Logan: The Superhero Genre Breaks Out of Its Mold
Welcome to the year 2029. A dystopian world in which farmers are growing nothing but corn for corn syrup and the differences between the “haves” and the “have nots” has grown significantly. An empty world where automated driver-less driving has been adapted by trucking companies to save money on human expenses and semi-less 18 wheelers fly down the highway at breakneck speeds. A frightening world where pharmaceutical companies experiment on immigrant Mexican women to create drugs to enhance abilities for the military. A xenophobic (potentially post-Trump) world where people shout “U.S.A.” at the border crossing between Mexico and the U.S. And an unrecognizable world where mutants in the X-Men franchise have almost all but been eliminated from the Earth.
Logan is the latest incarnation of the X-Men films. It’s directed by James Mangold who also directed The Wolverine and is a bleak yet fitting conclusion to the story of everyone’s favorite Canadian mutant. As stated, it is the future. 2029. Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, played here by a grizzled yet jacked up Hugh Jackman, hides under an assumed alias and works as an Uber-ish limousine driver. He gives rides to his fair share of rich assholes, prom-going teen-punks and lascivious bridesmaids in his 2029 Chrysler limousine, all in an attempt to earn enough money to buy a boat. Why a boat? Because he needs a place to keep his friend and father figure Charles Xavier, played one last time by the incredible Patrick Stewart. Charles is now suffering from dementia.
But because Charles is who he is, his dementia carries with it potentially catastrophic consequences; the government, or whatever is left of it given the nature of today’s reality and the dark future this film paints, classifies Charles as a weapon of mass destruction. (By the way, this film serves as the world’s notice that Patrick Stewart, Captain Jean Luc Picard himself, is ready to play King Lear. I don’t say that in jest – Stewart is magnificent and would be a haunting Lear, which is one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles.)
To maintain Charles’ safety, Logan keeps him well-medicated inside an abandoned water tank in a Road Warrior-esque compound near the border of Mexico under the watchful eye of the equally decrepit mutant Caliban, delightfully played by Stephen Merchant. The scenes where the three of them interact, with Logan now playing the role of the estranged son who has to show up to the nursing home to take care of his two aging, pain-in-the-ass relatives are truly hilarious and provide much-needed comic relief in what is an otherwise very dark film. These scenes reminded me very clearly of the “joys” of middle age, and having to take care of loved ones who have long since forgotten who they’re even talking to. And it is that begrudging responsibility which not only lends itself to the plot, but also the significant meaning of the film.
It is revealed that these are probably the last mutants alive; it is never revealed how and why that is the case. But a clue comes from the fact that the film is based, in part, on the Marvel Comic series Old Man Logan, created by Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven. Millar and McNiven’s series is definitely in the DNA of Logan, and gives the film the feel that something has gone horribly wrong, not only with mutants but with America itself. Watching the film and how it deals with the treatment of immigrants and border patrols is especially striking given the recent executive overreach on banning immigration.
When Logan discovers that there is a child named Laura who bears a striking resemblance to himself in terms of his mutation (not to mention level of aggression) and that she and other children have been “created” by a pharmaceutical lab in search of creating the perfect weapon, Charles convinces Logan to try to save the child and take her to Eden, a secret location in North Dakota, far from the Mexican border. What follows is a combination road film/fugitive story as the pharmaceutical company goes in pursuit of the escaped child and the “weapon of mass destruction” tagging along in the back seat who needs his hourly medication.
A significant influence on the film lies in the tried and true traditional western archetype of the “man with no name.” The film even shows scenes from the 1953 film Shane, another lone killer who does the right thing because he can and because it’s the right thing to do, knowing full well that the sins of his past will eventually come back to get him in the end.
What’s most striking about the film is its break in tone from the other X-Men franchise movies, as well as the superhero genre in general. Like the new Noah Hawley series Legion, Logan is a striking change from the tightly controlled feel of DC Comics films and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are so many moments of “Oh my GOD what did I just see?” action followed by moments of quiet and despair. This film just doesn’t feel like a superhero film. It feels like a dystopian western film noir; and Jackman’s incredible potentially Oscar-worthy performance as the now Adamantium-sickened Wolverine is a fitting conclusion to what is his tenth performance in the role. Logan is a stirring adventure film, but at its heart, it’s a love story. Not in the traditional romantic comedy tradition, but in the sense of recognizing family in every sense of the word.