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The mutant condition

"Logan" is a powerful, moving piece about one of comics' favorite sons

By Sawyer Jackson
On April 19, 2017

 

Superhero movies are at their peak now, and in this age of sprawling, interconnected movie universes is missing something: the end.

Free from the constraints of setting up the next film in the franchise or worrying if an actor doesn’t want to return to the role, “Logan” is allowed to intimately examine and provide closure for this iconic character in a way that has never been done before.

The film boasts the high-octane, bloody action that audiences expect from a Wolverine story, but at its core, this is a thematically-rich character drama about Logan as a man, a weapon, and a hero. It’s about honoring the character, his rich history, and Hugh Jackman’s legendary performance. The beloved mutant couldn’t ask for a better send-off than this.

The story is set in the year 2029. The X-Men are no more. Mutants are a dying race. Logan (Hugh Jackman) lives beyond the Mexico border just barely scraping by as a limo driver and as the caregiver of the now-senile Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). The X-Men’s former leader’s telepathic powers have given way to a degenerative brain disease that triggers deadly seizures.

Logan himself is not healing the way he used to. He just wants to make enough money to buy a boat so he and Charles can get away from the world and live out the rest of their days in solitude. He also carries around an adamantium bullet, to end it all when the time is right.

However, those plans are put on hold when he comes into contact with a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who is a mutant with abilities very much like his.

Laura is being pursued by an enigmatic corporation that sees her as a liability that needs to be terminated. With nowhere to turn, Logan, alongside Xavier, must escort Laura across the United States to a safe haven called “Eden,” a place she read about in an X-Men comic book.

While “Logan” probably won’t end up being a game-changer for comic book movies, I can see it carving out a unique space in this ever-expanding superhero landscape.

Not tied down to continuity (though to be fair, the continuity of the “X-Men” is a confusing mess at the best of times) or burdened by rating guidelines, the film is free to show off the version of Wolverine that  fans have wanted to see for years.

When his claws come out and he goes berserk, it’s brutal, bloody, gory, and most of all, it hurts. Thankfully, director/co-writer James Mangold doesn’t go the easy route and cater to audience bloodlust.

 It may have awesome action beats and bloody carnage, but violence is portrayed as something you should always hope to never encounter or commit.

Logan is a man whose life has been consumed by violence. He was transformed with the intent of making the perfect killing machine. He’s watched countless friends and loved ones die. Death and violence are dark, ever-present specters that shadow him wherever he goes.

Killing is an act that leaves its mark and not even Logan can heal from it.

The film is based on superhero comics, but its heart lies in the Western genre. Wolverine and the X-Men have fallen into myth. Like most protagonists in Westerns, Logan is a loner. A man long-forgotten by the world he once helped shape. In response, he wants nothing to do with the world, either.

In fact, his initial instinct when the Reavers first come to collect Laura is to abandon her to fend for herself and get Xavier and himself far from danger. He knows doing the right thing would be to protect Laura at all costs, but he’s been down this road before. Everybody he gets close to dies violently. He’s without purpose, hope, and love.

It’s a testament to Hugh Jackman’s performance that we are always on Logan’s side, even when he is making selfish decisions. Though he’s been playing this character over the course of 17 years and nine movies, it feels like Jackman is able to dig deeper into this role than he ever has before.

He never saw Wolverine as merely a platform to catapult himself to bigger and better projects. He’s made it clear he genuinely loves this character and is forever grateful for putting him on the map.

If "Logan" had come out 10 years ago, or with another actor in the role, I don’t believe “Logan” would have had quite the impact it does. Wolverine belongs to Jackman, and he gives the role everything it deserves and then some.

Though Jackman is more than capable of carrying the film on his shoulders, his co-stars also hold their own. This is Charles Xavier as we’ve never seen him before, and Patrick Stewart is clearly having a blast in this role. He’s older, bitter, and unfiltered.

He was a significant figure in the push for mutant rights, and without his school, his X-Men, and his life’s work, he’s become almost as world-weary as Logan. But he sees a glimmer of hope in Laura that it takes Logan too long to notice. He gets one moment halfway through the film, which I won’t spoil here, that is so emotionally heartbreaking that it stands as some of the best work this veteran actor has accomplished.

The real revelation here, however, is Dafne Keen as Laura. Finding good child actors is hard, but finding great ones is rare. Laura is silent for most of the film, and despite her young age, Keen is up for such a monumental task. It’s difficult for some actors to convey emotions with just facial expressions, but she pulls it off effortlessly.

On top of that, Laura is just an amazing character. Quiet, compassionate, and adorable, yet in equal measure feral and even more badass than Logan.

The film is so reliant on the relationship between Logan and Laura that if a lesser actor had gotten the part, the whole picture could have gone off the rails. Thankfully, the creative team found a young actress  more than capable of going toe-to-toe with Jackman.

From what I’ve gathered, there was pressure from the studio to make Laura older as teen actors are more experienced and can work longer hours, but Mangold and company wisely stuck to their guns.

Laura may be dangerous in her own right, but she’s still a child, which makes the journey to get her to safety all the more critical. It’s not just about saving a little girl, it’s about preserving what little remains of mutantkind.

Superhero stories are about protecting those who can’t protect themselves. While stories about super-powered beings fighting other super-powered beings are cool and have their place, the humanity can easily get lost in the scuffle.

“Logan” is not concerned with taking down the megalomaniacal villain or stopping a world-ending cataclysm as much as it is concerned with our main character doing his best to make sure this child doesn’t go down the same cycle of violence he did.

That’s the most vital lesson a parent can impart on their child. To make sure they go on to live a healthy, peaceful life. To hope they will embody the best of their parents and none of the bad. To learn from their mistakes and become better than they ever could.

Before he comes into contact with Laura, Logan is adrift, and no longer the man he used to be. All it takes is a young girl to remind him of the hero he once was and still has the power to be: Wolverine.

 If “Logan” truly is Jackman’s swan song in this role, then he’s going out on a high note. There will inevitably be other actors who take up the mantle in the future, but Jackman’s Wolverine was the best there was at what he did.

What he did will remain forever legendary.

 

Final Rating: 9 out of 10

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