Sometimes, a movie grows to be about something else after it is released. Culture shifts, perspective moves, the audience grows to learn the intent of the artist more with future work, or hindsight vision reveals a new narrative or unseen or maybe even somehow added details. As showcased by Birth of a Nation to Wet Hot American Summer, this discovered value can make a film better or worse. Movies grow. They evolve. Usually this evolution, like any other, takes time. But this weekend, we saw one mutate.

James Mangold’s Logan is straight killing it right now, by all logical measures. Currently, the film, Hugh Jackman’s farewell to the character who was really the first 2000s-era superhero cinematic icon, holds the highest score on conglomerate film rating site Rotten Tomatoes for any superhero movie since The Dark Knight. It also brought in a whopping 238 million on worldwide box office. More importantly, almost everyone likes it.

But, somehow, it isn’t without scrutiny.

I do not care if someone dislikes Logan. I’m not one to attack the work of other critics. I don’t even like fighting fans of films that I dislike (I will vehemently defend those films which I do like, because that’s the game, kids). In fact, we’ve done our best to shape the culture here at Audiences Everywhere so that every piece we write and publish attempts to celebrate the cinematic subject, or at least meet it on its own terms. We have emboldened this ambition in our internal mission statement:

When We Talk Movies, we seek a conversation that showcases the passion, intelligence, and celebration that the cinematic art form deserves from us.

So, normally, I would stay out of any conversation that required me to directly name another writer. But, there’s a vein of film writing, most prominently bulging in the muscles of the superhero film industry, circulating a poisoned bloodstream. These particular writers don’t serve movies. At least not in the way that movies deserve to be served, the way, in their best eras, movies are celebrated.

I tend to stay out of conflicts and quarrels and I sidestep negativity wherever I can, unless it’s in artistic disservice to film and at war with its audience’s joy.

The following discussion is in regards to both offenses, and luckily, I’m fighting in step with Logan and James Mangold here, so I feel pretty good.

On the night of the film’s release, Mangold took to using harsh terms  to correct Erick Weber, who was asking audiences to notice Hugh Jackman’s hair in a particular scene, in an effort to confirm his earlier reporting, I guess (I don’t know. I don’t read this garbage).

Then, he corrected Umberto Gonzales for doing much of the same, using a presidential impersonation:

Ultimately, Mangold followed up with this wonderful Tweet storm explanation:

 

It’s fitting that Logan, a movie that excels by adopting new narrative tools and employing untested superhero aesthetics, is now proving to be as resilient as its titular hero in post-release, absorbing the best blows from a tantrum-prone fanboy culture, exposing their weakness by the movie and its director’s refusal to to even flinch. Less than a week out and, like it or not, Logan is about this now.

Already, too much of the talk around Logan is centered around things that don’t matter– Hugh Jackman’s hair, the absence of a post-credit scene (those are just commercials folks, relax), and the misconstrued lessons about the film succeeding with a hard R-Rating.

And why not? As a movie-consuming populace, we’re out there clicking. That’s the thing about click-driven economies though: they’re amoral and fan agnostic. They do not care about measures of the writing’s quality, its purpose, intelligence, intent, or even sincerity. All that matters to click-hungry writing is that your interest in the writing’s subject be capitalized upon. It does not matter whether your interest in the subject is made angry, pleased, comfortable, curious, sharper, etc. It does not matter if the writing has any positive influence on your movie-going experience. And while many of us critics were quick to bump angry chests with fans of DC’s extended cinematic universe when those fans made accusations of Disney-paid reviews, it might have benefited us to realize that many sites were profiting from overly-emphatic negative press against the films that these aggressive consumers enjoyed, even if the buy-off exchange was made through a more abstract hand-off (the negative press against Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, released in March of last year, is still running).

These click obsessessed scoop journalists do no favors for anyone. Not fans, not real critics, certainly not movies.

Maybe I would have gone without throwing my name at this particular trending topic altogether on a normal week. But a few days ago, a farewell post was shared from the film site Movie Mezzanine, an independently-ran blog which hosted high quality writing from passionate writers who always employed their top shelf analysis and joyful celebration in service to the film, and not the other way around. This is the latest in a string of forfeited sites and surrendering writers, the kind whose commitment and work ethic and appreciation for the art would have been able to deliver more fruitful and intelligent conversations on Logan’s 1970s Western structure (it goes well farther than the forward-facing Shane homage), or its universal emotional weight, or its Children of Men-like foreground-to-background storytelling, or its John Rambo-like redemption through violent sacrifice narrative.

It should not be a struggle for survival for those kind of sites, that brand of writing, and that more sacred tribe of critic. These are the people who are on your side, the ones seeking to elevate the quality of your favorite storytelling form. They should not be made to fight so desperately. They are, though. Many haven’t made it and even more are barely making it.

Meanwhile, measured through clicks and trends, there are no signs of similar desperation on the segment of the film journalism industry that wants to measure Hugh Jackman’s hair, to push forward conversations about non-scoop scoops while not being blamed for scoops, to take the joy out of surprise cameos in movies before production has even wrapped, and to package standard reshoots as “production trouble” just to cause a stir of scared mouses.

In fact, in July of last year, a handful of the most prominent voices in this comic book movie culture– and, incidentally, those who had the highest number of and most negative reactions to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice—were invited to visit  Zack Snyder on the set of his Justice League film, a movie then in the earliest stages of production. It’s as if these films are actually beholden to their critics before they’re complete. Actually, it’s not “as if.” That’s exactly what this presumably paid vacation indicates.

That’s an artistic problem. That’s art-as-industry, studios working as factory lines with standardizing quality assurance checks provided by their nastiest and loudest consumers. If you believe an artist owes not just an apology, but a vacation-hosted oversight opportunity to disappointed consumers and critics, you will never get great art. No other art form works like that, and neither should this one.

From here on out, it will always be worth remembering that Logan, the hero who carried the weight of cinematic superhero culture in the first leg of this millenium’s ongoing marathon relay, finds his most dangerous opponent in his final film: a soulless clone made by a malicious peripheral industry that seeks to possess the power of mutant superheros without the guiding compassion of their humanity. The metaphor is barely a stretch. And maybe this symbolic reading wasn’t a primary intention of James Mangold at the outset of his project, but it certainly is a useful lesson now.

So using that lesson, who do you stand with: The artist who put together the best chapter in the longest running cinematic superhero series by applying proven film principles from more celebrated films and genres, or those who would have you ignore that to measure Logan’s hair as proof of their earlier empty articles? Even as I admit that I don’t love many recent superhero movies, that I feel they’ve grown stale in product-development standardization, I can also admit that cinema has never had anything as broad and wide in scope as these unfolding cinematic universes. It’s a storytelling opportunity unlike anything we have seen. And here, at essentially the mid-way point of these massive journeys, if we can find a way to let these authors and artists, in good and blind faith, drive without the programmed direction of studios answering to obsessive, production-obsessed click-economies– that is, if we can have more films with the uninterrupted and focused vision of Logan in both major universes– something spectacular might still be accomplished.

It’s your call. Click where you will…

Featured Image: 20th Century Fox