James Mangold’s Logan presents to us a broken world with damaged people. The first line of film, "Fuck", is blurted out with a sense of weariness that hovers over this world. It also lays the groundwork for a series that has been waiting 17 years for an R-rating. It doesn’t take long into the running time for the film to unleash its full violent splendour affirming its departure from superhero movie PG-13 norm.
But the most significant departure is in tone. Logan is firmly grounded as a bleak gritty neo-western. My weeks leading up to the screening were spent building up expectations and envisioning the super-hero equivalent of Unforgiven. “Wait till you see Unforgiven, the greatest Clint Eastwood western”, my dad used to say, when I used to swear by the Man with No Name Trilogy. Logan is definitely the same marker for Hugh Jackman’s run as the Wolverine in what is ultimately a meditative character study swathed up in a compelling mood piece.
Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) is almost the poster boy for this broken world. He walks with a limp, reeks of alcohol and doesn’t heal as quickly anymore. Most of all, he, and the X-Men, have almost been rendered irrelevant by this world in 2029 – relics of a past people like to think was noble. What remains of them is glorious watered down reverential myth, much like the representation of Sherlock Holmes in Holmes – almost a commentary on how we viewed the previous X-Men films. We also learn mutant X gene no longer manifests itself meaning there have been no new mutants in while, evoking Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliant Children of Men.
Whereas Logan’s brokenness is noted by physical deterioration, Charles Xavier/Professor X’s (Patrick Stewart) deterioration is up in his powerful brain which is a corroding nuclear warhead held together by masking tape in the form of back alley meds. They are holed up in an isolated junkyard across the Mexico border with Stephen Merchant, as the albino mutant Caliban, playing the weary caretaker to the fragile unwilling Xavier who suffers from seizures and possible dementia. They appear to be just sitting and waiting for nature to retire them, one way or the other.
But alas one last mission for the remaining X-Men presents itself when the 11-year-old Laura/X-23 (Dafne Keen) finds herself on Logan’s doorstep. She is almost a projection of Logan from times past for more reasons that one in that, on her tail is a special taskforce with pure ill intent embodied by Boyd Hoolbrook’s cybernetically enhanced Donald Pierce and The Reavers. There is an initial jarring lack empathy on Logan’s part till he eventually decides to help this girl get to a utopia called Eden, thus kicking off a road movie, again bringing to mind Children of Men.
Like most good road movies, there is a slow unravelling of character. Logan comes off as a man tired of the prison violence he has been locked in. I went in thinking of Unforgiven, which has the protagonist forced into action one last time but, whilst there is a meditation on the pathology of violence, there is sense he had found some solace in his life. In Logan, our protagonist has not found this solace. He seems resigned to the prospect life has no easement for him. There is an early scene with Logan at cemetery giving a hint of his desires and brings to the fore his humanity in a way none of his previous portrayals have.
Mangold makes reference to a classic western called Shane which speaks more appropriately to the character of Logan. It has the lines “A man is who he is… there’s no living with killing” and it sheds some light on this tortured man we used to root for. Logan’s underlying melancholic tone milks feelings I didn’t expect, like pity. There is this shot of a blood covered battered Logan and his eyes are just heartbreaking serving as the window to a broken soul. There is another juxtaposition that again plays on Logan’s identity in another time past but goes to again serve as a mirror painfully reminding Logan of the true nature of his history of violence, motives notwithstanding.
Mangold basically shames us for lusting after the idea of Logan in berserker mode making the moments of brutal violence a little less enjoyable. Kevin Costner has spoken of how true violence has a measure of sloppiness and we get a sense of this with how the action scenes are choreographed. Logan’s adamantium claws rip through flesh with wince-inducing unconventionality puncturing through heads in a manner that make you think Logan’s aim for the jugular was off. Underneath the action, Mangold continues to effectively harness tones ranging from exasperation to rage and to renewed purpose.
This truly is Jackman’s finest and most nuanced performance. He powerfully conveys a battle hardened man who lives in full knowledge there was little grace to the life he lived. There is a lot of regret and little hope to his cadence. The same could be said of Xavier who drags around some heavy guilt and is soaked in remorse. Fatalistic is the word that came to mind but our sentiment slowly changes as we come to better understand this version of Logan. It’s not all doom and gloom as we are afforded some heartfelt moments between Logan and Xavier wrapped in some welcome humor.
Like the finest neo-westerns, this film laments the end of an era. I half expected a Tommy Lee Jones voice over to usher us out this film with a reflection on a man’s walk with violence. Instead, we see Mangold channel a soft spot that, despite the hardcore mature content, acknowledges that most of this film’s viewers first encountered Wolverine as a yellow-spandex wearing hero in their childhood. It’s a satisfying end to a Jackman’s journey if a little too sentimental.
I bet by 2017’s end, Fox find themselves a new pair of knuckles to unsheath the famed adamantium instruments of death. I just hope he lives up to the high standards Jackman and Mangold have set.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessa/delalibessa@Yahoo.com/Ghana