Dueling Reviews: Logan Transcends the X-Series / the Superhero Genre

Christopher Maher: Wow. I thought that was a pretty superb movie. X-Men has always been an interesting franchise because it’s the “first” superhero franchise, but it is nothing like the other two. Marvel and the fledgling DC are all about continuity and Universes. X-Men has always done something else. Each movie is a standalone flick, and while at times that vaguely bothers me, over all it’s the right choice. I talked a little bit in my Lego Batman review how the film uses history to add weight to moments. Logan takes a similar approach, treating all the previous films as mythic installments that weigh on these characters, though they aren’t needed to actually understand the plot.

Logan takes place in a dystopian 2029 (sorry tiger fans, but they’ve gone extinct) where mutants are no longer being born. Self-driving trucks and enormous automated farms dominate the US, and the country has become (well… flourished?) into a industrial-military machine. It’s a believable future. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a limo driver who lives just past the Mexican border, where he hides his ailing friend Charles (Patrick Stewart) along with his albino care-taker Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Of course, we know these are the last of the X-Men, a mutant fighting force. But they’re retired… until a new mutant Laura (Dafne Keen) arrives with cyborg Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) hot on her trail.

That’s the whole movie, really, which isn’t to deride it in any way. I’ve read most reviews comparing Logan to Neo-Noirs and Westerns, and I think both comparisons are fair. Hugh Jackman’s Logan has no interest in helping anyone. He’s a gunslinger who has put down his gun. He has no cause left. Mutants are done, and the X-Men are done, and Charles Xavier’s optimism is more of a nuisance than anything else. So when a cause rolls around, these characters are faced with the difficulties of picking it up. The character work is slow and subtle, and the characters in general oscillate (again in a good way) between symbolic and down to earth. Laura carries with her some X-Men comic books, which Logan flips through. “I didn’t happen like that” he grumbles. Logan knows that the real world is a darker place than the colorful comic book pages.

But that’s something X-Men has always been about. It’s no mistake that Charles and Logan are the final two X-Men featured. They have always, perhaps even more so than Professor X and Magneto, been polar opposites. Charles has always believed in hope and optimism, and Logan has always believed in, if not nihilism, a sort of fatalism. Neither had any control over how the world spat them out, but Charles faces his difficulties and looks at them as gifts, and Logan faces his gifts and looks at them as difficulties. The film is a beautiful relationship piece between the two, and like any truly good film it never lands exactly one way or the other but instead considers both of their opinions earnestly. “I think I finally understand you, Logan” says Charles in a truly heart-breaking scene as he looks back over his life.

The film considers all of its characters well. I return to my review of The Handmaiden often because it was something I respected about that film that I think all movies need to have for me to even consider them “good”: character dignity. Logan and Charles are both treated with enormous dignity, and their relationship and opinions are given great care. But the bit characters are treated well too. Caliban is an honestly surprising turn, and while much of his story plays out in the background of the film he is given a truly complex story about survival, betrayal, subterfuge, and redemption. Laura also obviously gets a complex story, and Keen sells every moment of it (this is a serious break out role for her, I imagine). She is feral and fierce while also wounded and reaching out for anyone to call family. It’s again a well that X-Men has hit before, but the series always brings fresh combinations and meditations to the subject, another benefit of its “fractured” continuity. Even Donald Pierce is an enticing and exciting antagonist, and his boss Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) plays a cooler and more dangerous side to the villains. Neither is given much screen time, but they feel complex and motivated (though still deadly evil, in a fun comic book way).

Logan is finally, also, a superhero movie. There are three major fight sequences, and each of them had me literally sit up in my seat in glee. Logan is bloody in a way that adds weight and intensity to the fights, but never overly gory (there are gory moments, but never any that feel utterly superfluous). There are some great visuals and gags (the shot of a nasty sheriff’s decapitated head landing on the ground, a shocked expression on his face, got laughs from the crowd while still being bloody). The fight choreography is tight and brutal. And, most importantly, these are superheroes. It’s something Logan would like to forget, but Charles Xavier will always be Professor X somewhere in there, and Logan will always be Wolverine. They can be gifts or curses, but they are what they are. In the final fight of the film some mook shouts: “It’s the Wolverine!” and he’s right. It’s the Wolverine.

Logan had 9 out of 10 claws.

Sam Russell: My first reaction to this film was: Wow. It is incredible that this movie exists. Rarely does the 9th film in a series spanning 18 years transcend the franchise it belongs to. Logan isn’t just a great X-Men sequel. It is one of the best pieces of action-cinema I have ever seen. Even when these films have been great (X-Men 2 and Days of Future Past are two of my favorite superhero movies) they sit squarely in the superhero genre. A pretty narrow classification. Logan isn’t really a superhero movie, genre-wise. It’s a dystopian sci-fi, a western, and simultaneously a family road trip film and a chase movie. There are even splashes of horror and slasher films that make an appearance. In a cinematic climate of carefully controlled brands I don’t know who the hell allowed this bizarre, fucked-up, movie to be made. To whoever did: thank you.

Something Logan does incredibly well is commit to its departure (from X-Men movies and from superhero movies) while still honoring what it came from. It stands alone, but, as you spoke to Chris, it also builds on the deep wells of history it’s predecessors have laid out. It doesn’t ignore the relationship audiences have watched Charles Xavier and Logan build over the past decade and change. It doesn’t jettison the elaborate (and constantly shifting, thanks to time travel) continuity, instead it embraces these characters’ history. All that sarcastic banter Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have expertly traded through the years is meaningful context that illuminates a frustrated but loving relationship between two men, both imminently approaching death, of themselves, of their kind, and of their legacy.

The theme of death dominates the film. It’s made particularly poignant by Logan’s superpowers- rapid healing, which essentially has granted him immortality. He’s been alive for somewhere around 150 years, and now that the world around him is falling apart, he is too. It’s rare in a film that we watch so many people die, and don’t become numb to it. The violence is visceral. Every stab is felt. Even when it’s a faceless henchman, the raw gruesomeness reminds you that someone just lost a life. The literal gravity of a severed head thudding onto the ground, and rolling with authentic weight is disturbingly real compared to the bloodless pow-pow-bang of regular comic book fair. In Logan, violence is dirty and it’s exhausting.

Chris, I love your idea that it isn’t Magneto and Charles who are polar opposites, but Charles and Logan. Magneto and Charles have always wanted the same thing- to resolve the conflict between humans and mutants. Charles wants peace, Magneto wants retribution. I agree that Logan has always been more fundamentally opposite of Charles. Charles cares, Logan doesn’t (or doesn’t want to) and the tension in their relationship has always involved Charles bringing a reluctant Logan onto his side and into his family.

This is one of my favorite depictions of the future since Children of Men. Films often make the future an alien world, where every part of our society has evolved beyond recognition (previous X flick Days of Future Past is a good example of this). Logan’s future is subtler. As you said Chris, it casually mentioned that tigers are extinct, industrial farming has been taken to an extreme, and people have bionic appendages. But it’s a painfully familiar world of gas station mini-marts and broken down cars.

I also want to talk about something we don’t always touch on in our reviews, though we really should –  aesthetics. Logan is visually stunning. Like the westerns it refers to, close ups study textured faces in exquisite detail. Every crack and crevasse in Logan’s leathery face is crisply defined by warm, late-afternoon light. A layer of sweat glistened around squinted eyes. Old age makeup has a long history of being hokey. Not here. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart look convincingly like time has chewed them to bits and spit them out.

Clouds of dust dance across the screen, painting beautiful and ever changing western landscapes. We watch the environment transition from the flat expanse of harsh Texas desert, to the towering cliffs of North Dakota.

I can go on and on about this movie. I haven’t even mentioned that the action scenes were inventive and thrilling, or that the acting was profoundly moving (I’m almost certain this is the first superhero film that has brought me to genuine tears). I have no doubt in my mind that in the future Logan will be considered an important entry in superhero filmmaking, and action filmmaking more broadly.

I give Logan 9 out of 10 elderly mutants.

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