' ' Cinema Romantico: Logan

Monday, July 24, 2017


James Mangold’s “Logan” is the conclusion to a trilogy centered on Wolverine, the bone claw spouting anti-hero of Marvel’s “X-Men” universe, and those films are part of an even more expansive “X-Men” movie universe that begin all the way back in 2000. This reviewer has not seen an “X-Men” movie since 2006, and did not see either film leading up to “Logan”, which is a necessary disclosure regarding my mostly ahistorical perspective of this franchise. In that same light, however, I can also state that not knowing anything much about what came before does not prevent enjoyment or understanding of Mangold’s film. It does not because Mangold builds backstory almost exclusively with mood, engineering a palpable pall, one hanging over the entire film through the weariness of its principal characters and the dreariness of its establishing locales. He is also helped immensely by Hugh Jackman’s star turn, one that admirably resists starriness every step of the way.

The movie opens with Wolverine – née Logan (Hugh Jackman) – down and out and sleeping in the back of the limousine he now drives just to get by. He is woken by a few thieves trying to the lift tires. With a comically exhausted countenance, Logan confronts them and they promptly shoot him. He does not then so much roar back to life, on account of his unique accelerated healing process, as reluctantly rise. Rather than flee, the thieves push him and so Logan reveals the bone claws and has at it, ripping these guys to shreds, as Mangold delicately yet forcefully turns the tone of the scene from humor to terror. And while sympathy is not exactly elicited for the thieves, neither is there much empathy engendered for Logan, as Jackman works hard to actually put you off, transforming a rudimentary action scene into something more akin to psychological horror. Logan, you think watching this, is messed up.

Whereas violence in superhero movies is so often lyrically abstract, here, as it is elsewhere, it is grisly, something not to cheer for but to recoil from, which is also what Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), once Wolverine’s caretaker and the overseer of so many mutants, is doing with his own superpower, telepathic abilities that have become dangerous and uncontrollable without medication on account of seizures. While once they sought to help the world, now they hide out from it near the Mexican border, in an abandoned smelting plant that looks shot out, like something from a “Mad Max”-ish apocalyptic wasteland, mirroring the fact that mutants have been removed from the bloodstream, leaving Logan and Xavier as the last of their kind.

Or are they? Something, of course, is required to trigger the erosion of that stasis and it is a little girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), in the care of Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who seeks out Logan to ask for his help in ferrying Laura to safety. That is because Laura is a mutant too, one created by the corporate villains that emerge as the film’s lone weak spot, a mysterious corporation acting out for all the usual reasons. They might have done better to remain faceless, existing as the frightening Other, like an early sequence when they descend on the smelting plant, their weaponry and tactical gear emitting the distinct air of a SWAT team descending on illegal immigrants.

It is no emblematic accident that “Logan” begins near the Mexican border. Even the early films in the franchise connected the plight of immigrants, legal or otherwise, with mutants, though “Logan” is less interested in spelling it out with speechifying, just letting it exist on the periphery, alluding to the idea of these actual Americans who want to get somewhere better. In “Logan” that somewhere better becomes Eden, some sort of vaguely defined mutant haven in North Dakota where Laura yearns to escape. Its on-the-nose name suggests make-believe, and that seems to be confirmed when Logan stumbles across this very Eden referenced in one of Laura’s X-Men comics. And while this is intended to arouse suspense in the road trip that the three of them undertake (is it really there?), it also speaks to how Mangold seeks to inject a comic with life.

To do so, Mangold samples George Stevens’s lauded 1953 western “Shane”, going so far as to include a middle passage where Logan, Laura and Xavier briefly hole up with the Munsons whose family owned farm is under constant threat from some corporate heavies, giving the impression that not much has changed since the days of the Wyoming Territory. And while Logan turns heavily on the dynamic between its titular character and the young mutant in his charge, eliciting obvious shades of Shane and the young boy who idolizes him, the most interesting tension exists between Logan and himself. This is emblemized in the film’s most pertinent twist, essentially forcing Logan to confront his own lost youth. In the end, his character’s deeds may be noble, but Jackman rarely evinces nobility, hardly allowing Logan to even warm up to Laura, and eyeing his own past with equal parts bitterness, confusion and rage. It’s not the sort of heroism we are accustomed to with our superheroes, but it’s definitely real.


s. said...

So cool you mention Mad Max - I actually did a visual parallels post between those two. Logan remains my favorite movie in years. It's just so beautiful and Jackman's work is mesmerizing

Nick Prigge said...

Mad Max really was the movie, more than Shane, despite all those obvious references, that kept jumping into my head, from the look and feel to the sparseness of the main character. I'll have to check out that post for sure.