LOGAN Is A Tremendous Send-Off To An Iconic Character
And it has a lot on its mind

logan

Note: This review is broken into two segments: one with spoilers and one without spoilers. The non-spoiler section is first, the added spoiler section follows and is clearly marked. 

Logan has a lot going on. It has so much going on that it’s actually a little difficult to keep up with everything. I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s got a plot that moves forward well and that makes sense. But there’s more there, subtle nudges and winks that open up the movie’s world. Logan is painting with a subtle brush, and it’s once you see those brush strokes that you realize how special this film is.

The year is 2029 and mutants have died off. Worse, new mutants haven’t been born. Logan, the man we know as Wolverine, is a glorified Uber X driver who forage up as much money as possible so that him and Professor Charles Xavier can go float around in a Sunseeker until they die. Enter Gabriella, a nurse searching for Wolverine, who, along with the rest of the X-Men, has become something of a myth. She needs his help to take a young mutant named Laura to North Dakota, where she can pass over into Canada and a mutant sanctuary called Eden.

In this way, Logan is a lot like another near-future tale: Children of Men. Logan is a man who has lost hope. He’s seen all the people he loves die around him, he has nothing to live for, and he’s handed a quest of optimism and positivity. After the goading of Xavier, Logan takes the old professor and the young mutant and sets out on a long journey.

There are very few wasted filmmaking decisions in Logan. The titular character is quite literally journeying toward a future of hope, but what follows him and his fellow travelers is the filmic embodiment of no hope; a whirling cyclone that obliterates whatever is in its path. They’re the Reapers, and their lack of emotion and feeling are intense.

This is the duality that Logan is playing with, and it’s filled in throughout the world. This is a near future where the world seems to be well on the way to a dark path. There’s a sense of lawlessness that you get from old westerns, where it feels like anything goes and there isn’t a safety net to bail you out if you run into the wrong people, or if the wrong people find you.

All of that is underlined by how incredibly violent Logan is. This is not a movie that flinches away from the raw violence of Wolverine. He is a rabid machine. He hurts you. He can chop off your hand or leg in an instant, tearing your face off if you cross him. It’s visceral and gut-wrenching throughout the film.

At first blush, that violence seems to be James Mangold and his filmmaking team relishing in letting Wolverine out of his cage. Upon further inspection though, the violence is there for a purpose. The violence scars Logan, it lives with him forever. It wears down on him.

The film makes this clear with references to an old western called Shane, literally showing a scene from the movie where this is said:

There’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand that sticks.

The violence in Logan sticks. It’s ugly. And it goes on to serve a larger idea that Logan uses.

The film pulls a strange move that, at first blush, looks like a cute nod to fans. There are actual X-Men comics in this movie, comics that are read by Laura and other young mutants. It turns out that the exploits of the X-Men have been turned into these big mythic things, but they’re mythic in a way that real events turn mythic and legendary with time.

The violence underscores, in a meta way, that the myth is what gives people hope while the reality is what’s hard to live with. There’s more to that, but we’ll save it for the spoilers.

Everyone in Logan is bring their A-game. Boyd Holbrook is fantastic as Donald Pierce, the ruthless leader of The Reavers hunting down Logan, Laura and Charles. Stephen Merchant is almost unrecognizable as Caliban, an albino mutant who can track other mutants and is mostly used as a way to spout some exposition early and act as a plot device later on. However, that stuff is also rounded out with his own little arc that allows him a good resolution.

The stars of the show are Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen. Jackman gives his best performance as Wolverine, a totally broken man who has nothing to live for. And when he does find something to live for, he struggles to live for it because he’s afraid his ability to destroy the things that he loves will destroy this too. Stewart also does some of his best work as Professor X, falling into major brain disease and trying to come to term with what that disease does to other people while also trying desperately to cling onto the hope in people he’s always exhibited.

And then there’s Keen, a young girl who stands next to Jackman and Stewart and steals the damn show. She doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, but she has a wonderful way of using her eyes and doing subtle things that allow you to easily understand what’s going on behind her eyes. You see her unbridled rage, her longings and desires and what she needs to do to move forward. It’s a tremendous performance, and it’ll make you want to see more of her Laura in spin-off movies or stories.

Logan is a tremendous accomplishment. It’s a little tough to digest, but once you do you’ll find something to chew on under all that violence. At times, it’s easy to forget that this is a superhero movie. It feels more like a neo-western that’s far more concerned with family dynamics. There’s a father who is trying to get his lost son to believe in a future again, there’s his son not believing he can do that and then a little girl who doesn’t know anything else.

— SPOILERS — 

Wolverine has always bordered two directions: he’s a rabid killing machine that will absolutely destroy you, and he’s someone trying to reject what he was created to be. In the X-Men, Wolverine found a balance. He found something good to fight for, something that allowed him to be more than a killing machine.

Due to the nature of blockbuster films, we’ve never really gotten to see that in bold strokes. We’ve never seen the killing machine’s brutality. Logan does that, and while it’s doing that it allows him to swing in the other direction and find something to live for, in this case his daughter. We get to see the traversal from one extreme to the other, and it makes that emotional punch land much more. When we see him talk about how he sucks at feeling for people, or how he’s only good at dismembering people it lands all the much better because we see that brutality in him now.

At the same time, it does underline the difference between myth and reality. The children in Logan read and love the X-Men. It’s not a coincidence that the new breed of mutants is almost entirely made up of minorities. The X-Men have always been used to tell the plight of oppressed people, and Logan finds a new way to comment on that story.

These are a minority trying to be owned and operated by this big societal machine, trying to be used as weapons in a larger battle. That doesn’t work, and it never has worked (as you’ve seen in the many, many other X-Men stories). Instead, the bad guys here found a more sinister way: use capitalism. The corn syrup segment in the film turns into a Eureka moment when you later learn that humans weakened and killed mutants by poisoning the food and water, destroying their ability to repopulate.

Instead, they decide they can just breed these mutants without the nuisance of free will. Use their bodies and abilities to do their bidding. It’s an idea that last week’s Get Out also plays with.

These kids don’t have much to live for. They sleep in barren white cells and are tortured. They try to escape and are shocked. They’re hunted down and killed. The only thing they do have is the myth of the X-Men, the promise of a better life through art. That better life so inspires them that they believe an eden is waiting for them. This is the beauty of Logan. It’s a film that manages to comment on comic books and stories and these big ideas without taking away from the central story. In fact, all of that enhances that story. More than that, it makes all the X-Men movies that came before Logan, including the bad ones, feel more important.

Logan’s inner struggle becomes physical in the second half of the movie, when it’s revealed that they’ve used his DNA to create X-24, a version of Wolverine that has no free will and is built on pure rage. He’s the perfection of the killing machine he was originally intended to be, and he chases Logan in the second half of the film. His love and feeling for his friends and family is the only thing that helps Wolverine stand up to X-24 in any meaningful way, but it’s Laura who eventually rids his demons, literally and figuratively. She is the hope he needed, and she also uses his adamantium bullet to blow half of X-24’s head off. It’s wonderful.

I’ll say it again: Logan is a tremendous motion picture.

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