Logan is the latest example of just how rapidly the landscape of superhero movies is changing.
While the sub-genre has existed for several decades, it began a rapid evolution starting with the release of the first X-Men movie in 2000. After the demise of both the Superman and Batman franchises of the 80s and 90s (caused by increasingly bad sequels), superhero films became a viable investment once again.
In subsequent years, movie studios implemented the same template for each of their super-hero films, causing some to declare the genre exhausted of its potential. That was until the next great shift came with the release of Iron Man in 2008, which kickstarted the age of “cinematic universes”.
Indeed, the idea of a shared world in which a vast number of superheroes could reside, akin to what had been done in the comics for half a century, had been considered an idea that wouldn’t be welcomed by mainstream audiences. Of course, the opposite proved to be true, and the success enjoyed by the Avengers films has led to numerous attempts by rival studios to replicathe formula.
As the genre continues its rapid evolution, the future direction of the superhero film is far from decided. A war is currently waging between three styles of comic-book adaptation: the light and fun, the dark and gritty, and the R-rated.
Indeed, after years of being married to the PG-13 rating the likes of Deadpool and Logan have made film studios open to more adult-oriented superhero films with restrictive age ratings. Vocal comic-book fans have called for more of such films, but there is resistance.
Kevin Feige, the producer of films set in the Avengers universe, has explicitly stated that entries in the so-called MCU will never be R-rated while he is in charge. T
he Marvel Studios technique of light superhero films for the whole family has been a huge financial success, but there is a growing sentiment that this formula restricts creativity and leads to formulaic offerings.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros. (who produce films based on DC Comics) find themselves at a crossroads. By far their greatest comic-book success story has been Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, which remains one of the only super-hero movies to be recognised in a major category at the Oscars.
Nolan is no longer involved in their films, but the studio has clung to his “dark and gritty” stylings in the hope they will replicate his success with critics. This hasn’t worked and claims that the upcoming Justice League is a “lighter film” suggests that they could be adopting a style more in-line with that of Marvel Studios.
But in doing so, they risk being branded derivative of the MCU and could alienate those who have advocated darker super-hero films. While the future of the genre is unclear, one thing is for certain: comic-book fans are difficult to please.