Logan: The Challenges of a Risky Superhero Movie

Simon Kinberg and Hutch Parker sit down with us to discuss Logan's near universal euphoric reception and award buzz, and what it means.

It had been a fairly warm February day in New York by the time evening arrived. Hence why many people, blessedly free of jackets and overcoats, were taking a moment after their Broadway shows let out to enjoy a balmy Times Square adventure. A few even stopped to stare at a monolithic video screen that played one of the many arresting Logan trailers that’ve descended on pop culture with a world weary intensity. Amusingly, few likely realized they were watching the footage of Wolverine’s last ride with Simon Kinberg, the producer of the last five X-related superhero movies at 20th Century Fox (as well as The Martian and Disney’s Cinderella to boot), who was at that very moment in the midst of the promotion tempest that follows each of these productions.

Having begun the promotional tour in New York, and then gone to Berlin, London, and come back again with jubilant audience and press receptions wherever the film’s played, Kinberg by his own admission had not actually taken a second to let the excitement (and even awards buzz) that’s circling Logan seep in. But on that mild Manhattan night, fresh from seeing Cate Blanchett in Chekhov’s The Present, it finally clicked for the filmmaker.

“That was the moment where I was standing in Times Square, surrounded by hundreds or thousands, however many people are in Times Square on a Thursday night of just chaos,” Kinberg remembers the next day. “And seeing the movie up there on a huge screen, and just watching the people slow down and watch the trailer for the movie, because it is so unique and striking looking—that for me was the first time I took a moment to be like, ‘We set out to make something special and arresting and provocative,’ and it felt that way last night despite all of the stimuli and insanity of Times Square—it could hold people’s attention in the middle of that. To me, I sort of stood there in a sort of out of body experience for the first time.”

It may not be the last. With Logan set to claw its way into theaters for a final bloody bow on Friday, Kinberg and fellow producer/X-Men franchise stalwart, Hutch Parker, are making the rounds again when we sit down for a morning interview. And both seem aware that Logan, the final superhero movie with Hugh Jackman, is having a uniquely rapturous response, a feat that they’re both proud of and also credit the determination of Jackman and writer-director James Mangold for achieving.

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“It has been bit of a whirlwind, both in terms of just the finishing of the film and getting it ready for Berlin, and getting over there and enjoying that incredible reception,” Parker says with a hint of pride, as well as relief. “But the reaction’s been really extraordinary, and [we’re] really particularly happy for Hugh and for Jim, who worked so hard to realize the story in a way that’s a more accurate reflection of the comics, to do something special and different, to see their efforts so validated has been pretty amazing.”

It’s a movie that has certainly been near and dear to all of the creatives’ hearts. While both producers shake their heads with a smirk at Jackman’s self-effacing comment from earlier this month about being a “pain in the ass” to get Logan made as perfectly as he could envision—Parker says Jackman, the consummate showman, is physically incapable of being anything less than charming—each still notices that there was a real passion that made the production on this one unique.

Says Kinberg, “If you’re an actor, and you’ve spent 20 years of your life identified as the character, primarily more than any other part that he’s been in obviously by a long shot, and you have the sense potentially that this is the last time you’re ever going to play him, and the studio and the filmmakers want to be provocative and push the envelope, and give you the opportunity to do all the things you’ve never done before in terms of the rating, in terms of the drama, in terms of the emotion of it and the tragedy of the character… he wanted to make sure the movie had all of those colors.”

Parker also suggests that fervor was shared by Mangold, who along with Jackman pushed the material to be the best X-related project ever given to Patrick Stewart, who is likewise making Logan his franchise swan song.

“Jim pushed Hugh, he pushed Patrick, he pushed kind of the whole cast into places,” Parker begins. “For me, it’s Sir Patrick’s best performance. Some of that is we finally gave him material worthy of an immense talent, but it’s also part of what made Dafne [Keen] so special. Jim had an instinct and a sense of what the fulfillment of this character could and should be, and he really fought to realize it in the way you hope a filmmaker will.”

Kinberg and Parker also are quick to credit 20th Century Fox, which during the time of the interview was sharing excitement on the eve of Oscar Weekend for Hidden Figures’ chances. Indeed, both seem to think the boldness the studio has taken recently with Logan and Deadpool is indicative of attitudes changing at Fox and the industry as a whole.

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Reflecting on how the industry has shifted since he became a producer, which began with the release of 2011’s In Time, Parker says with a laugh, “It’s interesting, because from the time I was at the studio, the thinking has evolved in a lot in ways that are really favorable to sit on this side of the table to be honest. And it’s invited a really amazing filming opportunity.”

Also noting how the studio is now producing popular movies for adults like The Martian, Gone Girl, and Hidden Figures, Parker similarly suggests that the studio is allowing an uncommon amount of risk-taking with their superhero properties. Presumably unlike the competition.

“They’re doing really exciting, bold work when a lot of other places are doubling down on playing it safe. And I think they recognized, I think as we all do… that if you’re not careful with these movies, it’s no longer enough to maintain the status quo. And I think that’s true of all films, but specifically within these franchises, they’re being mined so fully and so frequently, you have an obligation to challenge yourself and to reach.”

Kinberg, who is currently writing the next X-Men movie, supposedly titled X-Men: Supernova, and has thrown his hat in the ring to make it his directorial debut (he points out that nothing is confirmed), also notes that filmmakers have a mandate to try new things.

Says Kinberg, “I think we feel an obligation to do that and an opportunity to do that. I think what Hutch is saying is 100 percent right. I think five, 10, 15 years ago, there was a feeling that titles alone were enough to make a movie, and to open a movie, and we found—the industry has found—in the last three, four, five years that if you don’t make a great movie, you get exposed for it, and you get exposed before the movie even opens. And people look at Rotten Tomatoes more than they look at movie times, and if you don’t have a good Rotten Tomatoes score, and you don’t have good critical reception of the movie, you don’t have a movie that’s going to succeed, with very, very few exceptions.”

Still, they currently have a very good movie in Logan that most critics on Rotten Tomatoes have been adoring for weeks. And producers savor that, as well as the fact that it validates the genre is changing and there is a license to explore these characters in wildly different ways, including in X-Men 7 (which they discussed further with us here). As for this film, Parker just notes the authentic poignancy of a picture that while based on a comic book superhero still reverberates echoes from his own life.

“You’ve seen Charles and Logan interact for countless movies, but their interaction is entirely unique in this,” Parker considers. “The tenor of the relationship, the sense of conflict, the strain, it’s for any of us who’ve suffered the loss of a father to illness or dementia, and that’s something I’m pretty familiar with, the depiction is accurate. It’s not heightened or theatrical; it’s a real depiction. And I think that gateway [for storytelling] is an incredibly exciting opportunity.”

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Indeed, this writer also can relate to being familiar with that kind of acute suffering. Logan evokes it well. It’s also a strong moviegoing experience that will be tangible for all when the picture opens on March 3.