Tough Beef Jerky
In the face of rising superhero multiverses, over-the-top special effects, spectacular action set pieces, and conventional comic book hack-offs, Logan adopts a much more intimate and thus much more brutal approach to one of the most iconic superheroes of our time, the wolverine.
Director James Mangold approaches the character in the vein of the Old Man Logan comic book series where a much more grizzled, troubled, and brutal Wolverine is depicted unlike anything we’ve seen in past installments. Aesthetically we are dropped into a modern western drama/post-apocalyptic genre in the realms of Northern Mexico and El Paso where all the mutants have passed away except for the remaining three, Logan, Xavier, and Caliban who hide out in an abandoned factory in a desert. Here, Xavier suffers from a mental disease that poses him as a lethal bomb waiting to detonate and Logan spends his time as a limousine drive and drinking his days away.
If the title says anything, this is a comic book movie stripped of everything conventional and predictable offering a potential playground and study to dive into the characters themselves and thankfully this is exactly what we get. We see Logan stripped of everything that could have kept his cool and given him purpose, but now without a reason to save the world or stand for what Xavier stood for, he’s left without purpose or reason. He’s a man with years of regret and pain and blood on his hands and he’s nearly on the brink of ending his life until a girl shows up, a mutant girl with powers exactly like him. Reluctantly, Logan takes the girl under his wing to bring her to safety as a corporation involved in creating child mutants for weaponization comes after them.
As this set-up propels the movie into action, the characters are forced to come together in unexpected ways and because of this we get an inside look into the scars and pain each have. What is even more unexpected is the way Xavier’s school for mutants is still a living light amidst them all. They become a family, Logan as the father of X-23 and Xavier much like a wise grandfather, vulnerable and dependent on one of his most dear pupils. For Xavier, the dream never ended and Logan can save it if he can bring the girl to a safe zone for mutants.
This is the dramatic thread that makes Logan vibrant and relevant. The violence only solidifies the stakes and drama that is at hand. At times though, the gore and violence become over-the-top and sometimes this detracts from the more intimate scenes where a single violent act carries much more emotional weight. Still, the reality of what Logan has really done to people is much more vivid and shows you the weight bearing on his conscience because he literally slices people up in gruesome, macabre fashion. The violence, drama, and themes make Logan relevant and even more so when you see its plot threads similar to some of the greater earlier movies that came before it.
It hearkens back to Children of Men, except in this case instead of the only baby in the world, its one of the last mutants to survive. The girl is a symbol of hope, the hope that sparks excitement in Xavier as he sees his dream still lives on to see mutants and humans at peace with one another. In other ways, I’m reminded of the Road to Perdition where Tom Hanks tries to protect his son from his own bloody legacy. In one scene Logan tries to convince his daughter to be a little girl and do things that children do. He doesn’t want to see her become a murderer like him. The vulnerability and delicate relationship between the two also resemble violent movies like The Taxi Driver and Leon the Professional where an older man tries to protect a younger girl, a desperate attempt to keep something innocent from being tainted by the world.
This is what makes Logan a lovable character. We want to see him actually learn to care and it took a young innocent girl, his daughter to bring him to that place. The movie is artistic and refreshing even if its vulgarity and brutality is a lot to bear. The themes of redemption, hope, and vulnerability pave new avenues for the superhero genre. It proves that you don’t (in some cases maybe even ought not to ) have large action driven spectacles and multiverses to make an amazing superhero film. We care about the people, not the visual effects.
Mixed in with Johnny Cash music marketing, dry and dusty tones, intimately choreographed fight scenes, a western road trip, and a slight blend of sci-fi, the movie is tough and tender. It’s beef jerky, tough to chew, ridden with western rub, but tenderly dried.