by Paul Deines
Last weekend I caught up with James Mangold’s Logan. It was definitely a fresh take, but I did not swoon the way the movie-going public-at-large has. My mind is still trying to process the film days later, which probably indicates that it accomplished something.
Anyway, here are 12 things about the film that need to be addressed. (SPOILERS FOLLOW)
1. The advance press on this picture is that Hugh Jackman took a pay cut to calm producers about its hard-R rating. All well and good, but does anyone else feel like the script was written for a PG-13 film, and then someone penciled in, like, 200 fucks? Seriously, the profanity in this picture is unbelievably distracting.
2. Getting into plot holes in a comic book picture is a fool’s errand, but come on: Logan is hiding a mentally-deteriorating Professor X from American intelligence officials. He kills six guys in the opening scene. Why is he dedicating so much energy to legally securing funds to buy a boat? What ethical compunction is stopping him from stealing one?
3. Boyd Holbrook is easier to take when he’s not delivering painfully extraneous narration, á la Narcos.
4. I thought we were past the time when directors showed characters watching fully edited film like it is raw video. The video Logan finds on Gabriella’s (Elizabeth Rodriguez) phone involves months of documentary footage edited together with voiceover. Did she have Final Cut Pro on that iPhone?
5. If it serves no other purpose, at least Logan provided a reference for Senator Kamala Harris when she discussed the existential threat that automation poses to blue collar jobs. Like her, I was impressed by the low-key dystopian vision of an American highway filled with menacing autonomous big rigs. Another interesting, if undercooked, idea is having a multinational conglomerate buy up most of the US farmland to grow corn for their syrup-based narcotic beverages. Both futuristic concepts are remarkably grounded for a superhero picture.
6. This is purely a hunch, but I wonder if X-24 was included in the script so that Hugh Jackman could still be shredded for part of the movie. Otherwise, it would be 100% puffy, wheezing Jackman.
7. My wife disliked this film quite a bit, and I think her most salient point was that the Wolverine/Laura/X-24 fights were essentially the Too Many Spidermen musical in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
8. I would say that pretty much every death in this film could have been prevented if Logan just drove straight through without stopping. Google Maps tells me that Oklahoma City to the Canadian border is a 16 hour drive. Even Logan had held firm on the no-stopping, they’d have been in Canada in a single day.
9. Despite my reservations, I understand why Logan was met with such rapturous praise. For people who grew up reading X-Men comics in the in 80s and 90s, Wolverine was the definitive Gen X superhero, just a Superman was in the mid-century. These fans have never seen the comic-book Wolverine on film. The problem has never been Jackman, who was born for the role: the problem was that a studio never let Wolverine go full berserker until this film.
10. Here’s the thing, though. Logan suffers from the same problem that all serious superhero pictures do. Supposedly socially relevant comic book stories generally take on themes of bloodshed and tyranny: the immutable cycle of violence, the cost of total security, the moral limits of unlimited power. But the nature of the medium requires that the narrative end with a massive action set piece. So, when you have a film adaptation that’s willing to incorporate realistic violence and pitch itself to an adult audience, you’re left with a gigantic thematic contradiction. In Logan, we have three characters contending with the violence they have perpetrated and the violence done too them. They try to justify their killing by saying it is self-defense or the killing will prevent suffering on a much more consequential scale. But the narrative furnishes us with a monstrous antagonistic group (as always in X-Men pictures, a military-industrial cohort bent on destroying/weaponizing mutants), thus justifying its violent ending. And it is the violence we the audience enjoy most. I mean, Laura (Dafne Keen) taking out a bunch of man-bunned mercenaries will never get old. And as mentioned above, Wolverine comic fans were dying to see a real berserker rage. And how wonderful was it to see the test-tube mutant children finally take their collective revenge on Holbrook? But what are we left with? A two-hour-plus treatise against violence ending with an orgy of righteous killing. At best, that is sloppy. At worst, insidious.
11. One concrete bonus for Logan’s success: it has probably scrambled the brain of every major studio exec. After Deadpool, they were probably lining up scores of Stewie-Griffin-in-a-cape screenplays. Now they’re all probably trying to figure out how to put Captain America in a decimated post-industrial city.
12. I think we officially have to put Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” in the ironic soundtrack penalty box, alongside “What a Wonderful World” and “Hallelujah.”