3/4: Logan, Shane, And The Dubious Future Of The Superhero Western

This morning, I went and saw a matinee screening of James Mangold's Logan. Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews, I could go either way on this particular film. On the one hand, it is an incredible moment for the immensely talented writers to liberate the largely PG-13 characters of Wolverine and Professor X in new and exciting ways, and Jackman in particular shines like he hasn't since The Fountain. On the other hand, Marvel is trying so hard to infiltrate yet another genre that it is almost comedic, and I'm not sure what I think of that.

Remember the old times, when Marvel only made superhero movies? I consider the start of the modern era 2008's Iron Man, but for a great many years, the comics company only portrayed strange men and women in tights who faced serious life crises that stacked on top of one another. And yet, over and over, protagonists lived on undamaged and invincible because they all had contracts that demanded it, emerging unchanged at the end of the journey except that now they had powers. Stories began, heroes used powers, villains were defeated.

Around the start of 2016, people started vocally registering that they were sick of the Marvel model, but it took until the release of Deadpool later that year to really lay the groundwork for what a different, Hard R superhero movie could be. Because it was such a radical twist on the superhero genre, it garnered critical respect, yachts full of money, and even a few awards. It was a turning point, a mark that Marvel's superbrand could succeed pretty much however it was used.

In this light, Logan seems like an experiment: can Marvel make a Western?

When you think "Western," what do you think of? Likely, an image of a cowboy in a bustling frontier town filled with gunslingers popped into your head. However, the film that Logan chose to base itself on is not one glorifying the West, but a glorification of its end. Shane is the perfect film to describe Wolverine, seeing as it is more about a homesteader failing to hang up his guns than it is a glorification of that nomadic, violent lifestyle. Like many post-modern Westerns, both Logan and Shane are about men who desperately want to die quietly in their beds and are prevented from doing this by their own abilities. I will admit that it is done remarkably well and I am surprised that Marvel let such an iconic character go in such a cathartic way.

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I would love to dive deeper into Logan's similarities with Western characters, specifically the tropic Man With No Name, but I would rather spend my energy raising this one question: now that Marvel is capable of making Westerns with their characters, where will they go next? Action, Comedy, and Drama are now fully dominated by superheroes, and I am frankly frightened to see what comes next.

Unless it means Spider-Man in a musical. Cause that would be really fun.