March 12, 2017

Logan Cuts Deep

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Ever since Bryan Singer’s first X-Men flick in 2000, the ubiquitous desire of hardcore comic book fans everywhere was for a solo Wolverine film, and for one that captured the character’s dark personality, brutal fighting style and vulgar lingo, which many felt could not be done within the confines of a PG-13 rating. Though previous efforts X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine were modest attempts, it was not until the critical and financial success of 2016’s licentious, violent and hedonic Deadpool that the groundwork was set for 20th Century Fox to acquiesce to that desire and grace cinema screens with the R-rated Logan. Although Logan is filled with enough f-bombs and dismembered limbs to satiate even the most ravenous of Quentin Tarantino fans, contrary to popular belief, these aspects are not the sole points of the film’s strengths. To say that Logan is a great Wolverine film purely because of its R-rating would do it a disservice. As superhero films become much more focused on creating cohesive cinematic worlds instead of stand-alone stories, Logan succeeds through its simplistic, emotional and character-driven narrative (carried by the raw talent of its brilliant cast) and serves as a rousing and faithful conclusion to a character whom Hugh Jackman has played for 17 years.


In contrast to the brighter palette of previous X-Men films, the world of Logan is bleak, barren, and grim. The film starts in the year 2029, where no new mutants have been born for the past 25 years. The X-men are solely survived by an elderly and decrepit Professor X/Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who suffers from a neurodegenerative disease that makes him lose control of his telepathic powers, and a grizzled and bitter Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman) who is slowly dying due to his reduced healing factor and adamantium skeleton which is slowly poisoning him. Logan spends his days as a limo driver, saving his earnings to buy medication to mitigate Professor X’s dangerous seizures. One day however, Gabriella, a nurse who works for the Transigen Corporation, visits Logan, bringing with her a girl named Laura (Dafne Keen). Gabriella begs Logan to help her and Laura escape from the Reavers, Transigen’s cybernetically-enhanced elite soldiers, while also revealing that Laura was experimented upon by Transigen and shares the same mutant DNA as him.  The film then steps into high gear as Logan, Professor X, and Laura embark on a road trip towards “Eden,” a safe haven for the last of mutant kind, while trying to avoid being attacked by Pierce and the rest of Transigen.


Individuals looking for a reason why Logan is so dark and austere in comparison to the happy ending of X-Men: Days of Future Past will not find an explanation, though director James Mangold subtly drops hints through old radio recordings and brief bits of dialogue. The fact that Logan asks more questions than it gives answers may be frustrating for some, but Mangold chooses to focus on fleshing out the personalities and character traits of the main characters, deliberately making the backstory of the plot a secondary concern. It works to great effect; having grown up with these characters since 2000, it is heartbreaking to see their current dismal state. Mangold pushes the characters to the limit, making them twisted and mangled alterations of their old selves. Professor X is merely a shell of the great mentor and visionary that he once was, and his altruism and tenderness have been replaced with selfishness and astringence. His ramblings, once thought of as revered teachings by his students, are now merely seen as the inane diatribes of an old man. He retains his signature optimism, but even that is viewed as wishful thinking. Although Logan himself is no stranger to affliction, he is as cynical as ever, and is largely a weary creature of habit. Gone are his witty wisecracks and avant-garde leadership skills; he is a lone wolf who self-medicates with booze and cigars. The two are aided by another mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) but even he is somber and despondent.


Fittingly, in contrast to these characters who have been bogged down by life’s hardships, Laura/X-23 injects a dark, youthful exuberance. Actress Dafne Keen is not given many lines in the film, but she nonetheless proves that actions speak louder than words. She communicates Laura’s ferocity and independence through her guttural shrieks and stoic demeanor, but also retains a childlike curiosity towards the hostile environment around her. It is through Laura’s eyes that we see how broken the world is, yet we are also given hope that mutant kind may thrive once again. Due to Mangold’s conscious focus on Logan, Professor X and Laura, unfortunately, the villains are underdeveloped. The primary antagonist Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) is given too little screen time, with not enough groundwork set to establish him as a truly threatening antagonist. Donald Pierce is the only member of the Reavers who is given any sort of character development and Boyd Holbrook does the best with what he is given, but at the end of the day, the character comes off as yet another glorified, snide and mordant henchman.


Although Mangold chooses to focus mainly on the characters, the pace of the narrative does not suffer as a result. Logan moves at breakneck speed, taking the protagonists from Mexico to Oklahoma City to North Dakota. But brief moments of levity and introspection help rein back the pace. It is refreshing to see the characters interact with one another throughout the duration of their extended road trip, whether it is Professor X scolding Logan or Laura remaining laconic to Logan’s probing questions. Likewise, Mangold layers and weaves social commentary throughout the film, akining mutants to “immigrants” and stressing the fact that America should not reject them but accept them. Respectively, Mangold achieves tonal consistency by channeling the spirit of Western movies, especially in the film’s first act, with the backdrop being set in the acrid and arenaceous Mexico.  Camera angles on Logan’s lethargic movements, hands hanging to the side of him, against the fading sunset, almost painting him as a cowboy (but with claws instead of revolvers).


Indeed, when it comes to Logan’s action sequences, Mangold pulls no punches and shows no restraint as he uses the R-rating to full effect. After being teased with a brief sequence in X-Men: Apocalypse, viewers finally see Logan go into full berserker mode on multiple occasions. Hugh Jackman transforms the character into a snarling, unstoppable beast who bludgeons, slashes and hacks his assailants without mercy, with even the most heavily armored and armed soldiers not standing a chance against his adamantium claws. Mangold histrionically focuses on Logan’s frenzied onslaughts, ensuring that fans can gorge themselves on the on-screen carnage with almost vampire-like glee. Impalement, decapitation and skewering are all used with equal measure, always with gory and bloody after effects. Logan himself suffers as well, with gunshots and blade wounds often marring his decaying form. In contrast to Logan’s brawler fight style, Laura is much more agile. She leaps and somersaults through the air with her own claws outstretched, often mowing down many more assailants than Logan himself.


Later in the film, Laura pulls out old X-Men comics from her backpack, which Logan berates as mere romanticized accounts of the team’s endeavors, stating “maybe a quarter of it happened, but not like this.” To this, Professor X soberingly replies that Laura “does not need to be reminded of life’s irreverence.” At first Logan is taken aback because he realizes that he has let life’s adversities shape him into a calloused and pessimistic individual. Both he and Professor X realize that though it may be too late to change themselves, hope lies in Laura. It is a heartbreaking and bittersweet revelation, but one that Logan fights for. He does want Laura to be like him; he wants her to be different. As he tells her to overcome her tragic upbringing, Logan is almost speaking to the audience, reminding viewers that they are not a slave to their circumstances or history; there is always an opportunity to start anew and fight for what is right. This compelling message transforms Logan into a timeless, thoughtful and genre-defying epic, and proves that adamantium claws alone are not enough to tell a story that cuts deep.


Zachary Lee is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]