Some movies aspire to brighten the cinematic horizon and stoke the joy of the big screen. Others aim to sever the art into little pieces, much like how Wolverine (sorry, I guess it’s “Logan” now), recently granted his long-awaited R-rating, slashes through the feeble skulls of henchmen who, before disintegrating into mutilated carcasses, have all too recently stood as living beings. Each of their thoughts and emotions are carelessly underrepresented; were their facets misled, or misunderstood? Such a wonder is upsettingly lost on Logan, for in his eternal, blanketing rage, our conflicted sort-of-savior erases his need to answer this question before the film can ask the same of its protagonist.
Here’s a question: I can accept that superheroes no longer fight crime in spandex, but aren’t they still supposed to fight crime?
Logan, in the most dispiriting and bizarre way, means well. Taking after the stripped and somber moniker of its titular character’s alternate identity, it aims to turn a “new” (code word for “darker”) leaf for the superhero genre, which, to be fair, is indeed in need of renovation; it’s our generation’s Western, a generally forgettable cycle of stale anticlimaxes that manage to be simultaneously overdone and underdone. It is no coincidence that director James Mangold sees a revolutionary in the character of Wolverine (the one with the metal claws that stick out of his knuckles), who has helped to make the X-Men films the most idiosyncratic, albeit inconsistent, thread of the Marvel franchise.
Mangold is only half right. He seeks the depth that most (but not all) action movies lack, yet in consciously trying to escape the shadow of a traditionally child-oriented theme, his brand of maturity caters not to those who reflect upon the pain of adulthood but those who take eerie pride in its privilege. Inevitably, Logan adds the F-word to the colloquial vocabulary of its lead role (reprised once more by a steely Hugh Jackman), along with copious levels of incoherent screaming tailored for the gritty palette of older audiences, surely giddy to show their IDs upon entering the theater.
A little less harmless in this film, however, is the violence — it’s the reason I contemplated walking out of a Saturday night screening in its first three minutes. Perhaps the film would affirm that a couple of slimy carjackers — who happen to cross the mutant in a particularly sour mood — get what’s coming to them; by the fault of Logan’s gruesome, bloody vengeance to follow, these thugs do not come across to me as sturdy adversaries as much as they do helpless victims. This grim instant of ruthless abandon serves no other purpose than to deliver pain to all who behold it.
The scene is meant to be polarizing, and it’s successful in being so; for me, it’s for the wrong reasons. I too have been looking for a change to be made in big-budget superhero productions, though Logan could not have been what I had hoped for.
Considering that the film has received rave reviews preceding mine, I realize that I must state my bias: I did not care for the other egregiously violent picture in Marvel’s recent catalog of exasperation, Deadpool, nor did I care for the inexplicably more offensive vigilante film from which it spawned, Kick-Ass. Both relied on exploiting excessive brutality for laughs, though I did not find either of them fun, exciting, or inspired; I found them clumsy, disturbing, and sad. I can only imagine that their ghastly amounts of gore continue to resonate solely with emotionally deprived young men, cruelly fooled into believing that their loyalty to comic books will be preserved within the warped recesses of sadism. Rotten Tomatoes has awarded Kick-Ass a 76% rating and Deadpool a whopping 84%. To say that I pity the people (of which there are apparently a lot) who offer such approval would be low of me, but you must allow me to raise question when the same thing that leads people to chuckle causes me to cringe.
Perhaps because it is better made — or perhaps because it treats its subject material with a bit more delicacy (keywords being a and bit) — Logan does not strike me as a complete crime, though it is unapologetically more unsettling than your average computer-generated assault on the senses. For the plot that it does possess — the emphasis of which makes the film top-heavy at times — we gather that since we have last seen him, Logan has kept his head low as a modest limo driver (who just happens to kill people sometimes). Caught between his day job and caring for the now senile Professor X (Patrick Stewart), the aged, depressed former-Avenger is suddenly called upon to escort young Laura (Dafne Keen), a mutant with abilities similar to Wolverine’s, to a haven for her kind up in North Dakota and safe from the wicked hands of the Reavers, the formulaic evil organization motivated to use the girl’s abilities for, in the words of the late Roger Ebert, the ancient cliche of World Destruction. Or something along those lines.
Do not ask me why this child needs protecting; she has the same kind of claws as Wolverine, and she’s not afraid to use them. No, Laura does not state her independence through words, of which she has almost none. Her value as a character is measured by and reduced to the body count she levels (Keen was about 11 years old when Logan was filmed, the same age that Chloe Grace Moretz was when she portrayed the now infamously controversial role of Hit Girl in Kick-Ass).
And yet, as Logan, Laura, and Professor X (who, despite providing his philosophical input between his mental breakdowns, is more of a liability at this point) undergo this road trip — periodically halted for brutal confrontation with their pursuers — Jackman’s burly, mangled lone ranger is prescribed with a dense theatrical tribute that intends to push each and every one of our buttons… him being the protector that he is and all.
This will surely be the character’s final appearance in such a film — his weaknesses, quite irreversibly, have caught up to him. The fan appeal for Wolverine has always been credited to his physical strengths, for he has always been a character with mainly physical, not mental, attributes; the same are true of his burdens in Logan. He appears to be self-loathing, yes, but his mortality — illustrated by a cough, a hunched back, and a limp — is ultimately defined by what his body cannot do and where it cannot take him. His eventual demise, oddly not much more emotionally impactful than any other he inflicts, closes on empty air.
Regardless of Logan’s personal perils, the film seems hypocritical in asking its audience to sympathize with a dying man whose very existence precipitates the death of many more, without any samurai’s valor to romanticize his deeds. The parallel that Logan intends to draw with 1953’s Shane, which X vacantly recalls to Laura in one of the movie’s few intimately touching scenes, is actually based on a misconception: Shane is a lost soul of the West whose past — no matter how many times he’s tried to wipe it clean — follows him across the country to the point where he must accept what he’s done. It is this that makes Shane an honorable man; experience alone does not make the same of Logan, who seems detached from every life he takes. Does he feel remorse? It’s not clear enough to say whether he does.
The ambiguity in Logan is even more frustrating when you realize that, placed in a more subtle context, Mangold’s depiction of rural America could have been rather beautiful. The extended periods of time that the trio of superhuman misfits spends on the lonely highway — aside from an overly friendly encounter with some good Samaritans — feel down to Earth in their visual nature and are allowed to breathe, a rare moment of reflection amidst all the crippling helter-skelter found in the rest of the movie. The quiet forest scenery — at least until the severed limbs start piling up again — captures some of the Thoreau outlook that the film was most likely aiming for on the whole. These images — the ones where you kinda forget that Logan has been invincible up to this point — should have been the ones that stuck with me.
Alas, it was not to be, for in a moment of pure bewilderment, I witnessed an entire audience belly laugh at a little girl tossing a human head — freshly lopped off the neck of a candidate surely undeserving of such a grave punishment — toward the feet of her enemies as if it were a trophy.
Oh, how desperately these people must have wanted to laugh.
Block Rating: ★ ★