While watching ‘Logan’ yesterday, it occurred to me that comics got away with appalling grimness and violence by virtue of being brightly coloured. I mean, superhero comics are essentially the everyday tales of people wearing bad taste clothing and who happen to own a slaughter house. Marvel comics, et. al., are a technicolor charnel house. The movies didn’t really reflect that as a lot of the violence was more . . . um . . . comic-y. The epic nature of the Chitauri attack, for example, undermined by the knockabout – but admittedly hilarious – Hulk/Loki showdown. They are more a rose tinted – and yet curiously greyed out – version of what we remember comics to be.
‘Logan’, conversely, is as grim as the 4-Colour comics were, but with the colour rather than the violence taken out. I mean, it’s brutal. I sometimes get a bit sniffy about ultra-violence, debating whether it’s for narrative or perverse titillation, but here, the inevitability of it is almost the point. It’s an illustration that however much you try and escape your past, you are a product of it and will react accordingly. This is beautifully underwritten and punctuated by the use of Alan Ladd’s/George Stevens’ “Shane” throughout.
Logan is essentially an existential road movie and in that respect had me reminiscing about the Jim Jarmusch movies ‘Stranger Than Paradise’ and ‘Down By Law’ which is quite possibly the most pretentious thing I could say at this point. But there is a correlation with mis-matched cast, the journey towards something that may or may not exist and a wish to escape an earlier life.
But with superpowers.
It’s 2029 and the world isn’t that much different. We’re told there has been an event has all but wiped out mutant kind and this may or may not have a been deliberate act by Professor X. A news report refers to it as the “Westchester Event” but the details are sketchy. Charles is in the throes of some form of dementia that causes ‘seizures’. While exhausting for him, they cause a kind of mental earthquake for those nearby that only Wolverine can deal with, presumably because of his healing factor. That is, his failing, healing factor. When relatively coherent, he babbles about having found a new mutant.
Logan and the Professor live in an abandoned factory, miles from anywhere – a wise move given the above – with Caliban who acts as nursemaid to both. Charles and Logan plan to get enough money together to buy a boat and live at sea; further away from people. All are aware that these seizures, and Wolverines ability to deal with them, are getting worse. Caliban is also aware that this plan is unlikely to involve him as he can’t see himself ‘skulking around downstairs like Nosferatu’ for the rest of his life.
So, Logan drives one of those horrible stretch limousines and buys illegal meds from shady hospital porters to keep the Professor quiet.
While at a funeral, he is accosted by a woman who knows who he is – mutant kind has all but vanished – and demands help. This doesn’t go well aand as she drives away, Logan notices a young girl in the back of her car staring back at him. She eventually gains his attention by hiring the limousine and spinning a tale about experiments done to children using DNA samples from previously catalogued mutants. They young girl, he discovers is literally ‘of his flesh’.
The plan is to get the girl, Laura, to a safe house before crossing the border into freedom.
Naturally, there is a villain; a stooge from the company chasing down company ‘property’ and in the kerfuffle caused by his arrival, the road trip from hell starts with Logan, Charles and Laura attempting to be as low key as possible and failing miserably at every turn; leaving a very traceable path of mayhem behind them.
The only misfire in the movie, for my money anyway, is the sequence where they are befriended by a family, taken home and offered food and hospitality. The phrase ‘doomed to die’ has rarely been tattooed so obviously on a characters forehead. It was essentially a repetition of the – frankly baffling – ‘Ma and Pa Kent’ scenes from the first Wolvie movie and about as welcome. It did lead up to one of the sadder/most touching scenes in the entire X-man movie oeuvre, but to say the build up lacked originality is something of an understatement.
After a particularly messy encounter in an hotel, Logan discovers that the sanctuary they have been trying to reach is mentioned in an old copy of an X-Men comic; unofficial records and stories based on the X-men’s previous exploits. Nice little meta-moment. Logan recognises elements of the story, but the conclusions, he says are false and that the sanctuary does not exist.
Laura will not hear this and just recites the names of her friends at the research facility until -exasperated – Logan gives up and says he’ll take her there just to shut her up.
The odd thing about this movie is how mundane it is. It’s a bunch of people just wanting to get from a to b; just wanting to be left alone but the past is always there to screw things up, however much they want it to just go away. There’s a tiredness, an ennui and an inevitability about it that is emotionally crushing.
In many ways, this feel like a deliberate ending to the X-Men franchise. With the fate of the last ‘natural’ mutants sealed, the baton needed to be passed on – possibly to a New Mutants franchise -and Logan does that rather beautifully.
The plentiful action sequences are well made and brutal. All of those killings you wanted to see but we prevented from seeing by the 12a certification are there in the 15 certificate movie. But if that’s all you are going for, then fuck you, frankly. There’s a lot more here about humanity, aging, family, legacy, etc., than in many so called ‘feel good’ movies and it treats these subject with unflinching honesty.
I say this because the guy sat next to me seemed entirely unmoved by the movie and tutted and sighed though the narrative only to laugh hysterically when someone got an adamantium blade through the skull. A tiny bit disturbing.
I think I might have hit on something when I said earlier about ‘honesty’. What absolutely makes this movie is it’s no nonsense honesty. There’s nothing tricksy, nothing convoluted, nothing left field, just people trying to get by and having the world get in their way. The superpowers get in the way of him living his life, literally and metaphorically.
It’s a strange movie. Despite the bluster and violence, a strangely quiet and intimate movie. It’s about acceptance and being at peace with your lot.
And it is without a shadow of a doubt the finest movie in the X-Men canon.
I’ve had a love hate relationship with the X-Men movies. I think almost all of them have had sequences that had been absolutely stunning (Nightcrawler in the White house, Quicksilver in the Pentagon) but I don’t think there has been a wholly satisfying movie. Days of Future Past came closest; The Last Stand furthest away . . . although Apocalypse came close to topping that one!
But this, with the above caveat in play, is practically perfect. If they gave Oscars to superhero movies, this would be Best Picture.
And that final gesture with the grave marker… it could have been cheesy, but instead… <sniff>