Monday, March 27, 2017

Logan, Unforgiven, and Genre (Spoilerish)

So, I went to see "Logan" this weekend. If you haven't seen it yet - be aware. It seriously earns that R rating for violence, there are large needles involved, and Professor X swears. A lot.

Less than serious note aside - Logan was a very interesting movie. It did not feel in any way, shape, or form like a superhero movie. Of course, this could readily be put down to the lack of spandex (but the other Wolverine movies tended to be spandex-lite too) or the Reservoir Dogs level of graphic violence. Not that the violence was gratuitous - it was definitely an example of what Nobilis Reed likes to call "aretica" - the violence served the plot and developed the characters.

But there was a bit more to it than that. I came out of the movie thinking that it was completely unlike any other superhero movie I'd seen...

...and incredibly like the Clint Eastwood western Unforgiven.

Wait, a western?

Yes, a western. Now, I'm not saying Logan was a western, although we did briefly see some horses.

I'm saying that Logan partook of certain tonal and feel elements, including in cinematography, that made it feel like a western.

This was likely deliberate. The movie explicitly referenced a 1953 western named Shane. I have not seen this movie, but it's considered a classic of the genre. In fact, we even see footage from the movie, and it is directly quoted.

And when I look up Shane, well, let's see. The themes are similar - the drifter who takes in the kid (in this case, the kid is Logan's - Laura/X-23 is his clone in the comics but his daughter here, illicitly created from stolen DNA).

In other words, Logan is a homage to Shane - and the fact that it reminded me of Unforgiven says they got it right.

So, what does this say about genre? It says something quite interesting. I've always argued there are genres of setting (e.g. science fiction) and genres of mood (e.g. horror).

But aren't superheroes and westerns both genres of setting? I came to the realization that both are in fact hybrid genres, because they are both. We have certain expectations of tone and feel in a superhero movie or show, epitomized most recently by The Flash on CW. We expect spandex. We expect killing to be relatively rare, and agonized over when it must happen.

And we have expectations of tone and feel in a western. We expect high levels of violence, we expect lone gunslingers, we expect outlaws and loners.

Logan took the setting of a superhero movie and blended it, expertly, with the mood of a western. This is not the same as, say, Caves of Steel - because we have no expectations of tone and feel in science fiction, so putting a police procedural in a science fiction setting is layering a genre of mood over a genre of setting.

Logan takes two hybrid genres - two genres where we expect both setting and mood - and blends them. And I think this is something to think about if you want to break new ground.