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Sunday, 19 March 2017

Logan: finally The Wolverine

I’ve waited until my second viewing of Logan before sharing my thoughts. Indeed, it’s taken a second viewing to ‘process’ the film. Be warned: there be spoilers here.

Let’s start with that trailer: its tone hints at what’s to come in the film, but it in no way prepares the viewer for its bleak, solemn and brutal approach. The trailer, backed of course with Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt, suggests heroic redemption, Gladiator-style.

And while DoP John Mathieson, who shot Gladiator, brings an epic visual scope to Logan, there is little else about this film that matches Gladiator’s arc.

Logan is clearly closest in spirit to Clint’s Unforgiven, but even that had humour and crowd-pleasing moments. It shares the Oscar-winning Western’s set-up and themes, but in the hands of director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman, Logan mines those with greater and discomforting intensity.

Logan is not a super hero movie – yes, there are super-powered characters, fights and some effects – rather this is a story of two old men, both of whom have had enough of life, facing up to the choices they have made and the choices that have been forced upon them. Live by the claw, die by the claw.

Key to the film’s success is this set-up: while both Logan and Xavier are powerful mutants, their abilities are curbed by old age. The idea of Xavier suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder and having to take medication that dulls his brain further is upsetting.

Logan appears to begrudge his role of Xavier’s provider and carer; indeed there’s an edge of care home abuse in his treatment of the Professor. Once we work out what happened to all the mutants, we realise that, in his grief, Logan is imprisoning and punishing Xavier.

Logan, clearly being poisoned by the adamantium grafted to his skeleton, finds his only escape from the pain and the tedium of caring for Xavier in beer and bourbon. With his healing power failing him, more recent scars stand proud upon his body – no chance of leaving behind a beautiful corpse – and he walks with a pronounced limp.

He even seems to be suffering from erectile dysfunction of his claws: they don’t pop as quickly and as far as they used to.

Nevertheless, when he does pop those claws, boy does he… The first fight against some would-be car-jackers is shocking. Logan wearily asks them to back away, but then the shots start and before you know it, Logan’s limo has got marks on it – and that drives this tired, old white man over the edge. The ensuing fight sees him kill most of the hoodlums with crunching, graphic claw attacks – more often than not he goes for the kill-strike immediately (up through the chin, from the base of the back of the skull, etc), not because they’re the most expedient, but because he gets the most satisfaction that way, it’s the only way to sate the anger and blood lust.

As the story progresses, Logan gets ever more violent and ever-more dehumanized by his own actions. His violence stands on the same ground as sex in Cronenberg movies: it’s a headlong dive into self-loathing, and, like a junkie, he just can’t give up.

By the time we reach the final battle, Logan is running on little more than pure, animalistic rage: at this point he is The Wolverine. And this is uncomfortable to watch, as Jackman utters guttural animal noises – he’s no longer human.

There’s so much violence and it’s so graphic that the viewer is left bloodied and broken like Logan’s enemies, unwillingly complicit in the dearth (and indeed death) of humanity in a beloved screen hero.
Wolverine, hero no more: that could have been the film’s alternative title. There’s nothing heroic here, what redemption there is for Logan is depressingly fleeting.

Compare the fall of Maximus in Gladiator with the falls of either Xavier or Logan: Russell Crowe’s Caesar-killer is accorded a hero’s death, full of pomp and ceremony, while the dispatch of and burial of Xavier is exceptionally tough on the character, his legacy and the audience.

Logan can only articulate his sense of loss through rage and violence, unable even to summon any appropriate eulogy. His reaction in the immediate aftermath is momentarily amusing for UK audiences as it recalls Basil Fawlty attacking his car; however, the humour rapidly dissipates as he continues to attack the car before collapsing to the ground – it’s agonising to watch.

When he falls at the hands of his clone (echoing Superman III’s ego and id battle), Logan is at least accorded that fleeting redemption, a second of happiness in a lifetime of abuse, misery and shattered dreams.

The film completes its echoes of Unforgiven by affording Logan a fiery and naïve protégé, X23/Laura (Dafne Keen gives as strong and committed a performance as Jackman here).

It’s worth noting how Logan toys with Unforgiven’s meta aspect – the ‘man of letters and such’, mythologising the Wild West with the tales of the ‘Duck of Death’ who bears witness to William Munny’s own myth. When Logan finds the X-Men comics in X23’s possession, the myths of which she clings to, he flicks through the pages and decries the stories: ‘maybe a quarter of it happened and not like this; you don’t just pull on some spandex and save the day’.

Some writers have suggested that the primary colour visions in the comic panels rekindle the long-dead hero in Logan, but I’m not sure I agree. He’s not one to believe his own press.

However, it is worth noting that in the glimpses of the comics we get, the character who calls for Logan’s help is his original X-daughter, Rogue. Given that the comic revelation comes just after Logan has discovered the truth about X23’s ancestry, this is the turning point in his attitude towards her: if not her hero, he must become her father.

But the sins of the father have been passed on undiluted to this child: seeing her tear men apart makes for even more uncomfortable viewing than Wolverine’s berserker rage, her feral quality a result of years of abuse and captivity.

Logan’s final fatherly advice hints at despair and a mission impossible: “Don’t become what they made you.”

Using Shane’s departing speech as a eulogy, X23/Laura then completes Logan’s burial, fittingly and tellingly flipping the angle of the makeshift cross on Logan’s grave so that it forms an ‘x’. Weapon X is dead, long live Weapon X.

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