ONLY THE FINEST SPOILERS WERE USED IN THE MAKING OF THIS REVIEW
I’ve read and watched a lot of reviews of Logan. They universally agree the acting is brilliant, and Jackman and Stewart have indeed made the most of their final chances to play these characters. In that much at least, I agree.
Unlike X-Men: Apocalypse with its patchy acting which ranges between the good, the inadequate, and the plainly phoning it in, the acting here is superb. In this case the actors have parts worth getting their teeth into and they take full advantage of the opportunity.
The references are vivid, the staging is imaginative. This is not the Star Wars prequels. This is characters moving in a realized environment, not just sitting on a couch talking.
There is a lot of swearing and the battle scenes are more than bloody. They are tours de dismemberment. Most reviewers report this as a good thing in and of itself. But gratuitous blood, dismemberment, or attractive nudity are all alike. The gratuitous is the enemy of the good. And the good is the enemy of the interesting. So the trick is to present the gratuitous and blend it into the plot and characterization and this is what this movie does as few others have.
Characters do what they do because of who they are and this advances the plot which forces the characters to act. This is all interleaved with a deep symbolism.
This is what I mean when I say this is one of the finest movies ever made. And by that I mean it is in the same league as Citizen Kane.
Again, reviewers talk about the comic book references but they don’t seem to notice the social commentary. And yet, this is woven through the plot, not like symbolism but as symbolism. People miss the social commentary in Citizen Kane because much of it is pointed at issues which no longer involve people. That is not so here.
Begin with the opening scenes. Logan takes on a gang who are trying to boost the wheels off his limo. There are many comments how bloody this fight is, and how much trouble Logan has putting a few punks away. What isn’t mentioned is they are Latinos. It’s a border city Latino gang.
Logan then drives over the border into Mexico where he illegally occupies a junkyard there. So Logan may not be an illegal alien, but he is a foreign criminal.
They cross the border one way, he crosses it the other.
This is where he keeps a debilitated Charles Xavier, watched over by Caliban. Charles is kept in a street water tank with a lot of holes in it. It is reminiscent of Charles Xavier in Cerebro with its scenery of stars. But where then he found the hidden now he is the hidden.
Where Caliban used to sniff out mutants and was a threat, now he keeps one hidden and is a protection.
A lot of this movie will set up inversion and deal with that inversion. What went up now goes down.
There are no new mutants being born. All the talk about them being the next step in evolution turns out to be spin. There are only an isolated few waiting for death.
Logan, the ultimate loner, who would abandon everyone at the drop of a hat, now has to take care of Charles Xavier. Logan’s job is as a limo driver, the ultimate in being at the beck and call of others. He makes calls to get jobs, he has to be where he is told to be, must be there on time, and take the customer where they want to go by the route they want. And the whole time he must show silence, decorum, and deference all the way.
These contrasting positions are reinforced by the style of the camera shot. Instead of the usual shots used to make brand recognition like the overuse of lens flairs, a 360° view of a character from a low angle, filters to give everything a blue or yellow tone depending on what signal the story is supposed to give, scenes have a high contrast of light and dark. The scenes are framed in light, and I understand the Blu-Ray will have a copy of the movie in black and white.
Logan drinks. He also has a persistent cough which will get worse as time goes on. When he heals he now gets scars. He moves slower, and the drink may be self-medication because he is constantly in pain.
If you follow the movie through you will find many more such contrasts. But that is the structure, there is the dynamic of plot as well. Logan is spotted and recognized as the Wolverine. The woman, a nurse, approaches Logan at a funeral where he is doing his job as chauffeur. He is at a funeral with all the clichés of black umbrellas and rain. But through that Logan is approached and pushes the Latina away. As the woman drives away, Logan gets his first glimpse of Laura (Dafne Keen) in the back of the car.
The Latina is a nurse who worked for an American corporation in Mexico. The movie Logan has far more diversity in the actors it hired and the parts it had for them than Ghostbusters. Yet not one reviewer or political blogger seems to seems to notice this. Though having said that, there will be an argument about the matter now.
But look at the scene from a Mexican point of view. The issue of American corporations using Mexico as a way of avoiding laws in its own country is an issue more pressing for Mexicans than Americans – except for taxes.
In any event, the corporation was experimenting on children, creating new mutants. They found something better and decided to kill the children under their control. The woman taking care of Laura says the children were slaves.
The workers who formed bonds with the children help them get out before they are killed. Some don’t get away. Laura is taken to the United States. She is an illegal immigrant, she is in danger of her life, and the danger is American. Where is the morality, here? Where is it with the Latino gang?
From the second act of Logan we get the unpacking of this set-up. We learn more about the world and the who the characters have become. When the nurse – another Latina who has broken the law to get Laura into the United States, she dies because of it. But Laura is not a Latina. She’s white. Does that make a difference?
It is when Logan decides he will take Laura to North Dakota as a stage in her travel that the next line of symbolism firms in the story. The children were enslaved. They escaped slavery and they are pursued by the agents/soldiers of the company which made them slaves.
That’s another thing that no reviewer seems to have noticed. There is an element of Exodus in this that will now underpin the symbolism of the movie.
Charles Xavier wants to take Laura to where she can find out where to go next in her search to be safe. Logan doesn’t think it’s his job, so he’s reluctant. But the hero always initially says no and then agrees, and that’s what happens here. But the arguments Xavier and Logan have about taking up the cause do much to illuminate the plot and the characters.
“Does she remind you of someone, Logan?”
Logan is often described in reviews as the gunslinger back in the saddle one more time. This is true. I the movie Xavier and Laura watch Shane, an earlier movie. Like Shane, Logan realizes he has to take that last ride, giving up his dream of buying a boat and being away from all the people chasing after Charles. The Logan who will take off to get away from his problems is the one who dies first. The other one takes Laura north.
It becomes a road movie. They travel through a gambling center, then the open road, pursued by Reavers. This brings out another, critical issue of social commentary. Caliban (Stephen Merchant) is threatened with what Charlies Xavier might do when he has a seizure, it is clear they have no way of dealing with Alzheimer’s.
They can create cyborg limbs which can be field repaired, they can clone mutants, they can do genetic manipulation to get change powers, they can implant controls in a person’s brain, they can make trucks that go without drivers. But they can’t handle Alzheimer’s. What are their research spending priorities?
The trucks, when you look at them, are arks carrying what’s holy to this society: goods.
They meet a Christian family, the Munsons. Xavier uses his telepathy to help the horses who got away from the family so they can be put back into the floats. The problem started when one of the self-driving trucks acted just like the CIA said it could make self-driven cars do: become a weapon of political assassination.
Despite Logan’s protests, he, Xavier, and Laura stay the night at the house. There we learn that a company has bought out all the neighboring farms to raise corn for corn syrup. We learn later that this corn syrup is the agent for spreading the capacity to give birth to mutants. Again, the struggle over sweetened soft drinks become part of the movie. Do we try to stop soft drinks because we think they might mutate our children? In a manner of speaking, yes.
They fix a pumping station to put water back to the house of the Munsons. Hired guns of the big rancher come and try to drive the Munsons off their land. Logan fights back.
The Munsons get killed not because of the big corporation but because of the big corporation behind it. They send a mutant who kills the family. The mutant is, essentially, a dark Wolverine, still young, his rage controlling him and the corporation controlling the rage.
The rest of the struggle will be against that soulless thing, the Wolverine they wanted, being essentially Sabertooth. But Logan cannot see the difference.
As they continue north they leave the cities behind and go through rural areas. They make it to North Dakota where they meet up with other escaped mutants. The slaves are on the verge of the promised land: Canada. They request sanctuary at a place called New Eden. Again, the social commentary comes to the fore. Canada keeps border controls, so they actually have something to offer: protection.
And when not driven by immediate danger the mutant children do stop and ask permission to enter.
And this is the country where Logan was born.
He brings Laura to the group and seeks to leave her there. But they take care of him until they leave. Logan puts together that the Reavers and his own dark doppelganger are about to attack. He charges into battle, succeeds, and dies.
They bury him where he fell, though they could have taken the body with them. But they bury him in there, outside the promised land. He was their Moses, or Laura’s. He got across to her what he considered the mistake of his life, telling he she didn’t have to be what they made her to be. In his eulogy, she quotes the movie Shane, and says killing leaves a mark, a brand that is permanent.
When the others leave, she takes the wooden cross and puts it on its side. As reviewers say, it’s an X, for the X-Men.
Tears will fall for this movie, but they will rise. Sweaty-eyed people leave the theater. The movie is an action film with a depth of symbolism, characterization, acting, and production values that will make this a game changer. It can be watched as an adventure, a road movie, a modern cowboy story. It can also be seen as one of those rare pieces which are classics in the correct sense of the term, something by which everything else is classed.
Watch for references to this end in current stories about Logan in the comic books.