What happens when an immortal man is facing his own death? This is the primary question raised by James Mangold’s Logan, the third of the Wolverine films and, by my count, the ninth film in the X-Men series. (I’m not including Deadpool in that count, partly because I haven’t seen it, and partly because I never want to see it.) Logan harkens callbacks to films ranging from Mad Max: Fury Road to Children of Men to Leon: The Professional as it builds upon and critiques its own comicbook mythology. This is a Western *and* a superhero movie, once which strives to subvert both superhero mythology and the current trends in comicbook adaptations. If you did not pick up on this fairly obvious construct within the first 10 minutes of the film, Logan includes a scene where we as the audience watch the characters watch Shane on TV as they discuss the myth-making nature of comicbooks. It’s about as conspicuous as an adamantium blade in the skull, of which there are many in this film. Logan (Hugh Jackman, reprising the role that made him a star) kills a lot of people in this movie, and we finally are allowed to see what those claws can do to a human body. It’s not pretty. I don’t think it’s meant to be. As Logan explores the titular hero’s death wish, it reveals that the multitude of eviscerated bodies he’s left behind continually haunt him. I’m reminded of a quote from Unforgiven, another Western film Logan draws upon for its aesthetic and narrative: “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man.” In this film, it’s a hell of a thing to watch men be killed.
The film’s depiction of violence plays into its subversive intentions, as Logan essentially abandons much of the convoluted timeline(s) within the X-Men film series, a narrative arc which ultimately blended two disparate generations of the mutants (as well as reset the narrative) in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Despite that film’s depiction of a hopeful future for the X-Men, Logan cuts down any viewer’s wishful thinking for an optimistic outcome, offering instead a grim-and-grimy dystopian world in the year 2029, where big businesses govern the populace and mutants have not been born for decades. Logan, the mutant whose body heals quickly while his conscious remains perpetually wounded, is finally succumbing to the aging process. With mutants mostly dead or in hiding, he cares for his mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, in arguably his most complex portrayal of the character), whose own powerful telepathic mind is deteriorating, with disastrous effects. Logan isn’t just facing his own death; he’s bearing witness as his father figure wastes away with time, while the rest of his former X-Men family are all dead. In a briefly touching moment, Logan carries Charles up the stairs and places him into bed with a sense of gentle resolve. Anyone who has cared for an elderly parent or relative will find a sympathetic portrayal.
Also like Unforgiven and Shane, the world-weary killer in Logan is drawn into one last fight by the pleading of innocent people, women and children, experiencing oppression from violent men. Logan finds himself the unlikely caretaker of Laura, a young mutant with powers and ferocity which parallels Logan’s. Newcomer Dafne Keen holds her own alongside Jackman and Stewart, especially through facial expressions and physical posture in her mute moments (though when she finally speaks, her dialogue often feels out of step with the rest of the film). Again like Unforgiven and Shane, the entire narrative is leading up to a final battle in the frontier for the freedom of innocents, a conflict which won’t leave its hero unscathed. And like nearly every X-Men film before it, the reasoning behind all this violence is convoluted and driven by a evil scientific mastermind who wants to control/weaponize/eradicate mutants. One can call Logan a lot of things, but “original” really isn’t one of them. There’s even an extended moment with a cell phone video used for exposition of the narrative which reminded me far too much of a similar scene in Batman V. Superman. I’m also reminded of critics and audiences decrying La La Land for its callbacks and parallels with Hollywood musicals and Jacques Demy’s films, as if those riffs and connections were an inherent weakness. While I generally disagree with that criticism for La La Land, I do wonder if it applies here with Logan, a film which only feels unique and original when juxtaposed with the MCU Movie Machine and the DC Film debacles. As a Western, as a dystopian sci-fi, or as an action film, Logan is, at best, average. Compared to many of the Marvel or DC films as of late, and definitely contrasted with any other Wolverine film, Logan feels refreshing, albeit remarkably bleak.
Logan has small throwaways about religion and faith within the dialogue which will likely have many Christian viewers responding with approval. Bad guy Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, doing his best to chew up the scenery) spouts off to Caliban (Stephen Merchant) about “getting religion.” The hopeful destination for Laura is called “Eden.” Logan, Charles, and Laura find brief refuge with a Christian family on their farm, a scene which extends a bit too long, then resolves with gratuitous violence meant to elicit the audience’s desire for violent vengeance against the antagonists. When this vengeance is ultimately meted out, it essentially undermines any of the interesting critiques against violent retribution earlier scenes hinted at. The strongest scene comes when Logan and Laura discuss the deaths of their enemies. “I have nightmares. People hurt me,” Laura tells her new father figure. Logan replies, “I have nightmares too…I hurt people.” “I hurt people, too. They were bad people,” Laura explains. Logan pauses, a hint of grief on his weary face, then retorts, “All the same.”
All the same. It’s a good summary of Logan, a film which borrows so heavily from other genres and films while giving us another dose of what Wolverine-lovers will appreciate: a growling Hugh Jackman sporting adamantium claws.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3315342