'Logan': Why Rated R Shouldn't Be the Future of Superhero Movies

The real lesson from projects like the third Wolverine and 'Deadpool' is to take risks and grant more creative control to filmmakers.

If the short for Deadpool 2 running ahead of Logan demonstrates anything, it's that mainstream superhero movies need to start laughing at themselves — and sooner, rather than later.

The perceived wisdom from Deadpool's success — backed up by Logan's success — is that more superhero movies should be R-rated. However, the actual lesson might be something else entirely: instead of pushing the mainstream genre toward the adult rating, why not take the freedom that comes from that rating and try to re-approach the mainstream genre with that attitude? 

It can't have escaped many people's notice that, for the most part, the mainstream of the superhero genre — Marvel's movies, Warner Bros' DC properties and Fox's core X-Men series — are essentially of one piece tonally, with the only shifts being made over the last two decades being "Can we go more downbeat?" and "What if we had the superheroes fight each other?" (Compare 2008's Iron Man to 2016's Doctor Strange to see how little Marvel's movies have evolved during that eight-year stretch; while DC's movies are still finding their feet, Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman could be described as "Marvel, but darker.")

Sure, there are outliers — Suicide Squad, for all its flaws, has a frenetic-ness that bucks the trend, and Ant-Man skirted close to trying something else for part of the movie — but, for the most part, if it's from a major studio, live action and PG-13, you know exactly what you're going to get.

That isn't true of the movies on the fringe of the superhero genre, however. Ignoring the intensity — both in terms of emotion and violence — of Logan, you can look at the success of the first Deadpool or The Lego Batman Movie as signs that the audience is ready for a new trick. And, judging by the fact that both of those movies outperformed initial expectations, audiences are on board with the idea that the new trick will turn out to be self-parody, or at least, comedy.

For some reason, though — brand protection, perhaps, or the fact that it's easy to do superhero comedy badly (Hi, My Super Ex-Girlfriend!) — making light of cinematic superheroics seems to be something that's been left on the periphery, at least for now. One look at Deadpool 2's short should be enough of a sign that that really doesn't have to be the case.

It's not just that the central joke of the short video — that changing into your costume in a phone booth is a time-consuming effort when you need all the time you can get — is an old one that's been addressed in comic books themselves previously (Superman only gets away with it because he has superspeed); it's that there is nothing outside of the language that couldn't be done in a non R-rated movie.

Unlike, say, The Lego Batman Movie, which couldn't take place inside the regular DC universe without breaking it, Deadpool minus the language (and third-wall breaking) is, essentially, a regular X-Men movie that refuses to take itself seriously. It would fit in amazingly well. So why hasn't it happened yet?

More to the point, why hasn't Marvel released a straight-up comedy yet? It's come close — with Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy — but those movies default to action movie formula before things get too close to outright comedy. It's a curious choice considering the importance of humor (or, at least, snark) to the Marvel brand.

The idea of pushing the humor up just slightly, and going with some of the company's less impressive comic book threats seems like an obvious choice at this point, yet would appear not to be happening until at least 2020 at the earliest.

If learning from the freedom the R-rating gave the creative teams behind Deadpool and Logan brings some smiles back to superheroes, all the better.