Logan is the latest X-Men film or, if you prefer, the latest film in the X-Men universe. Whilst watching, I mused on the differences between what has happened in that universe in comparison to the Marvel cinematic universe and what DC are attempting to do with their own. But this isn’t a dissection of comic book and movie universes. Instead, Fox’s approach to the X-Men franchise brought home a larger truth about the real world.
Within comic book and movie audiences and their critics, the general consensus is that Marvel have pulled off something rather special over the last ten to fifteen years. It has created a ‘Universe’ where every film exists in the same space, where actions in one movie or TV show can potentially dramatically affect the stories of others.
This is a reflection of the wider, mainstream acceptance of what was once ‘geek culture’. Not only did ‘geek’ become a mainstream term but those trad-geeks found themselves with the top jobs in various creative industries. In many ways, this is a huge positive as it produces deeper and more complex storytelling with a greater understanding of the source material. At least, in theory.
A natural progression was this idea of a shared universe. As you push more towards the extremities of the ‘geek’ mindset, we enter the world of plotholes, inconsistencies and a need for everything to make sense within the internal logic of the film or show. The pleasure is in all the pieces fitting together perfectly.
But as I watched Logan I realised the inconsistent universe in which the X-Men exist makes more sense to me, because our world is completely inconsistent. For those unaware of the X-Men films, the first three films followed a set narrative but since then various prequels and origins have directly contradicted that. Is the old Logan / Wolverine character I am seeing in this film the same one that was in X-Men 1 (they reference it, so I guess so)? Does he remember going back in time in Days Of Future Past? Does this Professor X remember being disintegrated by the Dark Phoenix Jean Grey in X-Men: Last Stand?
Of course, it doesn’t matter, though many will enjoy figuring it out. But over in the Marvel Universe, those things would rip the universe apart. It HAS to all fit. And I think that need stems from a deep search for truth and meaning in the world, but one that is ultimately not there.
At least ten years ago, I had an idea for a Theatre / Comedy show. I didn’t pursue it because it wasn’t very dramatic and there were no jokes. But the concept was of a standup comedian who instead of touring geographically, he tours inter-dimensionally. So, every night he plays the same venue, the same stage, but in a parallel universe.
And the start of the show is him trying to figure out roughly which type of universe he is in. This begins with him asking the audience whether certain well known people are alive. At the time I had this feeling that it was getting harder to remember which celebrities were alive or not. Of course, here in 2017, it’s now even harder.
But it would have been chance to play around a little. Some tricky to know names like Des Lynam, Sue Cook, Neil Buchanan, people like that. Then there could be names the audience have never heard of or wouldn’t expect. Ten years ago it could have been ‘President Trump’ which of course would have been a ridiculous thought.
The point of this was partly how memory, recognition, perception mold our interpretation of our situation and how small differences can have far reaching effect. But also how difficult it is to keep track of what is going on in the world, and that there isn’t a defined narrative. We’re all at the mercy of larger forces outside our control.
Some of the best comic book stories featuring characters that have never been more popular will never see the light as films because they don’t fit the over-arcing narrative. Comic books relish in these alternate stories; one of the best ever is Superman: Red Son which sees Superman’s spacecraft land in Soviet Russia as opposed to Kansas. Compliance to the narrative timeline has the highest priority.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like my life has an over-arcing narrative. I don’t feel that my community or society has a long term goal, I don’t feel humanity is striving in a particular direction. I feel I flit from universe to universe. Brexit felt like a leap. Brexit felt like an unrealistic development for my particular story. But that’s just my perspective. From Soap Operas to Videogames, we seek a sense of narrative and commitment in our lives, albeit artificial.
Logan felt right because it had a finality to it. It is of course partly because it was the final time High Jackman and Patrick Stewart would be playing those roles, so they had the luxury of being able to tell that story. I think what Marvel have achieved is fantastic and DC’s attempts to do something similar but much quicker has ended up the equivalent of microwaving a meal rather than slow cooking it. It’s really quite embarassing and they may have been wiser to just pick some great Batman and Superman one-off stories and film those. Why not? Well, there’s big money in an audience committed to not just a character, but a whole universe.
I am interested to see how Marvel handles the inevitable departure of Robert Downey Jr. I strongly expect Iron Man to sacrifice himself during Infinity Wars 2 (or part 1 if they’ve really got some balls). They’ve earnt that huge pay-off. But then, within that strict universe, where next?