Note: I have a more stream-of-consciousness YouTube review of Logan here: https://youtu.be/3aHF3ZgCzfw
I’d been trying to figure out why I think Logan is a brilliant movie and for a few days I couldn’t put my finger on it, until I saw it a second time.
Answer: it doesn’t have cheese.
The movie treats itself not as a movie made up of people with “amazing” superpowers, but more as a straightforward western-style thriller, with characters that regular people like us can relate to. There aren’t any tongue-in-cheek moments, or blatant fan-service easter eggs that would make you roll your eyes upon recognition. There are no snappy puns, one-liners, or cliches. The fourth wall is never broken. There’s no mcguffin, and nature or luck or coincidence never steps in to save the day. There’s no wasted dialogue of the heroes and villains telling each other what they’re going to do to each other before they actually start fighting. It’s continually self-reflecting but never self-aggrandizing. There’s no posturing.
Everything is laid bare, everything is exposed. Everything is honest. Everyone gets hurt.
Logan reminds me of three Clint Eastwood-directed movies: Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, and Gran Torino. Each is an intimate tone poem, a moment in a much bigger universe, each with a definitive ending. Logan has the same methodical pacing as the Eastwood movies, taking its time and keeping the story simple. You could even say it’s sparse, compared to the typical blockbuster superhero movie. There’s a lot of open road, there’s a lot of time to talk, there’s enough time to do nothing to the point that the real truths get squeezed out to break the desperate silence.
Now for the players. Hugh Jackman, like a seasoned jazz musician, has portrayed the character for so long, for so many times, that he can now improvise his moves organically, seamlessly, going from rage to sorrow to emptiness to hope, and make us believe every step of it. He is the hub of the story, the caregiver, the caretaker, the son, the father, the friend, the provider, the protector. His constant limp, the source of which is never explained, is a constant reminder of his fragility, whether or not his healing factor can still squeeze bullet shells out of his battered body. His hidden reserve of Wolverine power is still there, but we know it’ll be gone soon. He is dying from within, from age and time and relentless hardship. He is dying because he refuses to give up. And the closer he gets to that moment, the closer he gets to being like us, the more we identify with him.
Patrick Stewart, like our own elders, plays the burden as well as the movie’s conscience. He is the load that we all bear on our shoulders throughout life, but also the lessons that we learn from carrying it. For all intents he is Logan’s father, suffering from senility and Alzheimer’s and making everyone suffer when his telepathic episodes flare up. He reminds us that we all affect each other, even when we try not to, even when we distance ourselves. The steel water tower that acts as his home and psychic shield serves like our own convalescent facilities, where he hide away our seniors when they become burdensome, when they become “too much” to handle. Stewart portrays a nonagenerian with schizophrenic unpredictability, wavering from a wise teacher to a giddy child to a stubborn patient. Anyone who’s ever taken care of a senior can identify with Logan when Charles petulantly sticks his tongue out to show that he has indeed swallowed his meds. And when you’re just about sick of his shit, he becomes fragile again, needing to be carried and dressed and guided. The way I see it, for an actor to portray an old person that well, he must have studied them, spent enough time with them, enough to understand and sympathize with them. A lesser actor would have aped the role, would have made it either too comical to be believable, or so dim and hopeless that the performance becomes monotone, one depressing note. I believed Stewart’s portrayal because he reminded of my own real life parents and grandparents.
Dafne Keen portrays Laura, the product of an organization that values control and profit at the cost of innocence and natural progress. She never had a childhood. She was never given a proper birthday party. As Wolverine began as Weapon X in the comic books, Laura was raised to be a weapon, an X-23. And just as Patrick Stewart could have portrayed a senior without depth or nuance, Keen could have lazily portrayed Laura as a killing machine, like in a Terminator movie. Since she didn’t speak for the first half of the movie, she had to show us who she is through her physical movements, her eyes, her subtle gestures, her convincing way of eating cereal just like any other American kid would while still keeping her survival instincts at high alert, and ALL of this without parody or exagerration. When she showed that she could kill without hesitation, we still needed to be assured that that’s not all that she was. She used her body to shield Charles from gunfire not because she was programmed by scientists, but by natural instincts. Her rubber ball and backpack could have been cliched props, but they were believably hers, her only possessions. James Mangold, the director, kept her at a distance from us, the audience, just long enough so that when she finally did talk, and the verbal floodgates opened, it was a wonderful, cathartic moment of relief.
Stephen Merchant as Caliban is the sacrificial lamb in all of this, the penitent man, the alarm clock, the bargaining chip, the closest thing to the movie’s comedy relief. He, like the other adults, is filled with regret since he used to help the Reavers round up mutants. He atones for his past sins by helping Logan take care of Charles, by doing what he can to help the few remaining mutants safe. His skills are limited because he is also dying. And for most of the movie, he is disposable, a liability–he wasn’t even welcome to join Logan and Charles on their ultimate goal, buying a Sunseeker boat and living in the middle of the ocean. Merchant’s portrayal of an albino mutant telepath who is allergic to light could easily have been overdone to the point of being comical or two-dimensional. Instead, the movie’s focus is on his effort and allegiance, desperately trying to make himself useful somehow, some way. His last gesture, of committing suicide to provide distraction so that Logan, Charles and Laura can escape, is a poignant one, that tells us that no one is ever, absolutely, useless.
As for the bad guys, there are plenty. But I think the true villain in this story is time. The atrophy that comes with time. The time that is never enough. The time that we lose through neglect, and regret that we could never get back. The death that, given enough time, comes to all of us.
Which makes our time here more precious. No time to waste on superficial dialogue. No time to waste on unnecessary subplots and characters. No time to waste on flashy costumes.
I think director/writer James Mangold and Hugh Jackman, who I’ve heard came up with the original story in a dream, respects time enough not to have an open-ended ending. Logan is dead, Charles is dead, Caliban is dead, and the children will reach Eden, period. The movie doesn’t require an alternate timeline in an alternate universe. It doesn’t need continuity with other X-men movies. Nobody will be resurrected here. There are no maybes.
I think this is why I admire this movie so much. It had an uncompromising goal, and reached it.