Breaking Macho: What ‘Logan’ And ‘Lego Batman’ Have In Common
Earlier this month, X-Men fans were treated to Logan, a Wolverine movie … without Wolverine. A sort of adaptation of the comic Old Man Logan (although more in tone than plot), the movie imagines a future where mutants are nearly all dead, and a barely hanging on Logan is low-key doing chauffeur work to take care of a decrepit Charles Xavier. When some bad guys go after a young girl named Laura suddenly in Logan’s care, the ex X-Man takes a road trip to get her to safety --- while killing a lot of people who get in their way.’
While some are comparing Logan to Deadpool, the other R-rated film starring a Marvel hero from the past year, we should be looking at its similarities to another superhero film from 2017 instead; The Lego Batman Movie.
Because it’s kind of ridiculous how much The Lego Batman Movie and Logan have in common. With a disclaimer that spoilers for both movies are to follow, let’s go over the details:
- A lonely man with incredible skills is scarred by a past tragedy that’s referred to but never seen on screen.
- The lonely man has an elderly (and British) father figure who wants to push our protagonist to action and find hope again.
- The man is asked to take in an orphan, but the lonely man is strictly against it.
- The elderly British father figure wants the man to take care of his new kid.
- It turns out the lonely man and the kid have more in common than he thought.
- After bonding with the kid, the man chooses to leave said kid --- he thinks it’s too dangerous, and the kid is better off without him.
- The man goes back when he realizes his kid is still in danger.
- The man makes the choice to sacrifice himself to protect his kid.
- The man tells his kid that everything will be okay, and they need to go on and be great without him (although Batman ultimately gets saved, while Logan … not so much).
What do these parallels say about the films? Remember, Wolverine and Batman are major characters for the Big Two, both of whom have been pushed over the years --- in official media and fandom alike --- towards ridiculous levels of hyper-machismo. They are overexposed, and written too often to be stereotypically badass. And ultimately, the spark of greatness for both Logan and The Lego Batman Movie is how the movies deconstruct masculine superhero icons.
Yes, the Lego version of Batman still kicks butt. He’s beloved by the citizens of Gotham as the coolest guy; but he’s also secretly miserable and self-conscious. Meanwhile, Logan is barely holding on, emotionally and physically. Yes, he can still stab people with his metal claws, but every fight takes all his energy before he has to limp away. When he first encounters the sinister Donald Pierce, who casually threatens Xavier, Logan panics.
Both movies push back against the hyper macho power fantasy that comics have leaned into for decades. For all their cultural badassness, the audience is supposed to pity the heroes in these stories.
It’s only when Robin and Laura come into their respective lives that these heroes start to feel normal again, and like they could have a family again. The audience gets to see these two very macho figures be vulnerable and care about the people around them. The lesson is that letting yourself care about people is okay, and forcing yourself to be alone doesn’t make you strong.
There’s been talk about what Logan’s success means for superhero movies. After all, if fans liked this comic book movie full of face stabbing and swearing, the clear answer is to just make lots and lots of "rated R" superhero movies, right?
But that’s missing the point. There are plenty of terrible R-rated action movies whose violence and gore try to mask the lack of interesting story or characters. The violence and brutality only works for Logan because it has the substance to back it up.
I’d much rather movie studios choose the right tone for that particular movie than try to force every superhero movie into a grim and gruesome box. The Lego Batman Movie and Logan take vastly different directions in telling remarkably similar stories. But neither movie’s tone is invalid, and I hope that studios realize that what these two movies have in common says a lot about what audiences want to see in superhero movies.
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