Rated R

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That’s a question a lot of articles seem to be framing as an answer – Logan couldn’t have happened without Deadpool.

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I see the argument. Deadpool reminded Fox there’s a potentially money-spinningly large audience out there for mature superhero fare.

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I understand that the risk Deadpool took, positing R-rated material into the popular sub-genre of the superhero comic book movie, was considered a modern, box office worthy “first” for a major studio (though it wasn’t really as, conveniently, everyone seems to be forgetting 2010’s Kick-Ass or, in less superhero but no less comic book terms, 2005’s Sin City) but its fourth-wall breaking, comic nature creates a very different R-rated atmosphere than the one you see in Logan.

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No one expects the family friendly Marvel Studios to ever go R-rated, but Fox aren’t so stymied by a tightly knit interconnected continuity with a certain sort of tone. Deadpool’s knowing violence, comic content and meta format necessitated an R-rating and wouldn’t have worked as anything but an R-rated movie; Logan doesn’t feature any of those things, but wouldn’t have worked as anything but an R-rated movie, either. Perhaps by excising the brutal, grim (entirely non-comic) violence, it may have dropped down a rating, but the violence is something emblematic of Logan/Wolverine – it’s something that this movie gets organically right for the first, and likely the last, time.

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I think that goes for any of the mutant characters in any of the X-Men films – the logical progression of the abilities of a damaged, disgruntled character with immense strength, a healing factor and sharp claws made of the toughest metal in existence leads to a far more violent and outcast individual — not to mention more emotionally complex — than any of the X series have managed to portray or properly explore before Logan.

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You just can’t have a hero, no matter how grumpy and disaffected, decapitating and disembowelling in a 12A or PG-13. Neither can you focus on their legion of issues when you’ve got twelve other characters to stage manage screen time.

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And that’s the sort of thing I mean – the fictional “reality” of mutant abilities, controlled by oppressed, angry, retaliatory people trying to defend themselves, should be R-rated material. It’s the ultimate visual expression of a “bad” character’s comeuppance.

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Not that the extreme violence is ultimately necessary — especially not in the context of a main continuity X-Men film — nor the thing that means Logan is a triumph demanding of an R-rating. It just needs to be said that previous appearances don’t really ready you for the sheer brutality finally unleashed in Logan – indeed, I was initially taken aback, despite it being the obvious way for Logan to appear.

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I don’t mean just the constant “bad” language — again, finally serving the character properly; Logan wouldn’t say “damn!” he would say “fuck!” — but the actual story being told. One of the reasons the violence seems so brutal and the dialogue so harsh is because this is a story world that is brutal and harsh; the trappings of violence and dialogue are symptomatic of the recognisable, agreeably non-dystopian world of 2029, barely removed from our own, that appears as a personal dystopia for Logan, Caliban and Charles.

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Or, at the very least, the futility of hope and how, even when you don’t personally believe in its permanence, you can still manage to facilitate hope in others.

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While it doesn’t go so far as to disprove Charles Xavier’s lifelong belief in the goodness of humanity and hope for the future, it goes a fairly long way to justifying Logan’s resistance to it and the perspective he has from having lived an overlong life. It isn’t hope that he fights for or that he is happy to walk away from; it is the right thing that he fights for, it’s to protect the ones he cares about and maintain their hope.

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Is it Charles Xavier, the man who saved him from a life of self-destruction, or is it an increasingly unstable weapon of mass destruction that Logan cares about? That’s a beautifully unresolved conflict at the heart of the film and the heart of the man – he won’t leave Charles behind, he won’t have him not take his medicine, but is that to keep Charles safe…or to keep everyone else safe?

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It’s in the same bracket as Logan’s reasoning for continuing his journey with Laura, even though he refuses to believe in the destination; his tolerance of Caliban as one of his last fellow mutants, but one known for being treacherous; his refusal to get help for what is ailing him as he simultaneously pushes towards and runs away from his own mortality.

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It’s wonderful to not have answers. Because it isn’t really about the answers – Logan has never had answers to his problems and has rarely had satisfying resolution…it’s always about his journey to find those things. It’s about finding the right thing in doing the wrong thing, the gut instinct and the selflessness amongst the selfishness. The world Logan now inhabits is one that doesn’t need him and one he doesn’t want to be a part of – the Sunseeker referenced several times as the personal endgame is indicative of that, and his quixotic duty to Xavier and his uncertain approach to Caliban, not to mention his intolerance of the fiction he’s convinced Laura is chasing.

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The burdens Logan carries, that he resents and shoulders in equal measure, are heartbreaking. His reluctant endeavours as a father figure are touching in their ineffectiveness and tellingly sad at the same time. This may be the last chapter in a hero’s too long life, but the things that have dogged Logan throughout his life continue to dog him towards the end of it: the evil science, the persecution, the violence, the ideologies…and, at the end of it all, living with the terrible things you do to make the world a better place…or just to do the right thing.

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That’s why it’s an R-rated film. That’s why it’s grim. And that’s one of the concerns I have: that articles wistfully hoping for more adult fare and studios latching onto the idea that R-rated superhero movies work at the box office will lead to stacked, laborious, empty, violent, gratuitous episodes that lack the emotional core of films like Logan; that lack the wit and commentary of movies like Deadpool. Like any movie, the material demands what the film should be, and it’s the inherently adult concerns and freedom from its larger universe at the heart of Logan and its central character that make it an R-rated movie.

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That is the potentially exciting thing about a passion for R-rated comic book movies working out there in the mainstream – that some of the adaptations waiting in the wings won’t have to be neutered. Their potential can be fully explored and they can be their own thing. If you like, Deadpool maybe changed the perception of the R-rated risk. Fox utterly fumbled the Deadpool ball with X-Men Origins: Wolverine and paid the price for that – they had to get the character right the next time. They had the same problem in the same film, though to a lesser extent, with Logan/Wolverine himself…hence the strikingly different Wolverine. 

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They had to do justice to the material the next time they did it properly; the same with Hugh Jackman’s last appearance as Logan/Wolverine – the third and final film was the last chance to bring him out of himself properly. It had to do him justice.

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If you appreciate some R-rated writing, follow The Onslaught or, perhaps more likely R-rated, follow me on Twitter. You won’t regret either of those things. Live your life with no regrets. Like Logan. That ended really well for him.

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