Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder
Logan: Children of Mutants
Written Review by David Carter
And you can have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
-From the song “Hurt”
We live in (to put it lightly) unfortunate times. People of all walks of life with different sexual orientations and identities can’t get basic human rights. In America we elected a narcissistic buffoon and his cronies to take away those rights and the rights we thought we had an iron grip on. Our environment continues it’s downward spiral into so many points of no return it becomes existentially paralyzing when you try to think about all of the devastation to the eco system you don’t even know about. In all this misery it’s understandable and completely human to try and figure out what your next move will be and how you can protect yourself and even the ones around you. But what’s been keeping me up at night is that in all this immediacy, no one really has time to stop and think about what this means for the future. By future I’m not talking about what this means for the next election or the next decade, but what this means for the next generation. Maybe this sounds like I’m shouting Helen Lovejoy’s, “Oh wont somebody please think of the children?!?” but this is what baffles and angers me whenever new policies, bills and whatever gets passed that just seem to make life harder for children to live their future (and current) lives. The legacy we leave behind can not only haunt us on the way to the grave but will have everlasting effects on those who come after us. Logan looks at the consequences of legacy (both good and bad) and how we carry that with us and what we can do to shift it into something transcendent before it’s too late.
Logan sees the return of the X-men franchises focal character, Wolverine a.k.a James Howlett, a.k.a Logan (Hugh Jackman strapping on the claws again after a 17 year run on the character). The year is 2029 and our title character is in a bad way. He walks with a permanent limp, he can barely see 5 feet in front of him and his body looks like hamburger meat, a canvas of scars and hammered flesh. When we meet him he’s passed out piss drunk just outside of his ride share limo. There are some carjackers trying to lift the rims off of his ride. You might expect what comes next: Logan tells them that they should walk away and not start anything with him. A bullet gets fired and Logan shakes it off like it’s a bee sting. And then he makes quick work of the unsuspecting lowlifes. Except you’d be half wrong. Sure Logan postures and takes buckshot to the chest, resulting in him pulling out his claws out, but everything is off. One of his claws doesn’t come out all the way, the gun wounds don’t heal very quickly or completely for that matter, and before he can fully start taking those punks out in the grizzliest manner possible, they gang stomp him into the dirt, a place where Logan seems to spend much of his time lately. This isn’t the hero or antihero we’ve so been accustomed to from the previous X-Men films. This is a man who’s given up long ago. Someone who doesn’t have the emotional capacity to care for anyone outside of himself. He barely cares for the 90 year old, mentally decrepit Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart giving an awards worthy performance), he more just tends to him out of pity and obligation. Charles’ brain is degenerating to the point that, combined with his mutant powers, it results in seizures that cause so much harm to anyone within the vicinity of the episode that his brain has been classified as a “Weapon of Mass Destruction”. Because of this, Logan and Charles live secluded out in the deserts of Mexico with Caliban (a wonderfully wry Stephen Merchant), an albino possessing the ability to (literally) sniff out other mutants. This seclusion isn’t just for the safety of others at risk from these episodes, it’s for their own safety. You see, there hasn’t been a mutant born in the last 25 years and for all these three know, they’re the last of their kind, and don’t want to go the way of the dodo just yet. The heavy bleakness of it all leads Logan to remark to Charles as he lays him down sedated on his bed, “You always though we were apart of God’s plan, but maybe we were God’s mistake.”
Logan has little to look forward to which is why he’s a limo driver, so he can save enough money to take him and Charles out to sea and live out the short remainder of their lives on a boat. That’s when a woman named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) comes to Logan asking for the help of “The Wolverine” to get her and a mute little girl to a place in North Dakota called “Eden”. Logan hasn’t heard the name “Wolverine” in a long time, and hasn’t been that person even longer. He doesn’t want the business of anything that interrupts his slow march to the grave. Things get complicated when a robotically armed military man named Pierce (a smarmy and swaggerific Boyd Holbrook) approaches Logan looking for the same woman and little girl. Logan finds it high time for Charles and him to get on that boat sooner rather than later when the last wrench is thrown into the machinery: The little girl Laura (a star making and electrifying introduction to young actress Dafne Keen) is just like Logan. Not just a mutant but with the exact same skill set (claws, a healing factor) and ferocity Logan has. Logan now has to take Laura with him and Charles as they outrun the people looking for her, and on the way, look for answers about her and the state of the world.
The world’s seen better days in Logan, and it’s all mentioned in passing or put out in the margins as color. You see how border control has been stepped up to keep Mexican immigrants out and a group of white, privileged teens mocking them, chanting “U.S.A, U.S.A” as they drive by drunkenly on prom night. You see the dehumanization of the world as a bunch a GPS controlled semi trucks run a black family off the road, and you see that same black family trying to provide for themselves even as a company denies them the most basic human need of WATER (Flint, Michigan says hi). That’s what makes this future depicted in the film so interesting. It’s not quite a dystopia but a very realistic imagining of what America could look like 12 years from now. The people in Logan are still living but most people aren’t living well. In addition, there’s the specter of “what happened to the mutants?” hanging over the whole world, but as indicated in a A.M. talk radio show, no one seems to care anymore. The future that was left for the people in the movie is so bleak that you get the sense that people stopped fighting a long time ago and just want to live out their days in relative peace. This is what is embodied in the character Logan. He’s a brooding microcosm of failure and antipathy. He fought for what he thought was right with and for a man he could call father, who took him in and put him on a team he could call his family. Both are eventually killed or become shells of what they once were. He lost, so why should he keep trying to play the game? That’s why Laura is the heartbeat of this movie. She’s the personification of what he has to keep fighting for whether he likes it or not. For her, Logan was the personification of an ideal to look up to. In this world Logan and the X-Men are legends and folk heroes. So much to the point that their story was turned into comic books and action figures. Like all folk heroes, the story gets warped. Logan espouses “Maybe a quarter of it happened, and not like this”, but to Laura it doesn’t matter. In this fiction she finds something to live up to, the same way in real life we look to art to find purpose and energy to aspire to. However, like all heroes, it’s heartbreaking when they don’t live up to the myth, and in fact, almost become villains in your eyes. Logan looks at Laura and the world around him and see what his legacy produced and he’s horrified by it, but as the story progresses he comes to understand that it’s never too late to make up for some (not all) of your mistakes. Even as your past looks to tear you down again and again, you can leave the next generation with the idealized version of what you are, and they can be even better than that.
Logan uses westerns (The movie Shane is especially important) as its iconography. Westerns are good for a story about a hero on his way out because westerns are about the end of an era. The end of the outlaw and the “savage” and the beginning for civilization (power and the future) to take hold of the land. That’s what Charles and Logan are to the world at this point: outlaws and savages, and they have no place in this crumbling modernized world. But what makes Logan even more unique in its place as a “superhero film” is that it’s using revisionist westerns as its calling card. Movies like I Shot Jesse James, The Outlaw Josey Wales and Unforgiven. Westerns that exist in a world where the heroes are allowed to be more grey than black and white. Hell, “hero” isn’t even the right word, the people in these stories are just that: people. They’re fallible and don’t always do the right thing. The fallibility comes through physically in Jackman’s portrayal of Logan. He’s not an unstoppable force anymore. He bleeds and keeps on bleeding. With Patrick Stewart aged Charles Xavier you see a man who doesn’t know what is best anymore and makes fatal mistakes because of it. Laura looks at both these men and learns from their mistakes. Along the way she’ll make new mistakes but it’s better than repeating past sins.
The performances are the reason to see Logan. Patrick Stewart plays a mentally degenerative man with a grace and groundedness that made me remember family members in my life that were mentally fading away. Dafne Keen is the real deal as Laura. Director James Mangold said that she was the movies best special effect. I don’t know how much of her fights involved a stunt double, but her physicality and screen presence is enough to sell me that she is an incredible force to be reckoned with. This brings us to Hugh Jackman. A man who was thought to be wrong for this role when was cast in the first X-Men film (mostly because the fan response was to want a comics accurate Wolverine who hairy stood 5 feet tall. Which led to calls for Danny Devito and Bob Hoskins) but has now become the heart of this franchise after starring and cameoing in 9 out of the 10 existing X-Men films (he’s debatably the lead character in 7 of them). He gives the best of those performances in Logan. A performances that reaches for Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, but with more gravitas suited for a heightened reality. It’s also a performance (and a movie for that matter)that wouldn’t be possible without the existing other films in the franchise. You can see how the character has evolved from the mostly silent and out-of-his-depth man of the first film to a cocky, yet prickly lead of the proceeding films, to the husk of a man he is now.
On top of all these great performances is great craft. The score to the film by Marco Beltrami trots along with the expected melancholy acoustic guitar themes but also contains some inspired sounds like a frantically dissonant piano that gets kicked on for action beats of the film. Screenwriters Michael Greene, Scott Frank and James Mangold bring something that seemed to be missing from big bombastic blockbusters or the past few years. They give us a tightness and a laser focus on what the movie is trying to say. Mangold and Frank not being strangers to stories about flawed men looking to do right (Check out Mangold’s Copland and Frank’s A Walk Among the Tombstones to see further evidence) know exactly how to play these characters so that you empathize with them without really finding them overly lovable, these are still killers after all. The movie also looks like nothing else in the “superhero movie” genre. Even the big action set pieces have more in common with Tony Scott film than anything in the DCU or MCU.
Logan above all else is a story of redemption, and not just that of the main character but the redemption all of us seek when we know a chapter is coming to a close. We may leave behind something that’s still a mess and just resembles an empire of dirt, but if we at least drop seeds into that dirt and water them, eventually those seeds become flowers for those who come after us.