Logan (2017)

Viewed March 4th

In a parallel X-Men universe, Wolverine and Professor X are aging, unloved losers waiting to die until they're roped into a rescue mission involving a young mutant escaped from a shady Mexican laboratory.

It's a dozen years in the future, but there's an admirably gritty, metatextual realism in the setup of this world. This realism extends to the situation of mutant-kind and to the sci-fi extrapolation of where society, culture, and technology will be in the near future. As far as mutant-kind, there were mutants with powers honed by Charles Xavier for the purpose of "good" in this world, but in a much less spectacular form than has been portrayed in the X-Men comic books, which exist in Logan as products described as ridiculous exaggerations marketed to bed wetters and filled with guys in leotards. Also, the government here has long ago figured out how to stop the mutations from occurring so the old crew from Wolverine AKA Logan's generation are simply getting old and rundown and there's no one to replace them. Outcast from society, they're forced to make shady deals for medications in back alleys and drive back and forth from rundown shacks in Mexico. It's pretty bleak! Around all this, there is a mildly dystopian portrayal of a United States filled with ominous driverless trucks, fancier LED screens for highway advertisements, increased presence of casinos in cities, amped-up corn syrup production, and young white men chanting "U.S.A.!" at Mexicans being arrested by border agents. Things feel more commercial, stupider, and poorer at the same time, which all makes a lot of sense. And, as we soon learn, there's also a secret renewal of mutant development, this time, though, in the control of a lab in which the mutants are being bred for strictly military purposes. 

But the deepest level director James Mangold takes Logan in its engagement with realism is in the film's examination of violence, creating a realist relationship between our hero and his penchant for decapitating Bad Guys. He's violent, the film explains, not because he believes in it, but because he he has killed others, and after you've killed, you can't shake it. The film alludes to the classic western Shane (1953), particularly the climactic speech in which the otherwise good Shane, after murdering the bad men, explains to little Joey the tragic origin of his dark side: 

There’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand sticks. There’s no going back. Now you run on home to your mother, and tell her...tell her everything’s all right. And there aren’t any more guns in the valley.

Along with these ideas about violence, the act of it in Logan goes in a grittier direction than typical comic book fare. You're supposed to feel the death & the destruction of bodies by guns and adamantium claws. And this approach to violence as an idea is a interesting in theory, but it's also where the film gets muddled. It is a violent movie, but things here never feel like Sam Peckinpah, they never feel upsetting. After the gritty realism of Logan's setup, the film turns into a more conventional action thrill ride. A lot of people die but I very sincerely doubt that many audience members were too troubled by it; in fact, the violence really seems to get the crowd going, they like it when he slices through people's skulls and plays out a series of extremely deranged fantasy-revenge scenarios against uber-one-dimensional Bad Guys. This is *actually* what the movie is delivering; it's just dressed up in these other, more thoughtful terms. You repeatedly get the thrill of a hint of gore, but not too much, not at all the real thing, that is, you're never actually pressed with the consequences of violence--certainly never enough to warrant the repeated use of that speech from ShaneI'm not really a scold when it comes to film violence, but here the larger point of the movie is about the nature of violence--those are the terms of its bargain with the viewer. And on that end, Logan fails to deliver. I doubt many people will care.