Library Dissertation Showcase

Has the superhero genre come full circle? Deadpool and Logan: an exploration into anti-heroes

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2021

We are living in the age of superheroes and we cannot deny it. From the critically acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy (Nolan, 2005-12), to the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008-present), the superhero film has truly saturated audiences for decades now. But has the genre been completely exhausted? This study will examine anti-heroes, in the form of the films (and characters), Deadpool (Miller, 2016), and Logan (Mangold, 2017), in an attempt to argue that the superhero film has reached the end of its cycle, as a result of the mentioned films’ focus on anti-heroes, (as opposed to ‘traditional’ superheroes), and borrowing from other genres and mediums, such as the Western, and postmodernism.

There are several arguments in this study, and they will be split, into three equal length chapters. The first chapter of the study will begin with an exploration into the concept of ‘anti-hero’; a definition of said term will be offered, using ideas of hero and villain to supplement. This is an important starting point for the study, as this framework will then be applied to the characters of Deadpool and Logan, within the two films, with the outcome being that the two selected characters are anti-heroes. This definition will be carefully considered, using ideas from Mike Alsford, Benjamin Triana, and other theorists. This initial chapter will then give an outline of the superhero film, using McSweeney and others to identify the hallmarks of the superhero narrative; conventions that Logan and Deadpool both reject and adhere to. This section therefore sets the scene for the argument that they both heavily borrow from other genres, which will be explored in the subsequent chapters of this study. The next section of this study, Chapter Two, will focus on the film and character of Deadpool. Using the previously established codes and conventions of superhero narratives, this chapter shall posit these tenets against Deadpool in the 2016 film, and surmise that Deadpool both reinforces and subverts them. This will therefore provoke a discussion into intertextuality, as Deadpool both as a film, and a character, is truly rife with references across all forms of media. The chapter will then assert that the reason for this lies in the fact that Deadpool is a postmodern comedy. In order to argue this, an overview of postmodernism will be included within this chapter, using ideas from James Peterson and Catherine Constable, respectively. The next, and final chapter of the study, Chapter Three, will focus on Logan and will argue that the film is predominantly a Western. This will be achieved by defining what is meant by a Western, and identifying codes and conventions typical of the genre, thereby using this criteria to evaluate that Logan is indeed a Western. The Western genre will be explored meticulously, using influential writers such as Wright and Cawelti, as well as Barry K. Grant’s Film Genre: Theory and Criticism, to supplement. As with the previous chapter, Christian Metz’s theory of genre cycles will prove pivotal in arguing this, as because the two films borrow from other genres, it is clear that the superhero genre is in the final stage of its cycle, the deconstruction stage (Metz, 1974). This is further exemplified by the films’ focus on anti-heroes and not traditional superheroes, as well as the films’ higher age certificates. All this considered, a conclusion will then be made, suggesting that the superhero film has reached the final stage of its cycle, because the two aforementioned examples of Deadpool and Logan, are films that feature anti-heroes in the lead role, and that borrow extensively from other genres. Furthermore, the release of films such as Venom (Fleischer, 2018), Deadpool 2 (Leitch, 2018), and Hellboy (Marshall, 2019), prove the genre’s new focus on anti-heroes, further exemplifying the arguments to be made in this study. Throughout this study, textual analysis shall be applied, in order to read the films as effectively as possible. Analysing Media Image Texts, by Gillespie and Toynbee, has been especially useful in contextualising the films selected, and will work in tandem with theories of genre and postmodernism in the study.

This topic has been selected for a number of reasons, most notably is the reason that the two selected films are relatively recent, and there is little theoretical work about them published; this study aims to change this. There is also a lack of study around superhero films in general, and this again is because the sudden increase in the popularity of superhero films is a cultural phenomenon that has only gained traction since the turn of the century. It is hoped that this study can resonate with scholars, and audiences alike, and allow them to understand the significance of these films, and in essence, take them more seriously; they are not merely blockbusters with no substance, as some would have you believe. Additionally, as a selfconfessed fan of superheroes and superhero films in general, who eagerly awaits the release of the newest movie into cinemas, this study has been thoroughly enjoyable to work on. Upon completion, it is hoped this study can become important in the near future, when more work has been completed, and therefore more ideas and theories are able to be explored.

Deadpool follows the character of Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), and how upon his cancer diagnosis, he allows himself to be experimented on as a means of a cure. The experimentation goes awry, resulting in his facial and body disfigurement. As a result, Wade seeks revenge on the man who did this to him, Ajax (Ed Skrein). Logan is the last film in the ‘Wolverine Trilogy’, and finds an ageing Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), now going by Logan, in El Paso, caring for an old Professor X (Patrick Stewart), in a world where mutants are all but extinct. When Laura (Dafne Keen), a young mutant, seeks help from Logan, he must help guide her to safety.

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