Review: More Than The Hype It Lives Up To, LOGAN Is A Superhero Movie With Tact And Soul


You don't usually go into a superhero movie expecting an emotionally taxing experience, but all of the promotional marketing for Logan warned us leading up to its release to expect exactly that. In Logan, James Mangold’s follow up to his notable though flawed 2013 outing The Wolverine, we’re shown a senile Professor Charles Xavier devoid of dignity and his usual poise. We're treated to an alcoholic, time-battered Wolverine. And we're told a story based on a comic that stands out for its bleakness. But that's the thing, many comic book fans don't love them for their stories, they love them for their spectacle.

Logan, beg pardon, is not about spectacle. This will disappoint that group of moviegoers, I purport, the ones that couldn't appreciate the au fait of Christopher Nolan's run with the Batman mythology, thought Origins was better than The Wolverine, or were surprised to learn that David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, starring Viggo Mortensen and featuring an appearance from the ever menacing Ed Harris, was itself based on a comic.

Well...

What makes comics great is the subtext, the parables being told underneath the surface of the great art that elevates the medium to the prestige of modern mythology. When auteurs get their hand on the material and are tasked to make them into films, they'll look to that well for guidance in translating the value - the gregarious nature of its preponderancy. Or, in layman's terms, “it's gist.”

One of the great things about this film is its comments on the historic and literary prominence of comic books as, essentially, an outgrowth of classical art itself, by hinging it's central arc, as it were, on a mission involving (and contrasting) an actual in-film comic book. “You read this stuff in your spare time?” Logan comments at one point, speaking to the young girl in his charge and referencing an X-Men comic.

I'm reminded of Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian thriller Children Of Men by Logan, as it takes from it many narrative beats. This proves both a good and bad thing, that is, this example -a microcosm- of films that transcend their hub genre. This, in particular, for the superhero film, as to date only a few titles have done this. The Dark Knight was compared to heavyweights of the crime drama genre such as Michael Mann’s commercially successful Heat from ‘95, and likewise Logan is fitted to the template of a Western in disguise. Not, of course, to say that Children Of Men is a western (it isn't), but what films like Children Of Men (and now Logan) and the American Western embrace is an undeniable wilderness of desolation speaking through hope-drained locales and people, a praxis on coming full circle with life -an emphasis, it bears noting, not prevalent in superhero cinema. Yes, it's that kind of film -transcending its pedigree.

During Xavier and Logan’s private arc together, there are vestiges of a stage play performance. Specifically, a hint of Arthur Miller’s "Death Of A Salesman" in the mentally degenerating Xavier's regard for Logan. Much like Miller’s Willy Loman, who expresses deep frustration with his son Biff, Xavier sees through Logan a failure in himself. As a teacher, a mentor, and, with crushing clarity, a surrogate father.

Director Knate Lee’s under the radar 2016 film Cardboard Boxer also comes to mind. Not a stage play, of course, but a film that felt like one. To wit, even thematically there are parallels. Knate’s film is about a homeless man coerced by some well-off teens to fight for money, and in it the main character, played by Thomas Haden Church, bears a grizzled sense of hope despite the bleakness of his circumstances.

I would be remiss to not add that talented thespian Boyd Holbrook, who plays the bounty hunter Pierce in Logan, also appears in Cardboard Boxer. Between his cybernetically enhanced villain portrayal and his tragically maimed post-hero, Holbrook stands a Shakespearean quintessence through and through; a good thing for us viewers athirst for drama, but bad news him (his characters, that is) as our subject. There are parallels fit to spark night long debates between his Pierce in Logan and, in Cardboard Boxer, a homeless double leg amputee war vet called Pinky.

Logan is by far not a typical superhero movie, is what I'm saying. Critically, in fact, it is being hailed as perhaps the most important superhero film, not for its subversion of the genre but for its scope, it's heart, and it's guts. The plot finds Logan working as a driver in the year 2029, drunk every time you see him, and living off the grid with a tracker mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), and hiding Xavier, who is classified a weapon of mass destruction due to side effects of his neurodegenerative disease.

No new mutants have been seen for twenty years. And Logan, now reflecting on an overlong life of hardship and incalculable physical trauma, suffers guilt over being the last of his kind. He nurses the broken heart only a man of his ilk could have, all the more making it fitting that the film used Johnny Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails song, "Hurt", as its backdrop. There's an eerie clairvoyance now to the lyrics, even more so in light of news that Mangold did not think of the song until after viewing the trailer himself with the song already attached. It is one of those mystery factoids for the ages.

While Logan is on a driving job at a funeral, drinking off to the side, he is approached by a woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who apparently recognizes and has been looking for him. Later it is discovered that Gabriela is a nurse traveling with a small girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), and they have fled Transigen, a corrupt hospital that was experimenting on children -Laura being one of them, and needs Logan's help getting to a safe place in North Dakota. Professor X, again, senile, his rambling often leaving the separation between fact and fantasy indecipherable, keeps going on about a new mutant that will come along.

Foreshadowing for Laura? The film doesn't insult us by pretending we don't already know.

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Anyway, after some prodding, Logan reluctantly agrees to chaperone. But a bounty hunter from Transigen, Pierce, is hot on the trail with a team of mercenaries that would disagree with their itinerary.

The action in Logan is fast paced, but there are long stretches of storytelling in those sets that feel like stages, where a number of contrasting narratives unfold. There's the story of the tragic hero looking back on his life, marking this the first superhero film to examine the consequences of superheroing. There's the story of a lifelong friendships coming around to its final curtain, a friendship that has grown, as many do, into a filial bond. And there is the story of Logan and Laura. One of subtle humor and a heartbreak, an arc that will take you by the throat and drag you uncounted miles in the mud. And you'll be grateful for it, as was I.

Newcomer Dafne Keen, she holds her own with heavyweights Jackman and Stewart like a natural. Stunt doubles Rissa Kalir and Marissa Labog do outstanding work. A nod also to the rest of the stunt crew, who make use of the R-rating to really amp up the fights and chases. What John Wick is to the headshot, Logan is to the head stab. This movie is not kids, ladies and gents... And by the way, I'm glad you asked! I counted four moms who had to leave the movie with a crying youngin'. I’d be lying if I said this didn't add to the fun.

See Logan three times, people, one for each blade. And if possible, thrice more on the forthcoming Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital HD Combo Pack from 20th Century Fox.

Written by Khalil Barnett
khalil_barnett@yahoo.com 

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