Logan Lucky: How Interactions Between Genres Led to an Oscar Nomination for James Mangold’s Superhero Film

In this video essay, Evan Puschak of Nerdwriter seeks to examine the many different ways by which genre conventions can be examined, as well as how Logan fits in to these categories.

The first example of genre deconstruction that he examines is burlesque, a ridiculous parody of genre convention. Examples of burlesque include the comedies of Mel Brooks as well as more serious films, such as True Grit, which uses examples of comedy to make us realize the ridiculousness of idealized genre tropes—even something as simple as a cowboy leaping up on to a horse with ease. The next type of film that Puschak examines is that of the nostalgic film, which looks upon genre with reverence—though it should always be trying to do something fresh and new. Both L.A. Confidential and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang are examples that Puschak uses to highlight how nostalgic cinema should balance its reverence with the ability to take established storytelling points and use them in a new and unique manner.

From this point, the video delves even deeper to examine demythologization. With Chinatown and No Country for Old Men as the primary point of emphasis, Puschak examines the type of film where genre informs a certain type of story with certain audience expectation that the film instead does not deliver upon. These two films disregard their protagonists’ quest for understanding, instead seeking to show that the ‘righteous hero’ does not have all the answers and cannot always succeed in the way that he hopes to. The last point of transformation is the type of film that seeks not only to demythologize but also to reaffirm the myth, to show just why it is that we need this ‘myth’ to exist. Previous super hero movies have done this, such as The Dark Knight, in which the primary message is that true heroism is a lie that we tell ourselves until it becomes a universal truth.

Hugh Jackman in Logan. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

With Logan, however, it’s not so clear which of these categories it aligns itself with—there are elements of all. The success of Logan, and the reason that it scored a generally genre-averse Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, is that it draws across genres to provide a fresh perspective in which we can examine the superhero film. Mangold’s film is primarily inspired by the western genre—highlighted by the usage of a scene from Shane that he directly shows as well as numerous other parallels to the plot and structure of Shane. Mangold even directly references an encounter with a kind family in Shane; only, in his film, the family is brutally slaughtered by a clone of Logan. This is both a deconstruction of what Shane is doing as a western and a reaffirmation of the ultimate point of that film—that violence “complicates heroics” and that there is “no living with the killing.”

In this way, Logan allows itself to reckon with violence in a way that no other superhero movie really has—by working to construct its own story by deconstructing a larger one. Mangold examines the bruised psyche of someone whose only source of life is in his ability to take someone else’s. Every superhero film revels in this type of violence, albeit each one does so in its own neutered way, only able to show as much as a PG-13 rating will allow. The violence in Logan deconstructs the method by which genre tends to avoid the complicating factors behind ‘fantasy.’ The dogma that each superhero lives by crumbles when confronted with the truth of the world. This is an idea very much at home in the western, an idea that Sam Peckinpah has sunk his teeth in to many times—that the code the ‘west’ lives by is fallible and flimsy. It is even an idea that Christopher Nolan examined in The Dark Knight, where the Joker attempts to make the Caped Crusader break his one rule. With Logan, however, the difference is that the pain behind the violence is palpable, making the film more Peckinpah than Nolan. The central focus of the film is a life wasted; a life spent meaninglessly going through the same motions that populate every superhero film. Logan himself has reached the end point, the point at which every piece of superhero heroics rings hollow without the weight of meaning behind it.

Hugh Jackman in Logan. Photo Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Puschak ends his video by looking at the final sequences of Logan, where the film seemingly gives in to the trappings of its primary genre. The climactic rampage of superhero heroics that Jackman’s Logan indulges himself in is the moment at which the film “reaffirms the myth even after exposing it.” It is a moment that may be disappointing to some viewers but it is the point at which writers Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green attempt to engage in conversation with both themselves and the audience that they are writing for. They seems to know that a superhero movie cannot, by its very nature, “demythologize” the superhero myth. Logan, instead, opens itself up to a dialogue, a conversation about the ideas that we hold close and seeks to find a way to reckon with them without casting them aside.

Logan joins many of its fellow Oscar nominees in its interrogation of genre and its constant willingness to subvert what we expect. The Shape of Water is another notable example of this, taking the classic trope of the hapless lovelorn monster, such as King Kong or The Creature from the Black Lagoon and flipping this on its head. Del Toro’s film is more concerned with a more in-depth relationship, one in which both parties are willing—a romance. Get Out pushes back against, among many social issues, one of the most egregious horror clichés—that the black character dies first. In Jordan Peele’s acclaimed horror film, the African-American experience in all of media is filtered through a singular horror film, one in which we follow an African-American character through the ringer and out the other side, defying our expectations every step of the way. Even films like Lady Bird and Phantom Thread deconstruct the recognizable clichés of their respective protagonists—the teenage girl coming of age and the tortured artist.

Logan is representative of a 2017 where we are no longer satisfied with the stories that we love. We need more. More stories, different perspectives on the stories we love, more representation and more meaning. The heroics at the end of Logan, the affirmation of the idea of heroism, would be meaningless without the full-bodied deconstruction of genre that came before it. MM

1 Comment

  1. Jamie

    March 4, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    If Logan had not been so closely identified as a genre film rather than as a stand alone feature, it would have gotten both picture and actor nominations. It will hold up as a movie to watch a decade from now which will probably not be said about whatever does actually win tonight.

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