The Surprise Hits That Are Changing a Genre

The Surprise Hits That Are Changing a Genre

Logan and Wonder Woman are surprisingly well-received - so how is that going to affect superhero movies?

Warner Brothers/DC Comics

The superhero/comic book genre in film is probably the biggest money-maker for Hollywood right now. With huge successes like The Avengers, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man, and television programs such as The Walking Dead, it's not going anywhere. However, due to the several films released a year, the genre is running the very high risk of becoming stale. So far, 2017 has seen the release of three major movies – Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and Wonder Woman, with three more (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Justice League) by the end of the year. Of the three so far, Logan and Wonder Woman have almost changed the game entirely. One uses a combination of the superhero and Western genres to create a realistic, solemn film, the other focuses on a female hero while never making it “a big deal.” So with that in mind, what is going to keep the genre alive?

Logan takes the iconic Wolverine character, who had not seen a lot of success in his solo films, and gives us something we haven't seen much of in this kind of film – character development like an early 1970s drama. Hugh Jackman, the actor behind the adamantium claws for seventeen years, made this film his last, and made sure the film would be properly made, taking a pay cut to guarantee an R-rating. Now, even though Logan is R-rated, it isn't not good because they are given an “adult rating.” Logan is good because it doesn't do what many of these films do and simply a hack-and-slash action movie. One of the defining moments in the film is the scene in which Logan, Professor Xavier, and Laura sit down to have dinner with a family they met on the road. There is no mention of past adventures, no bad “Wolverine's claws come out when they aren't supposed to” joke, nor is there any trait of the superhero genre beyond the mutants at the table. It also does not use the name “Wolverine” in the title, contrasting with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and The Wolverine. He is no longer an X-Men member, he is a shadow of his former self – something we haven't seen in such a way in a superhero film. The story is small, the action contained, and only one explosion occurs in the entire film. It is the antithesis of the modern blockbuster – a story of an old man who just wants to get away from the action and violence.

The semi-opposite would be the first film this year released by DC Comics. Wonder Woman is the first modern (read: post-Iron Man) superhero movie to have a female lead, and after the box office and long-time audience reaction to the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, was a massive gamble. However, unlike Ghostbusters, Wonder Woman is not a movie about a perfect, do-no-wrong woman and a crew of bumbling male sidekicks. Instead, the male characters, such as Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), are major aspects in their own right – they're for the most part soldiers, who know what World War I is like from their own experiences. This makes a contrast with Wonder Woman herself, who is unaware of the true horrors of war, but is still willing to walk across No Man's Land to save the people of a local village – which itself has some metaphor, as while none of the soldiers on either side will cross, Wonder Woman will. Despite this one major moment, much of the movie portrays her team as highly-skilled operatives, just as capable as the hero is. What this signals is a minority-led film (the title character is portrayed by Israeli actress Gal Gadot) that doesn't make the lead a token minority, and makes the supporting cast just as well-developed as she is.

So beyond making their individual films good, what do these two mean in the grand scheme of things when it comes to superhero movies? First off, the critical and audience reception shows that people want to see new things and experimentation within the tried and true genre, breaking away from the cut-and-paste formula. Scenes like the previously mentioned dinner scene and No Man's Land scenes are already being hailed as some of the best in the genre – a collection that includes the iconic “I've got you, miss”/ “You've got me...who's got you?!” and “Can You Read My Mind” scenes from Superman: The Movie all the way back in 1978. Logan does not use the name of the hero, and uses the freedom of its R-rating to, as stated above, portray a man at the end of the rope, and Wonder Woman is both an inspiring story and shows the entire cast as strong – giving everybody something to like. Compare that to what was also considered a game changer, Deadpool. That film really just uses the same old formula of comic book movies, but with a lot of dirty jokes and a lack of a fourth wall. And while that does work for that single film, in the long-run, that will grow tiresome and leaves no room to try something new and different – which is exactly what Logan did. Wonder Woman is also the most well-received of the DCEU movies, and many are already suggesting making that film the standard to which DC must work to. Maybe it was because of the unfamiliar territory they were getting into, or maybe they finally learned. Either way, the same can be said for Logan. Guess the two companies aren't that different after all.

But there is a limit of course. If the genre goes too far away from some form, then it starts to lose the aspects that originally brought people into the theaters. Things like well-made action scenes, character work, heroes doing what they do best, a cast giving their all – those are what makes the genre work. When that all is accomplished, then they can try something new. Go too far, and you get Amazing Spider-Man 2. Do it just right, and you get Captain America: Civil War. There is plenty of room to move around and try a different approach, as there is in the comics themselves. As we've seen so far with the two surprise hits, as long as the happy medium can be found, then we're in for a new age of superhero movies. Maybe that will be how they'll save themselves following the already hyped Avengers: Infinity War. Change and different takes are great, it just depends on how they handle said take.

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