Logan is a post-heroic movie. There are no superheroes. There are no heroes, no leaders, no protection in innocence, no innocence in childhood.
You will not be inspired by this movie. It will not make you happy. It will not make you feel good.
But it is probably the most realistic and most grounded movie of people with unusual power.
It could have been better. It could have been happier. It could have inspired, it could have taught lessons or been ABOUT something. It could have explained things, it could have been clear.
It isn’t. It wasn’t. And you have to decide if you’re ok with that.
TL;DR review – Logan has grown old, Professor X has grown senile. There are no more mutants. Logan is compelled to try to escort a feral child similar to himself to the Canadian border while pursued by evil corporate types. Gruesome violence ensues, touching everyone.
Introduction and Plot:
Well, we wanted a R-rated Wolverine movie. We got one. All the claw deaths you imagined as a fan are here. Just don’t look for any heroes. This is an odd, depressing movie. A good movie, not a great movie though it could have been. It does not give happy endings, it does not resolve much but it does pound the nail of finality into a number of characters. There aren’t a lot of bad guys still alive at the end of this but in a way, they still win. Very little is won, much is lost including whatever affection you might have for some of these comic book characters. This is a brutal, bleak look at failure and ennui, at the hero rejecting the call again and again and again. This is the story of age and failure and decay. Whatever its flaws, and I intend to talk about them at length, this movie is ABOUT things. Just not nice things. Like Wolverine used to say, “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn’t very nice.” That’s true here. Only without him being the ‘best’ anymore.
So here’s the plot. Logan has grown old, this movie is set in 2028 or there abouts. There have not been any new mutants born for a very long time. He is working as a limo driver near El Paso and trying to save money to buy a boat. Why a boat? Because he’s hiding Professor Xavier south of the border and Xavier isn’t safe to be around people. The world’s most powerful telepath gets seizures and loses control of his powers, possibly killing the Xmen off (the movie is vague on this but it’s strongly suggested). Logan’s plan is to buy a big boat and sail off where Professor X can die peacefully of old age without endangering anyone else.
However, Logan is found by a runaway nurse, who is harboring X23, a child grown from Logan’s genetic material in some way, who was raised in a laboratory as a weapon. He tries repeatedly to tell the woman he is not interested in helping her, but the promise of money (enough to buy the boat he needs for Xavier) seems to convince him to help. However, when he goes to pick them up, the nurse is dead and X23 appears to be missing. It turns out, she’s stowed away in his trunk and so when he drives back to Xavier, she comes with. When Xavier meets the girl, he becomes obsessed with trying to help her reach safety.
The big, bad corporation that grew her, wants her back. Or dead. That’s a big vague. And they have some slightly cybernetic gunmen trying to chase her down. They show up and force Logan, Xavier and X23 on the run.
They travel north, meet and help and fatally endanger a group of farmers. Xavier is killed by a full-sized clone of Wolverine. Eventually Logan gets to the border crossing where a group of children have somehow managed to make the same trip from Mexico City to North Dakota. Logan is badly injuried by previous fights and recovers slowly. When the time comes to help the kids cross the border, he refuses to help them. But then changes his mind for some reason when he sees the corporate bad guys going after them.
Finally Logan is killed fighting his clone while the children manage to escape to Canada. X23 says a little benediction. Lines taken from the much better movie, Shane are said over his grave and the Cross is turned sideways to become an X as the children go north.
Logan/Hugh Jackman. Hugh Jackman has embodied Wolverine like a second skin. He’s treated the character with respect and never given less than is all. Even in the lesser Xmen movies, Jackman is there trying to make Wolverine feel like a real person. He’s the same excellent actor here. It’s sad he won’t be playing the character anymore but it’s a decent send off for him. It just would have been nice if he’d been given a better send off.
The way the mutants were ‘taken out’. In previous Xmen movies, the mutant apocalypse has always been a huge monster/mutant/robot menace. With concentration camps and Nazi parallels galore. In this movie, the mutants were killed off by a combination of genetically modifying corn syrup and Xavier’s own brain. Altering the food and water supply to make mutants less likely to appear or to make them less powerful is neat. It’s a clever solution to the problem of too many mutants that hasn’t been attempted.
The relationship between Logan and Xavier. I didn’t care for Xavier in this movie but Logan did. The father/son relationship couldn’t be more on-the-nose, with an old man taking care of his much older, failing father. Due to the writing flaws, they aren’t given many scenes where they can shine or show care for each other, but the bitterness and sense of obligation are there. And they feel real. Again, not a good feeling, but a real one, where the son resents having to care for an elderly father and where the father feels disappointment in his son. Xavier is constantly trying to get Logan to do the ‘right’ thing, even when Xavier’s judgement is more….idealistic than wise. Logan is the practical on, who has the earn the money, buy the pills, make sure Xavier TAKES the pills and carry him, rescue him, protect him. It doesn’t feel like affection but rather an obligation that goes deep to the bone.
The future. This is no techno future, nor some blasted post apocalypse (Mark Millar can burn in hell, he’s a cancer on superhero comics), no a mindless dystopia. This is the real world. Just a few years down the road. TVs are incrementally better, semi trucks drive themselves, farming is mostly done by the huge robots that would be the bad guys in other Xmen movies, and there’s a Wall and border controls between the US and Mexico. But there’s still cars, still casinos, still hospitals, still normal guns. It’s the world we live in and it’s very grounded and real-feeling.
The attempt to link comic books to the Western as part of the American myth. There are stories we tell about ourselves as Americans. The story of the Revolution and Independence. The Civil War. The Old West. And the Superhero. Stories matter. The stories we tell about ourselves shapes who we are and what we think of ourselves. Logan is a Western, where the gunslinger has claws instead of a gun. It explicitly links to that via an in-movie showing of the movie Shane (which is also a problem, I’ll talk about later). But more than that, the setting of the film is all Western landscapes and farmers, gunmen and crooked company men. If the biogentic corporation ALSO ran the railroads, it couldn’t be more explicit. Leave aside the fact that the main character actors are Australian, British and British/Spanish. This is a story set in and about America. It says the superhero is the cowboy.
Spirituality. This is not Unforgiven, which is one of the best stories to talk about violence ever to come out. But along with borrowing themes and scenes from Shane, it also brought along the morality of it. That there is a cost to killing. Not that feral murder child seems to care, but there is some indication that some day, she may. Logan, for his part, is clearly haunted by his own savagery and the killings he carries with him. And the fact that there is moral weight to killing leads to the giver of morality. God. This isn’t a religious film and it isn’t even about redemption, oddly. But I give the movie credit for trying to grapple with the biggest questions of all: how should we live and how should we treat each other? The movie doesn’t do a great job of addressing that but I give it credit for even trying.
Finally, it took chances and did something new with superheroes. This is not like any other comic book movie out there. This is drama and deserves to be treated as a drama. What makes a movie ‘good’? A good movie accomplishes the goals it set out for itself. A good action movie has skillful stunts and excitement. A good drama is emotional and feels like heightened reality. A good comedy makes you laugh. And you get bonus points for trying to stretch the genre you are working in. Casablanca was talking about isolationism as well as about Rick and Ilsa. Unforgiven was about violence as well as the western plot. My criticisms that follow pay the movie the respect of holding it to the high standards that the movies demands.
Professor X. Patrick Stewart is a very fine actor and was the man born to play Professor Xavier. It’s unfortunate that the writing of the film leaves him little to do but moan and thrash around and be useless. This is deliberate. Xavier is a burden to Logan. He is both Logan’s reason and his cost. And he is dangerous. He is no longer able to control his mental powers or seemingly even able to use them. He is worse than useless, he’s a danger to himself and others. Stewart has done a better job showing a powerful, competent older man losing his mind in Safe House (an underrated movie I recommend for more than just the gun porn in it). If the screenwriter had watched Safe House before writing Xavier, there might have been more power and dynamism in Stewart’s role. Instead, we’re left with a man babbling ‘Logan’ and ‘Laura’ tiresomely. Also, Xavier’s impulses are both racist (speciest?) and foolish. He only cares about X23 because she’s one of ‘his kind’, a Mutant. And his decision to force themselves on a farm family when he knows they’re being pursued by murderous thugs, where every hour counts, where their presence will risk their lives is shockingly selfish and shameful. He is everything wrong with Liberalism and I don’t level that argument from a political partisan perspective. He just plain makes bad decisions coming from foolish worldview. The movie bear it out, causing his death and the death of innocents.
X23/Laura. I just didn’t like her. The actress did fine, especially with role that is effectively mute. Which is part of the problem. For most of the movie she is a little murder machine, selfish and violent even against people who aren’t threatening her. That characterization makes sense for what was written, but that’s the problem. She is not an innocent child that needs protecting. She isn’t Logan’s offspring. She takes what she wants, kills without remorse and punches people in the face when she can’t get what she wants. She doesn’t talk or ask, in fact she’s mute for 3/4ths of the movie. We have nothing to sympathize with her except for the fact that she exists and that she’s young. She doesn’t ask for help, she demands it and the movie demands we care about her. Well, I didn’t. I almost thought the evil corporation had a point: she’s too dangerous to be running around loose. Just imagine how many people she’s going to kill and maim throughout her life, because she doesn’t change by the end of the movie. I don’t believe she has learned about the sanctity of life by the end of the movie, despite the grave scene. No regret, no remorse, no thanks.
Also, how dumb is it to put adamantium in the body of someone who’s not done growing? How does that work? Is she supposed to stay that size forever? Dumb.
Logan’s career. Why a limo driver? That is such a random job for Logan to be doing. And we spend a good part of the movie’s opening watching him drive people around. It’s like he’s working as a cashier at a gas station. Why not have him smuggling people across the Mexican border? Or working as a bouncer? Or driving a semi truck full of liquor? Something that ties into the plot or ties into his past or ties into his character. It might be a minor thing but it’s a missed opportunity and it bothered me and took me out of the film.
The Shane reference and the attempt to riff on that. I gave the movie credit for trying to tie the superhero to the western and become part of the American story. But there’s an old saying, ‘never put a better movie in your own movie’. Because people will wish that they were watching that instead. Same with Shane. Shane is an iconic film and one that stretches the genre and goes from being a ‘good’ western to being a great film. However, the attempt to tie Shane and Logan together doesn’t work. One example is the farm family Professor Xavier gets killed…I mean that Logan and Xavier try to help. These farmers are clear parallels to the homesteaders in Shane. Their farm situation is similar, their family structure is similar, they’re in conflict with the ‘bad guys’ that own all the land around them. The movie almost wants you to talk about Shane instead of talking about Logan. It’s bait and I’m tempted to take it, but a movie has to be its own thing. It can’t lean on other, unrelated movies.* Not to mention the fact that Shane saved the farmers, Logan and Xavier (Xavier really) gets the farmers ALL killed. This is both a head fake, subverting our expectations that Logan is going to follow the Shane plotline, and it’s cheap.
A big deal is made of Shane’s final speech about how there’s no living with a killing, that it’s a brand. And that ‘there are no more guns in the valley’, line. The first half, about the weight of killing someone actually works and if it stopped there, I’d be more or less ok with that at least. But there ARE guns still in the valley, Logan may be dead but X23 is still a murder machine and all the other mutant children have all killed now too. Yes, they’re leaving but they aren’t gone for good. But this is where I’m getting sucked in to talking about Shane instead of talking about Logan, and again, that’s why you don’t put a better movie in your own film.
The relationship between Logan and X23. First of all, they don’t have one. As Logan says in the movie, he meets this little murder machine a few days ago and suddenly he’s supposed to care about her. She’s not his child. She is the product of DNA stolen from Logan and carried to term inside some random Mexican woman. Not only did he not know she existed, he had nothing to do with the mother. And this all leads to bad storytelling. Because you can have this background and still have a relationship between the characters. But they don’t. She doesn’t seem to view him as a father figure, as a man of authority over her. She cries out calling him ‘papa’ towards the end of the movie but that doesn’t work because she hasn’t acted that way previously. But she should have. And he should have taken up the duty to raise her and teach her. Or else he should have left her by the side of the road, which he pretty clearly wants to do. Dick move but Wolverine seems to be a dick in this movie, not a hero. Not even a decent man. Logan doesn’t care about her, she doesn’t care about him. And the tragedy here, among the many tragedies of this movie, is it didn’t have to be written this way.
But it was.
The theme. What is the theme of Logan? What is Logan ABOUT?
Well, it’s not about choosing to be a father, even if the child isn’t of your making. Logan refuses to do that all the way up to the end.
It’s not about atonement and trying to make right the mistakes of the past. Because Neither Professor Xavier nor Logan atone for their killings, they die but Xavier doesn’t even die doing anything.
It’s not about revenge. Logan doesn’t try to get revenge on the people who stole his DNA to make multiple clones of him.
It’s not about family. It’s not about facing your past. It’s not about trying to find peace.
It’s not about doing the right thing, even. Logan is given chance after chance to do something and it isn’t until the end where he goes and kills a bunch of random faceless bad guys and his own clone (the older killing machine, not the younger one)
It’s not even about confronting yourself, which Logan explicitly DOES, facing off against the younger, more fierce version of himself. Even this thematic possibility is passed over.
What is Logan ABOUT? Well, as far as I can tell it’s about getting old and failing and how life sucks and there are no superheroes. It’s about the failure of heroes. And this theme is consistent, it is carried out in every scene, so yes Logan has a theme. But it’s not a happy one. I know, not all movies need to be happy or fun even. I defy anyone decent to have fun watching Shoah or Shadows and Fog or The Chekist. There are serious movies out there about serious things. But Logan really shouldn’t be one of them. It can’t carry the weight of real drama. Logan’s a comic book character. Which leads me to..
The Xmen comics in the movie. This goes dangerously close to 4th wall breaking. In this movie universe, Logan exists as he’s described in the Xmen comics AND the Xmen comics exist. AND Logan flat out says they were based on real events that got distorted. So the Xmen comics, with their aliens and the Sentinels and Asteroid M and Genosha and all of the frankly silly stuff in the Marvel universe supposedly exists in Logan? Heck, there’s even a Wolverine action figure one of the mutant kids clutches and it’s the yellow and blue spandex uniform. This raises way too many questions. This was a mistake. It’s ok to acknowledge the previous Xmen movies. I mean, some of them are really bad (X3) but I suppose you can include them even in this more ‘real’ post-mutant world. But the comic books are a whole can of worms that should have been left home. And speaking of comic book characters that don’t work…
Pierce/The Reavers. Boyd Holbrook plays Pierce as an off-brand Brad Pitt with a mechanical hand. In the comic all the Reavers are cyborgs and that’s true here. But the cybernetic implants are supposed to make them better at fighting and THAT doesn’t happen here. At no point is having a mechanical hand shown to be an advantage, at no time are gun arms shown to be useful or anything else ‘super’ about being part machine. Now with a little tweaking, you could have your Reaver fan service (which is all this is) but ground them in reality. Lots of Iraq/AfPak vets are missing limbs and some of the prosthetics they are getting are pretty close to what we see in this movie. If the Reavers were all embittered vets or adrenaline junkies or, if you really want to be a good writer, desperate or conflicted veterans it would have added weight and complexity. But no, they’re just generic bad guys for X23 and Logan to murder. And they aren’t even competent bad guys, which is a major failing in my book. They can’t take out anyone they’re sent after and don’t even seem to be trying very hard. Take the fact that these runaway mutants are wanted ‘Dead or Alive’, but with those rules of engagement, they should have been popping off shots at every opportunity. Those running mutant children should have been dead in three minutes. Now normally I’d say that a movie probably doesn’t want to show murdered children…except that it does. It murders the teenaged (or younger) son of the farmer. It shows mutant children being ‘put to sleep’ earlier in the film. So the movie is willing to cross the line of child murder but then not let the bad guys actually, you know, kill the little murder machines. Or even wound them. No one so much as slaps X23 once during the movie, unlike in the version in my head.
Logan chasing the bad guys at the end. In a movie that’s been semi-to-seriously realistic, the last scenes of the movie really don’t work. Logan has had a limp the whole movie. He’s dying. He’s not healing well and he seems to have chronic pain and injuries that slow him way, way down. In addition, he’s up on a mesa or high bluff (and as far as I can find, there are no such things near the Canadian border, maybe near Walhalla…MAYBE but…that aside) that he had to get brought up to on a pulley and pallet. Suddenly he sees the bad guys chasing the kids and they are ALREADY way north of him. He’s using high powered forestry service binoculars to see them. Yet somehow he manages to catch up with and begin fighting with the Reavers before they catch all the kids.
Logan has been moving far, far too slow. And he hasn’t taken the super dose of green steroids, that happens on camera as he’s wheezing like an old man. So how does he catch up to kids who’ve had several hours of head start and to cars and trucks who are already north of him, on their way to Canada?
There is no way. Now this sounds like nit picking but this movie has been holding itself to a high standard of realism only to shake that off when its time for the final action scene.
The failure of heroes. This ties back to the theme again but I really want to hammer home why this doesn’t work. We watch superhero movies to see HEROES. And in this movie, the heroes all fail and die. They are mortal but not moral. They’re human. It’s almost as much of a deconstruction of superheroes as Alan Moore’s Watchmen. And it does it well, but not enjoyably. This wasn’t enjoyable. The theme isn’t enjoyable. Worse, it doesn’t even execute on the theme in a way that is satisfying. It doesn’t mean that it’s not effective, it tugs at heart strings, even the hardest of hearts might feel a sting by the end of this film. But it chose to tell a story that’s not just anti-hero, it’s anti-human. And that doesn’t work for me.
Summary/how would I fix it:
So what we have here is a good movie, with good emotions, visceral action and unconventional protagonists performing a fairly nihilistic ballet. You can argue that the children getting away at the end spares it from total bleakness but the overall tone and mood of the movie is one of bleak depression and futility. It’s a superhero movie where there are no superheroes. No regular ones, either.
How do we fix it? Well, it really isn’t that hard. A few scenes, three say, would give more depth and conflict and provide a decision arc for Logan. Changing the characterization of Laura/X23 to be a mix of child and animal (instead of just animal wearing clothes) would make her both more sympathetic and better motivate Logan to care for her. Making X23 Logan’s biological child would dramatically change the stakes and tone of the movie, for the better.
Just imagine how much more powerful it would be for an Ex-girlfriend to show up with Laura in tow and in need. A random nurse doesn’t mean anything and her death doesn’t mean much either. Hell, it didn’t even seem to mean much to the child-sized murder machine.
Show X23 learning from Logan. The boy in Shane, for all his annoying characteristics, was learning from the gunslinger. Show us Laura learning from Logan. Make her a child, not a monster in human clothes.
Make Professor Xavier lucid and strong in some scenes and demented and dangerous in others. The contrast of the man who was to the man who is could be powerful stuff and higher tragedy than the randomized death of a geriatric cripple. Relatedly, have Xavier die for SOMETHING. Have him die trying. He founded the X-men. Let him go out doing battle. Hell, if he’d died in the casino from too much use of his power, that would have meant more than his eventual death in a farmhouse. Plus those farmer would be alive.
Logan needs to make a choice to help X23. He can deny her all her wants/needs to at first, but he needs to choose to help her. Not just drift along like a drunk in a bus stop. Make him chose to be a hero, even if he’s dying. Relatedly, make it clearer that he’s dying, earlier.
Hell, make a LOT of things clearer. I’m a fan of ‘show don’t tell’ but this movie chooses not to show and not to tell some fairly big plot and background points. It’s clear that a lot of people cared about this movie. It is not a corporate product or showing the signs of meddling like it was some sitcom spinoff series starring Matt LeBlanc. People cared about this. Now all we needed were characters we could care about and who cared about each other.
*I’ll make an exception for direct sequels that are going to assume you know the characters in the follow up movies that were in the earlier installments.