OP-ROB RATING: BENCH
“Logan” is a film directed by James Mangold that features Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) living in the year 2029. At this point Wolverine has gotten pretty old. He has a grey beard and works as a limo driver in El Paso, Texas. Wolverine is laying low because mutants are not allowed in the United States, but they have also stopped being born and are on the edge of extinction. Aside from driving the limo, Wolverine is caring for Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Sadly, Professor X has some kind of degenerative brain disease that induces seizures. Because of Professor X’s superpowers, these seizures are extremely dangerous and can kill human beings. Therefore Wolverine keeps him inside an old water tankard just across the border in Mexico. Also residing on the hidden property is the sickly, lanky, albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) whose skin sizzles if exposed to direct sunlight. To make matters worse, the adamantium that was fused to Wolverine’s bone structure during the Weapon X program is slowly poisoning him. The Wolverine in “Logan” is not the agile, fast-healing dominant force from previous films. In an opening scene where some Mexican gangsters try to steal the tires off of Wolverine’s limo, he sustains several shotgun blasts that seem to almost kill him. The almost post-apocalyptic setting of “Logan” is incredibly dismal, yet offers a far sharper and grittier feel than any superhero film of recent memory.
The main plot gets under way when Wolverine is wrangled into driving a mutant girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) from Texas to North Dakota. Laura was created in a laboratory along with a bevy of other mutants to be used as weapons by the malicious “Transigen” corporation. The kids are cloned using DNA from other mutants. In fact, Laura is technically Wolverine’s daughter. Like her father, Laura has claws, regenerative healing, and an adamantium infused skeletal structure thanks to Transigen. However, as the experiment proved too uncontrollable Tansigen decided to terminate the subjects. A nurse in the facility helps Laura escape and reaches out to Wolverine who reluctantly agrees to help. Throughout the rest of the film Wolverine, Professor X, and Laura are relentlessly chased by the villainous doctors and henchmen from Transigen.
As ridiculous as it all sounds, “Logan” has an air of seriousness from start to finish. The R-rated effects lend to a shockingly gory adventure, especially for a superhero film. The violence ranges from Wolverine decapitating his enemies to Laura sucking bullets out of her arms as they regenerate. Further adding to the stern tone of the film is the lack of shiny tech that was a staple of past “X-Men” movies. Long gone is the high-tech “X-Jet” and mutant-tracking “Cerebro”. In “Logan”, it seems Wolverine and the rest of the mutants are truly on their last leg. Under Mangold’s direction “Logan” is a unique superhero film that defies the genre conventions in a myriad of different ways. However, the film is way too complicated for an average viewer to indulge.
For example, how many people know that Wolverine’s given name is James Howlett? How many people know the intricacies of Wolverine’s origin story? How many people know about Caliban or “what happened in Westchester”? As much as “Logan” offers in ingenuity, it squanders by soaking the plot in intricate comic-book history. Just figuring out the basics of the plot in “Logan” requires what amounts to hours of research on Wikipedia. Maybe die-hard fans of X-Men comics may love the film but it doesn’t translate to the knowledge of an average viewer.
As a fan of the original series, “Logan” was tough to enjoy despite being a well-made film. When I saw those older movies as a kid I wanted to be Wolverine. I remember collecting the promotional Slurpee cups at 7-Eleven and even dressing up in the absurd looking X-Men jumpsuit so I could be Wolverine for Halloween. Part of what made and still makes Wolverine so cool is that he is the focal point of the “X-Men” but is so low-key about it that for the first three films he hid under the team name. Furthermore, the Wolverine of past films always had this gritty swagger that set him apart from other superheroes like when he was introduced in 2000’s “X-Men” with a cage-fighting scene. But perhaps the most important aspect of Wolverine’s “coolness” was that he was the reluctant leader. His deep sense of integrity always led him to do what was right even if he didn’t want to.
In “Logan”, all but one of those attributes has vanished. Wolverine is the lone-star of the film and he is a shade of his former self. However, Wolverine still has his iron-will. It is fitting that Johnny Cash’s somber ballad “The Man Comes Around” plays as the end credits of “Logan” roll. Although many of the themes in the film are less than subtle, such as big corporation abuses and a corollary between Trump’s stances on immigrants flipped toward mutants, there is one that quietly shines out the rest. In one scene Professor X and Laura sit in a hotel room in Oklahoma City watching the 1953 western, “Shane”. Professor X explains to Laura some throwaway nostalgia about how he saw the movie in theaters as a child. However with the classic western, Mangold subtly draws a corollary to Wolverine, as Shane was also a lone-wolf kind of hero.
Ultimately, “Logan” sets an impressive precedent for superhero films with references to film history and a serious tone. However, it fails to translate to a wide audience due to an overdose of comic book factoids that dominate the plot. Wolverine is a gruff, to the point individual; his final film should reflect that attitude.