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Ew… no! Blood! Unngh!

by Thom Yee

logan-one

Logan images courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The last time we checked in on a Wolverine movie was in 2013’s The Wolverine, a small, self-contained little story where Wolverine travelled to Japan and was charged with the care of the rich heiress and granddaughter of a soldier whose life he saved in World War II that quickly and drastically grew less small and less self-contained when that same soldier wound up betraying Wolverine in a bid to steal his youth-imbuing healing factor. I know that’s a bit more than a spoiler (and a really long and convoluted sentence), but, frankly, eff that movie and its weird Viper-snake-ladies, its ridiculous Silver Samurais, and its jump-right-off-the-rails-of-sanity third act after its much more even-toned first two [acts]. Besides The Wolverine’s bullet train sequence, there is almost no reason to see that movie, at least not in its entirety.

Though it’s only been about four years since The Wolverine, a lot of things have changed in the superhero movie landscape. Warner Bros. has tried to start up its own DC Extended Universe to extremely mixed results, superheroes have stopped fighting supervillains in favour of fighting each other, and, perhaps most importantly, a lot of us have become bored and tired of the whole thing. In terms of box office, superhero movies are making more money than ever (though it’s also important to note that not one has matched 2012’s The Avengers), but in the time between 2013’s The Wolverine and this year’s Logan (technically its sequel), the superhero movie has graduated from simply being accepted, has gone ahead and earned its degree in becoming something we’re starting to get tired of, and is hard at work on its doctoral thesis in us being totally sick of them (with the only thing then left for superhero movies to do being getting a job and becoming just another wage-slave movie like the rest of us).

It’s in this climate that Logan premiered last week, and it’s precisely this sort of climate that made a movie like Logan possible. Last year’s Deadpool proved to us not only that there was a public appetite for R-rated superhero movies (or “14A” for those of us in Edmonton) but that that appetite grew directly from how tired we’ve become of superhero movies as we’ve known them thus far. For Deadpool that mostly meant a lot of d*ck and fart jokes, but for Logan that means adult themes, brutal dismemberings, and gore, something that seems kind of obvious once you divest the character from the ‘superheroes are only for kids’ mentality of the X-Men franchise and remember that the guy’s whole schtick is the foot-long, razor sharp claws sticking out of his hands. Once Logan really gets into it, its action scenes are a far cry from the bloodlessness of the character’s first onscreen appearance in 2000’s X-Men, and so too are its lead actors, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, now taking their final bows as Wolverine and Professor X respectively, in this movie set 29 years later. Was the 17-years real time, 29-years in-story time wait worth it? Short answer, yes; long answer… mostly.

What’s it about?

It is the year 2029. The treacherous humans [that’s us!] have emerged victorious over the once-burgeoning threat of mutants, their race now virtually extinct. From a secret staging ground across the Mexican border, the valiant Logan, formerly the Wolverine, is… well, drinking himself to death while taking care of a senile Professor X, but when a mysterious young mutant girl with unexplained ties to Logan appears, he and the now-nutty Professor must protect her from the forces hunting her down and take her to the one place she’ll be safe. Which, for some unexplained reason, is Canada.

It’s hard not to give most of the credit (blame?) for the number of shared universes currently in production to Marvel Studios, the apparent king of the format, but, credit where credit’s due, the Fox-produced X-Men movies were the real pioneers of the format as we know it today. Where Marvel Studios first set out in 2008 to establish its characters before assembling them together to face a threat no single hero could defeat, however, the X-Men debuted nearly a decade earlier first as a team before sending their individual characters off into their own movies. Wolverine was the obvious breakout star of the franchise, seeing his own first movie in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but outside of the Wolverine movies, none of the other planned individual movies (including ones for Magneto and Gambit) have managed to gain much traction. Of course, Deadpool was a monster success for Fox (actually making more than any other X-Men movie), but Deadpool wasn’t exactly a part of the studio’s original plans, nor does it really fit well within the franchise’s overarching continuity. That last point brings us to another major difference between the X-Men and MCU franchises: Where the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies fit together like the finest and most precisely designed LEGO playsets, the X-Men movies are more like a box of random LEGO hand-me-downs with some weird, ill-fitting, off-colour Mega Bloks left near the bottom of the bin because nobody likes to play with those ones. Regardless, the X-Men continuity is what it is [as are most things], and this loose, haphazard approach does allow us to see movies like Logan, a story of our title hero’s last adventure that may not even count (and could simply be wiped out entirely) in the official canon.

logan-old-man-loganBased loosely on the “Old Man Logan” story from writer Mark Millar (whose other works have either inspired or been directly adapted for the screen), Logan takes place at the sunset of the “old Canucklehead”’s superheroic career, and that’s unusual and so-far unexplored territory for superhero movies. That end-stage setting is about all that “Old Man Logan” and Logan share though, but unlike with many of the X-Men producers’ other haphazard decisions with the franchise, swapping out most of the original’s more fantastical elements (like an old, mostly blind Hawkeye, Spider-Man’s granddaughter, dinosaurs mixed with Venom symbiotes, and a hillbilly family of inbred Hulks) for a more personal story with Professor X and Laura/X-23 was probably for the best. And, to be honest, that “Old Man Logan” takes all of 45 minutes to read and is much more shallow than I remember upon second reading anyway.

Is it any good?

logan-faceWolverine has always fit very much in the classic mould of the heroes of the Old West — the man with no name, who came and went as he pleased, who saved the townsfolk but never considered himself a hero, who doesn’t deserve happiness or salvation for the things he’s had to do in his mysterious past — and it’s easy to see Logan [the movie] maybe even more as a Western than it is a superhero movie. For Wolverine though, his past has never been mysterious so much as shrouded in a deliberate haze of false, implanted memories and tragedies best left forgotten, and by the time we meet him in Logan, he just wants to be left alone as he waits if not longs for death. I doubt that Logan has ever struck any of us in any of his previous movie appearances as someone with great coping skills, but in Logan he literally just wants to die, drinking heavily in order to sedate the pain of the death of the X-Men as well as the adamantium-laced skeleton that once made him nearly unbeatable but is now poisoning his body. He does, however, bear the responsibility of caring for Professor Charles Xavier in his final years, a man suffering mental problems who, unfortunately, also has the most powerful psychic mind in all of history. As a backdrop for what our characters will face, Logan forms an instantly relatable narrative even if none of us have ever had powers or borne any such potentially earth-shattering responsibilities, and when we happen upon Laura, a young mutant girl with powers just like Logan, on the run from some pretty bad dudes as perhaps one of the last of her kind, we have the ingredients for a movie with all of the right moving pieces.

Purely as an action movie, Logan is pretty stellar and quite easily the best of any of the X-Men movies (though I still have a personal preference for X-Men: Days of Future Past’s more exotic displays of power), with bone-crushing, skull-piercing, limb-severing action from Wolverine and some extremely well-choreographed fight scenes from young Laura herself who looks far more dangerous as a mini-Wolverine than I would’ve thought possible. And if you’re looking for blood and gore, you should be more than happy, especially if you were less satisfied by some of Wolverine’s previously bloodless outings.

What’s more, the action is almost always easy to follow, and even where some of the less physical uses of power are concerned, there are some visceral thrills to be had. In keeping with X-Men movie tradition though, I do still feel there’s a little left bit too much superhumanity to the action in certain parts that felt overtly effects-heavy, and I really wish Fox’s stable of X-Men directors would take a look at the Russo Brothers’ work in Captain America: The Winter Soldier while they’re combining these things into a superhuman-looking but still believable mix. There are just some moments where characters float a little too long in the air or otherwise defy the laws of physics (when they don’t have physics-defying powers) that bother me, but overall, action is far from the thing to complain about in Logan.

Beyond the action, what I like best in Logan is simply the spirit with which the movie proceeds, dour and downbeat, with an air of tragedy and a heavy sense of self in such a harsh and defeated world. The X-Men are gone, no one’s left to save everyone, and they deserve better than what they’ve gotten considering all they’ve tried to build. Despite his healing factor, Wolverine is breaking down, despite his great intellect and power, Professor X can’t escape the ravages of time and illness on his mind, there’s no miracle cure on the way and they can’t just fight their way out of their problems. Fighting is actually the last thing they want to do with young Laura now in their charge, a change in dynamic that allows a sense of family to creep its way back into Logan and Charles’ lives, and that creeping sensibility is driven even further home when they choose to help a family of farmers they run across while escaping the group that’s hunting them. Or rather, they, Logan, Charles and Laura, are in fact helped out by that family when they offer them dinner and a place to stay for the night. It’s a fleeting but nevertheless touching interlude for the three, and it gives real weight and meaning to the themes of family and humanity that Logan [and Logan] is striving for. Two quotes from the movie that you’ll hear in the trailers stand out to me in particular: “Someone has come along” when Logan tries to shirk his responsibility to help others, and “This is what life looks like” when Logan, Charles and Laura are at the dinner table with the family, and it’s genuinely rewarding to see Logan returning from his self-imposed exile in this superhero movie with a fuller range of emotions than we usually get to see in the genre.logan-professor-x

Logan isn’t perfect though, and, unfortunately, because it’s trying so hard and largely succeeding at reaching its goals, its flaws, many of which could have come down to being relatively minor in a less genuine film, stand out all the more. I like my Wolverine with a sense of guilt and a constant drive to turn people away because of how dangerous he is, I like that dilemma of selfishness and sacrifice inherent in the character, that sort of ‘always save the last bullet, either for your enemy or for yourself’ mentality, but in Logan, because of the specific plotlines that ended the X-Men (which I won’t reveal here), he’s a character who’s scarred a little bit more by loss than personal responsibility, and I feel like if he was a more personally responsible for the team’s demise, it would have given more weight to what the character goes through. That might be more of a personal take on the story informed by having read “Old Man Logan”, but it felt like there was a little missing there, a little bit less for Wolverine to feel bad about.

logan-lauraLaura herself is extremely well realized by newcomer Dafne Keene (especially considering it’s a role that calls for her to be mute for two-thirds of the movie), but the other kid mutants we run across in the movie display the same sort of shallow, use-your-power-once-then-get-shot presence that’s always bugged me with the more minor characters in the X-Men movies, and as those kids are being hunted down, its questionable why they’re so useless in a fight considering how clear it is that Laura, who grew up with them, must have been trained to do the things she does. Her mutant power is “claws and healing factor”, not “good in a fight”, and a little girl with knives in her hands (and feet) can’t just do the things she does without training, the same kind of training they all should have received.

Finally, I felt like the final big bad of the movie (who, again, I won’t reveal here) was more than a bit of a let down as a mostly empty vessel/fight machine, and he comes across as extremely schlocky when juxtaposed against the themes and events of the movie, particularly when his story collides with that same family I mentioned earlier. All of those scenes at the dinner table were meant to show Logan (and us) about the humanity lost but still possible for Logan, and I really think it would’ve been fine for Logan, Charles, and Laura to leave them behind, those moments existing as a sort of oasis or brief reprieve for the three, rather than having those family themes run right up against the mutant, genetic, neo-science that technically forms the backdrop of Logan. It was just a poor tonal match.

So should I see it?

Regardless of what genre we’re talking about, your appreciation of any story will depend largely on your level of buy-in with the world that story has built. For us comicbook nerds, superhero movies are an easy sell because we’ve already invested so much into the pre-existing versions of these worlds we’ve been reading about since well before their movies, but with Logan, there are a lot of real-life stakes to chew on and more than enough of a human story for anyone to latch onto as Logan, Charles, and Laura try to make their way through what life’s given them (and past the obstacles they face).

logan-father-daughterThat’s the good part, and it’s enough to make Logan clearly obviously a good movie, but there remains a part of me not quite convinced enough by it to call the movie a complete triumph. I like what Logan is supposed to be, a story about the end of a tragic hero’s tragic life and what he still has left to learn (or re-learn); I like that a lot actually, but I can’t totally get on board with the ways this specific story went down. I just feel like there were slightly more elegant ways to navigate this type of story, I still have some problems with the fake-looking effects that have always been a part of the X-Men movies (infrequent though they may be here), and I really didn’t like the movie’s ultimate bad guy for what he represented and how poorly he fit into the overall narrative. I think I complain so much about these things partly because of how close I feel to the material as someone who’s read about and thought about these characters far more than what’s just in these movies, especially with the X-Men whose movies have almost all left me at least a little disappointed. If you’re, instead, one of the people who discovered Wolverine through the movies and fell in love with the character through the movies, there’s a lot to like here and maybe even a lot more to feel about Hugh Jackman’s final turn in the role, and at the very least I can say that if every X-Men movie (or at least every Wolverine movie) had been this good, I would probably be right there with you. Still…

Thom’s Logan final score

4


On the Edge

  • Sony won’t still be making phones in 2029. That’s ridiculous!
  • Another Caliban? Or is this supposed to be the same European-sounding Caliban from the ’80s-set X-Men: Apocalypse now having taken on a British accent in the intervening 45 years?
  • Yeah, that “pretty bad dudes” line was a Trump reference, and yes, it did come to mind when I gave up on trying to attribute any of the actual complexity to the bad guys.

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