“Wow, they’re really going there” might be your reaction to most of Logan’s big story decisions. But, where are they going? And more importantly, why? Logan, the third and final Wolverine solo movie, and 10th X-Men overall, promised an emotional end to Hugh Jackman’s 17-year long role in the franchise, since any trailer using Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” is gonna be pretty emotional. Director James Mangold (Walk The Line), who did a surprisingly good job with previous Wolverine solo movie The Wolverine, tries to make that sendoff fitting and fitting it is, for a series that began by taking the iconic design of its source material and removing all the color.
Though in Logan, nearly everything from X-Men movies past is gone anyway. It’s the year 2029, mutants are nearly wiped out, and everything is extremely bleak and depressing. The man himself, aka Wolverine, has quit X-Men-ing, gone full alcoholic, and works as a limo driver, saving up to buy a boat so he and the aging Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) can run away from society forever. Charles lives in hiding, sealed off from the world, because a degenerative brain condition is giving him uncontrollable psychic seizures that could kill everyone around him. Until Laura (Dafne Keen), an 11-year old girl with powers similar to Logan’s, is dropped off at their door, all but forcing the reluctant Wolvie to help her escape the forces in pursuit.
The combination road movie and thriller that makes up their cross country trek/chase shows flashes of an alternate universe where this movie can chill for a second, and take advantage of how entertaining Jackman and Stewart’s chemistry in. But Logan doesn’t want to entertain you—or, at least, it doesn’t want to admit it does. The script, from Mangold, Michael Green, and Scott Frank, bristles with dour seriousness that leverages endless, gratuitous violence and trauma to create appearance of depth without providing enough of the real thing.
Its opening, where a drunk Logan with fading powers tries to stop a group of Latino gangbangers from stealing his car, gets beaten up, and then kills them in a ridiculously over the top rage, is a perfect encapsulation of how the movie tries to have it both ways. Look! He can’t just do superpowered ass kicking anymore, he’s vulnerable! This is a serious movie! it proclaims, as he proceeds to do the superpowered ass kicking anyway.
Whether it’s implying that Xavier accidentally caused a massacre that killed the rest of the X-Men, or an entire found footage mini movie of children being imprisoned, experimented on, tortured, and committing suicide, Logan is filled with moments that proclaim “yeah, we’re going there” for what feels like their own sake. It’s not like there’s no narrative reason to show how the children’s treatment paralleled Wolverine, but like, the first ten seconds makes it clear enough without needing to drag it out to such a ridiculous extent.
While it may sound odd for someone who loved the equally murder-filled John Wick Chapter 2 complain about gratuitous violence, it’s about how it’s done. This isn’t some action movie fighting—it’s like, an innocent black family getting massacred as a dude drags away a screaming little girl whose limbs are handcuffed to her neck. Mangold wants it to feel real, and leverage the horror that comes with that, but Logan could have cut 15 minutes of this stuff without losing anything important. And if it’s not important to have all this misery, why bother?
While a movie like District 9 has similar moments of brutal violence meant to horrify, it uses them to make an actual point, unmasking the depths of evil that hide beneath it’s dystopian future’s sanitized surface. Logan’s endless digital rolls of traumatized children are just fuel for the tenth billionth movie story about a mopey, retired male antihero who spends two hours being worn down into finally doing the heroic thing he’s obviously going to do.
No, Logan isn’t like other superhero movies—though the critical consensus hailing the gritty tone, as if it’s not extremely similar to every other grim-dark superhero movie from DC, is a bit baffling—but that doesn’t mean it’s a particularly unique movie. I admit my sensibility is not in line with super bleak slogs through the near future, so maybe I’m not the person you want to hear from on this. But I can get past my general aesthetic preferences if that stuff is there for a good reason, and I just don’t think this qualifies. Just because your movie is trying to be like Children of Men, doesn’t mean it succeeds.
Exclusive review by Charlie Heller.
Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.