“Logan” proved to me that the superhero genre was not a lost cause. In the same way that “The Dark Knight” was able to blend philosophy with entertainment, this film seamlessly mixed its roots with the classic Western. This last thread of Logan’s story in the X-Men universe is a satisfying valediction to both the comic-book and Western genres it emulates. The most edifying facet of “Logan” is how James Mangold honors the dying superhero.
Over time, both classic Westerns and comic-book movies have stood out as the most uniquely American genres in cinema. Sadly, Hollywood has a short attention span and tends to break down the myths behind them. What has taken the place of these genres? The industry now mass-produces poorly made films so fast that the quality suffers.
Logan strongly states: “Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.” The film begins with a drunk Hugh Jackman sleeping in his rental limousine by the Mexican border (and no, ladies, he does not sing a note in this joyride). And as the movie progresses, his beard turns gray and something cancerous seems to be eating away at his body. For him, hope is not an option. In this performance, Hugh Jackman stands out in his most impressive work yet; he appears to the audience as a tired legend, fading far from the limelight. But as the story progresses, the motley family he attached himself to, in the end, tames him.
All mutants appear to be wiped out except for Logan, his teacher Charles Xavier, and an albino named Caliban. But when a young mutant Laura (who later turns out to be his daughter) arrives at their hideout with a bounty hunter on her heels, Logan makes the decision to take them all to a utopian haven up north. As the story progresses, we enter into a modern Wild West – casinos, ranches, and deserts.
And yet, after the senseless debacles of “Suicide Squad” and “Deadpool,” my hopes were crushed. Was “Logan” any less violent than these films? Hardly. Logan fights savagely to provide a better life for his daughter. This sacrificial love transforms him into a traditional hero.
Picture Clint Eastwood directing a Cormac McCarthy novel and you are close to visualizing its style. Just as Eastwood showed the brutality of violence in his Oscar-winning “Unforgiven,” Mangold ushers in a hero who must accept that family is worth sacrificing himself for. By the end of the film, Logan chases after death as if it was his last hope for his daughter. “Logan” not only produces a violent landscape on which to reorient the viewer towards something meaningful, but also vindicates both the Western and superhero genres in the process.
The cinematography uses the land in stunning ways, producing shots similar to John Ford’s Westerns. And contrary to most superhero films, director James Mangold artfully composes the action scenes viewed from ground level. This way, its fight choreography is more direct and realistic; it is impressive how the film moves effortlessly without being dragged down by the incessant violence.
Mangold’s visual style also resurrects a passing era – in particular, the three masterful shots all filmed near grave sites. During a crucial moment, Professor X and Laura watch a funeral scene from the 1953 quintessential Western “Shane.” Moments after the service, the hero of the same name comforts a boy by saying “There are no more guns in the valley.” The gunslinger has saved the town from the corrupt ranchers through violence, and must live with the blood on his hands. Shane sacrifices his own innocence to protect the boy’s family. The resolution of “Logan” mirrors this scene in “Shane,” lauding the Wolverine in the same light as the hero of the Old West.
Patrick Stewart loses none of his Shakespearean dignity, while still carrying himself as a tortured invalid with dementia. Newcomer Dafne Keen as Laura also shares a raw performance which matches both Jackman and Stewart’s pace. In the center of the film, Logan and his comrades share a meal with a pious family at their farm. Afterwards, Charles says to him tenderly: “This is what life looks like: people love each other.” Logan comes to realize that the only beauty in a seemingly hopeless landscape is a father’s sacrificial love for his family. Especially in this scene, James Mangold’s screenplay showcases well-crafted moments of dialogue amidst all the violent action.
Like Scorsese’s “Silence” and Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” this movie robs viewers of any hope outside of its converging message: sacrificial love preserves life. James Mangold takes the grittiness of “Deadpool” and transforms it into something beautiful in “Logan,” while also paying homage to both the Western and the comic-book genres. As a distant exile, Logan has brought dignity to the Marvel superhero.