is all well and good, but sometimes less really is more. At the end of the day, if we don’t feel the humanity of your characters, we won’t remember your movie. That’s important to consider as we move on to the next generation of comic book movies. The movie industry may have changed, but people still want to be moved by what they see on screen. Just because you’re dealing with superheroes doesn’t mean you can neglect raw emotion and themes. Without these thing, the risk of going stale is all the much higher.