The superhero genre has (deservingly) caught a lot of flack over the years for its Saturday Morning Cartoons rendition of tentpole blockbuster cinema. The Marvel brand in particular was privy to the lather, rinse, repeat template, providing a steady stable of colorful smart asses who smash and bash and save the world, returning to the status quo (or shwarma) when all is said and done to await their next universe saving event. Then along came Deadpool. Say what you will the R-rated superhero flick – like for instance that it falls in line with many of the same familiar tropes it purports to mock – but the gleefully violent and “adult”-oriented box office smash opened the flood gates for more of its R-rated ilk, showing studios through the ever influential power of green (not Green Lantern mind you), that audiences were more than receptive to “mature” content in their superhero films. In fact, they were damn near starving for it.
Which brings us to Logan. If Deadpool is mature by way of Kevin Smith; poppy, potty-mouthed and ultimately designed for teenagers thinking themselves more developed than they are; Logan is mature by virtue of being a big ol’ sourpuss. Think Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino but with more self-loathing and less grumbling about Mexicans. The perpetually surly Wolverine has always been an outsider with a troubled past but the emotional distraught that has defined his post-Phoenix era has developed into a full blown cancer of the soul. What was once an adamantium-lined grump yelling ”Get off my lawn” has aged into a greying, hard-drinking suicidal loaf.
We find Logan moonlighting as a ride share limo driver, collecting the spare fare to buy under the table prescriptions for a rapidly deteriorating Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Even Stewart’s Charles, once a shining beacon of unwavering hope amidst an endless sea of black, has succumb to time and the times. Increasingly unstable, the world’s most powerful mind has become subject to seizures and memory loss. A helpless victim of Alzheimer’s or ALS. The mutiny of the mind lays bare even the strongest will. In a world where Charles and his students battled to find pride and acceptance in their differences, this is no welcome mutation and those around him bear the brunt of his episodes. The imagery of Charles, long in the tooth and soft of the mind, rocking in his wheel chair, ranting, raving, his hair wispy and wild, eyes glazed, the right one a blind-bluish hue; it’s powerful stuff. Material that takes full advantage of our long standing relationship with this now icon.
In this narrative continuum, mutants (including but not limited to the X-Men) haven’t been killed off by 12-foot sentient flying robot but they are absent from the world nonetheless. A more nefarious fate became of them, evidence suggests. The implications behind what and who was the author of their demise brings everything full circle, treading genocidal threads that have been central to the franchise’s themes since 2000. Without razing overly-familiar territory, the parallels to one of Erik Lehnsherr’s wrecked plot remains veiled but present. Though nearly all traces of mutantdom has been scotched from the earth (a doctor examining Logan at one point admires the ailing former X-Man, “I never thought I’d see one of your kind”) a mute girl (Dafoe Keen) bearing striking similarities to the once feral, now depressive Wolverine upends Logan’s plan to remain off the radar and launches him back into action.
Hunted by an artificially upgraded soldier (Boyd Holbrook), Logan, Charles and Laura abscond for Canada, seeking safe haven against the militant forces that aim to snuff out the last traces of a failed genetic experiments. While Logan suffers a weak villain – Holbrook is fine in the role as a gum-smacking Southern gun for hire but the character is thinly written and lacks motive beyond obeying the chain of command; for a man with a metal hand, he lacks much punch – the real story is out on the road as this unlikely trio searches for respite from a world that continues to treat them like escaped circus animals. Though external pressures (such as a squadron of killers hunting you through the countryside) lodge considerable obstacles, it’s the internal turmoil of the characters that pose the greatest threat.
And just as the perpetually surly Wolverine lives increasingly with his eyes on the rear view, the young Laura too admits her past misgivings. “I’ve hurt people too,” she states following a scene that sees her saw a man’s head off and chuck it to roll across the dirt. “But they were bad.” Hugh Jackman’s subtle struggle with the girl’s logic – the dichotomy of “good” and “bad” and his place within the spectrum – is no novel meditation for the superhero genre but the overwhelming gloom and regret that envelopes the character, a fog he cannot and does not escape, lends a genuinely mature quality to Logan; a kind of funereal self-actualizing rare to this breed of blockbuster.
F-bomb loaded and gratuitously violent, Logan takes full advantage of its R-rating. As Jackman slashes and claws his way through victims – be they ruffians attempting to jack his lease or faceless soldiers hijacking his faux-redemption – there is no ceiling for the brutality. Limbs loose like broken action figures and more than one face gets deteriorated with an adamantium punch. CG blood decorates the screen in healthy gobs, director James Mangold capturing the raw physicality and wild finesse of the character, giving audiences who’ve been waiting for a Wolverine film willing to showcase the true carnage Weapon X is capable of precisely what they’ve salivated for for 17 years.
In an age where superhero films blindly follow the doctrine that more is more, Logan simplifies. There are no unexpected cameos (rest assured, Reynold’s stayed at home.) No post credit teasers. Mangold’s story is just that. His story. While tying into what came before without feeling excessively beholden to it, this closing chapter respects the character without cheapening the conclusion of his arc with a tacked on “But what’s next?”.
In no subtle ways (the mutant trifecta become glued to George Stevens’ Shane loafing around their hotel room), Logan is a Western. A story of a lost man, so far gone redemption seems a joke and not a funny one at that. Marco Beltrami‘s somber score, accented by a pitch perfect Johnny Cash croon, highlights the isolation that has taken hold in Logan’s soul. Like great Westerns, Mangold’s take on the genre stresses the desolation of world and self. The burden of life and living it.
What continued to catch me off guard is just how dark Logan really is. In its essence, it’s about a suicidal man, weak of body and spirit, who in almost every single way has lost the will to live. Even the sunny Professor X has been reduced to a mental Humpty Dumpty. Teetering and tipping. The action sequences are extremely violent, with collateral damage that threatened to leave you unexpectedly misty-eyed, and between the fits of ultraviolence are long, introspective stretches where the hero longs for resting six feet under. I probably need not remind you but this is seriously probably not a film for kids, even if they did get giddy for Deadpool.
At its very core, Logan is a film about purpose and losing one’s purpose. More specifically, of losing one’s purpose and being assured that it has gone for good. Be he man or mutant, our guy is one who has no place in society, one who has given up on the very drive to put one foot in front of the other and that proves an extremely emotional but painful launching pad. Mangold treats his subject like a character, not a superhero in spandex, not a product, creating what is without a doubt the best Wolverine installment and a suiting end for the character Jackman has played a monstrous nine times.
CONCLUSION: Adult-oriented ‘Logan’ mixes some rather heavy thematic elements in with its gory violence and hard language to create a uniquely introspective, genuinely mature but welcomely visceral superhero experience. Extremely dark and as gritty as the sandy roads it takes place on, Hugh Jackman’s last stand as the manbeast once known as Wolverine proves an admirably sobering end for a complex character.