Weekend Superhero: Logan & Using an R-Rating
This past weekend saw the release of what might be the best comic book movie of the decade, Logan. A masterful blend of intense, bloody violence and heartfelt emotion, Logan defies almost everything we believe a comic book movie should be. One of the most important factors to the success of the final Wolverine film was it’s R rating – something most people credit to the success of Deadpool. Despite the fact that director James Mangold got the greenlight for an R rating before Deadpool even hit theaters, many assumed that this was a sign Fox wanted more of it’s movies to follow the template set by the Merc with the Mouth. However, Mangold did so much more than copy Deadpool; he made an actually good movie.
Allow me to expand on that a litte; I didn’t really care much for Deadpool. I know, I’m one of the very few who wasn’t won over by the charms of Ryan Reynolds. Everybody seemed to love this movie, but from an objective standpoint, I just couldn’t find myself impressed by it. Was it fun to see a bright, colorful Marvel character swear constantly and cut people to bits with swords? Of course; I’m not completely dead inside. But what did Deadpool offer behind these surface entertainments?
Did Deadpool have any really interesting characters, imbued with depth and warranting an emotional connection with the audience? Before you answer “yes: Wade”, please be advised that making quips 100% of your dialogue does not count as character depth. Did Deadpool have a particularly clever plot that caught us guessing in unexpected moments? No, it was a very basic plot that hit all the beats we were expecting. The only thing that caught us off guard was the violence and language, but those are tools to tell a story, not the story itself. Was Deadpool an impressive display of cinematography or creative vision on behalf of a director? Not really – one never got the sense that this was anything other than Ryan Reynolds’ chance to showcase his Wade Wilson character.
So honestly, what did Deadpool do with its R rating? It said some bad words and didn’t shy away from violence. Neat, but ultimately nothing more than surface entertainment. So how does Logan differ?
When a studio gives your movie an R rating, it does more than just free you up to say bad words and show some blood. It gives you the freedom to tell the story, any story, that you want to tell. The studio is basically saying that they have wiped their hands of this movie and they will not intervene in the interest of selling more Lego sets or action figures. This movie does not have to sell to kids, because kids are literally not allowed to watch it. So sure, indulge in your violence and your nudity and your bad language, but that would only be skimming the surface of what this freedom allows you.
The freedom of the R rating is to be able to tell the story that is too boring for kids. The slow, thoughtful meditation on a broken man who is terrified to let anyone close to him, learning to appreciate his “family”. That’s the movie that Mangold ended up making. Logan won’t sell to younger audiences, not just because of the cursing and blood, but because this is the least comic-booky comic book movie that’s ever been made. There are no costumes, no logos, no super cool jet fighters – just a small, personal story exploring a character, and not an extended universe concocted for money.
Now I don’t expect Deadpool to get as dark and ruminating as Logan, because the character isn’t built for that. On the other hand, that does not excuse the fact that Deadpool was made with the idea in mind that cursing and violence was enough – that that is the only thing they needed to succeed. There was no real subversion of the genre or risky choices – there was just naughty words and digital gore. Logan took a true risk – more of one than Deadpool did – by exploring such a personal topic, and it paid off because it committed fully to breaking the genre expectations. It abandoned the look, the tone, and the structure of the comic book film – and in the process created the best one in years.
That’s what happens when you use an R rating properly.