Hugh Jackman has spent almost two decades playing Wolverine, and although it is never safe to assume a comic book character has been put to rest (especially one that makes as much money as this one), Logan makes a very compelling case for letting this be Jackman’s last outing as the immortal mutant with deadly metal claws we’ve all come to love. I do, and don’t, mean this as a compliment to the movie. Logan is a thesis statement for a more creative and liberated future in superhero movies, but also a suggestion that the genre might be doomed by its own blockbuster success.
The movie is set in the future, Logan is one of the very few mutants left in a world that has hunted them into extinction. He sports a grizzled beard and makes a living driving a limo in a Texas border-town. Logan is done with this bullshit. He is just trying to make some money to buy a yacht so he and his beloved mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a telepath suffering from degenerative brain disease, can finally sail into the sunset and away from this horrible future.
That is, until he crosses paths with a young mutant. The first child mutant he or Charles have seen in years. Her name is Laura (Dafne Keen), and she’s a runaway. She is being chased by an evil corporation that has been experimenting on mutants south of the border or something like that. The details aren’t as important as the nature of the mission: grizzled old Logan now has to take this little Mexican girl all the way across the United States so she can find safe haven in Canada. Ain’t that something?
It’s possible that James Mangold and the other people who worked on this movie could sense where the country would be heading by the time the movie came out, but could they possibly have imagined how timely and bittersweetly Logan‘s story would play to a post-inauguration audience? Whether the filmmakers intended for Logan to play as political allegory for our times is beside the point. One would have to be truly disconnected from the world around them to not see the parallels.
Many people -including those behind this film- are saying that Logan is more of a western than a superhero movie. There is even a large section in the film in which the characters watch George Stevens’ classic western Shane. Logan shares a lot of similarities not only with the plot of Stevens’ movie, but with the kind of social messaging westerns used to have in the culture.
The best westerns of the past reflected certain truths about America and its relationship to its own mythology. The clearest example is probably John Ford’s The Searchers, which reflects the anxieties of the white establishment about the changes that were coming about thanks to the rise of youth culture and the civil rights movement.
Similarly, Logan tells us something about the time we live in. The old white man (mutant) takes a last stand, and sacrifices himself for the well being of the future generation. A generation lead by a Spanish-speaking girl and her multi-racial cohorts. The movie is superficially the last chapter of a beloved character, but could also be read as the last chapter of a type of hero. Is Logan the story of the righteous white man seeking redemption?
Sadly, it’s more interesting (and entertaining) to think of the wider political and social ramifications of Logan than to actually watch the movie. This is Jackman’s ninth appearance as Wolverine, and I can’t help but tip my hat to a performer such as him, who has committed to truly perform, and give it his all every time he plays the character. It’d be really easy to phone it in when you’re doing one ridiculous sequel after another, but Jackman is a pro, and it’s nice to see him get a farewell movie such as this.
Dafne Keen, the little girl who plays Laura, is also pretty awesome, and I would potentially watch a movie about her own crazy adventures. But that’d be another movie. Despite Jackman’s commitment and a number of cool ideas, Logan mostly disappoints, particularly as an action movie. The action set pieces are a disaster, impossible to follow, and with no sense of action geography whatsoever. The movie is incredibly violent, but also brute, with not enough precision to its filmmaking and not enough pathos to its bloodshed (in an aesthetic sense, there is lots of sad moments in the movie). The plot churns along, but other than Jackman’s commitment, there is little to keep us going.
Here is where I come down on Logan: It’s quite an interesting artifact about our times. It’s the first superhero movie in a while to actually want to say something about who we are, and why our culture has taken to this kind of storytelling. It also suggests an alternative model for blockbusters, in which the necessity to always go bigger could be replaced with an interest in exploring different genres and kinds of stories. At the same time, and this is the saddest part, it suggests that if our superheroes do go down that path, quality filmmaking won’t come with them.
Superheroes are men of action, but the action sequences in their movies are rarely great anymore. They don’t reflect an interesting thought, a unique vision. They don’t reflect the themes of the story, and they rarely stand out from each other. Action movies say a lot about themselves with the way they present their action, how it’s choreographed, and how it’s edited. Sloppy action sequences belong in sloppy action movies. If you’re an action movie, tell your story through action.
Grade: 6 out of 10
P.S. The trailer for Deadpool 2 played before the movie, and Jesus Christ, if it isn’t the biggest and most depressing evidence that superhero blockbusters have lost whatever interest they had left in competent filmmaking. This trailer is basically one joke. A joke that has been done before and is easy to pull off. And it can’t even do that!