• Adam Johnson

"Logan" Continues to Reinvent the Wheel

March's Logan was an important film for a number of reasons. For one, it signaled the end of the run of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. This was significant because ever since 2000's X-Men, Jackman had become the face of the new age of superhero cinema. Sure, Spider-Man and Nolan's Batman films were pivotal to the superhero ship staying afloat, but X-Men made sure there was a boat to be on after the last one sank with Schumacher's Batman movies and before the Marvel Cinematic Universe created a juggernaut. For long-time fans, they finally got to see a bloody, gritty, and raw version of Ol' Per-SNIKT-ity himself go at it. But I think most importantly, Logan showed the inspired direction the X-Men film franchise will continue to go down.

I have been a fan of the X-Men franchise ever since my mom showed me the first two movies (in fact, you can read my first impressions of the second movie on this here blog!). Despite two big stinkers in its catalog--X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine--I've enjoyed the series for being fun, having interesting characters, and using mutants as metaphors for the many real people who encounter prejudice and have felt like outcasts because of it (namely, the LGBTQ+ community). Having spent this much time with these characters--especially Wolverine, having been front and center for most installments--I knew it was going to be an emotional and historical time seeing Logan for the first time in theaters this past spring.

To me, this is the best chapter in the X-Men franchise. It celebrates the Wolverine legacy while remaining faithful to the relationships these characters have formed. For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, Logan takes places in the near future after a terrible accident wiped out most of the mutants, leaving mainly Logan, Professor Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart), and mutant tracker Calliban (Stephen Merchant, The Office UK). Logan works as a chauffeur to make money and hasn't been The Wolverine in quite some time, trying to lay low in an anti-mutant world. Xavier is kept hidden within the three's private property across the Mexican border, suffering from telepathic seizures that affect people all around him. They accept this somber life, but all hell breaks loose when a woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez, Orange Is the New Black, Fear the Walking Dead) approaches Logan to drive her and a young girl named Laura (breakout star Dafne Keen) up north... as does the man who is after them (Boyd Holbrook, Hatfields & McCoys, Jane Got a Gun).

I really appreciated the gritty turn Logan took, putting these characters in places we do not often see "superheros." Every major hero is at their lowest point, damaged and unlucky. Really, we don't see anyone here really be a "hero" until the end; rather, the action sequences are more often fights for survival, not justice. In return, we get a very character-driven movie on the race to the north, to "Eden," to freedom--which was the best way to say farewell to these characters. (After all, The Last Stand, which was supposed to end it all, was all action without satisfaction.) This allows us to see how the characters we've loved have evolved (Xavier reflecting on his life, Logan rediscovering his humanity) and attach ourselves to new characters like Laura, all with some of the best performances this series has seen. I think it's best to say that despite being a more violent film than its predecessors, it also is more deliberate and quiet, more human and more reflective. In what other X-Men film could we have gotten an extended sequence where the characters spend dinner with a farming family? Or have such a sweet sequence like when Charles and Laura watch Shane in a hotel? Finding the humanity of these usually-larger-than-life people in these sequences make a strong impact as the film turns tragic towards the third act.

Logan, through its color palette, tone, and references, truly embraces a neo-Western identity. In the final sequence when the Wolverine emerges and goes berserk on the Ravagers and Marco Beltrami's score kicks in, it's hard not to be reminded of the cowboy hero's guns-blazing showdown, riding his horse in one last stand. As a result of this and the film's unique style compared to its predecessors, Logan feels fresh despite having some of the most-used characters this side of a Spider-Man reboot. In a market inundated with dozens of comic book adaptations a year, I love that director James Mangold and studio 20th Century Fox agreed to go this direction.

And I am excited that Fox wants to continue down this road.

Of course, I don't mean in the gritty neo-Western sense, although I would really enjoy a film about the X-23 children in this vein. I mean in the sense of continuing to reinvent the wheel with the franchise it created the wheel with. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe rages on, more and more viewers are noting that those installments start to feel the same: iffy villain, lots of quips, no significant good guy really dies, etc. The DC Extended Universe is trying to feel unique with its serious tones, though it's not received all that well (unless it's called Wonder Woman). This isn't to mention all the convoluted cinematic universes, failed and successful, that surround these, as well as failures like Fant4stic, Jonah Hex, and Green Lantern. Eventually things will start to feel stale. X-Men has usually stood apart from the rest due to its social commentary, but it had the same general feel. That is, until....

Love it or hate it, Deadpool did an exciting thing by changing up what a successful superhero movie could be--by gleefully satirizing the genre with more sex and nerd jokes and nerdy sex jokes than an eighth-grader's lunch table. Logan followed in its footsteps by evaluating the character and the genre and doing something different with it. Compare the universal praise Deadpool received and the calls for Logan awards (I'd love for Stewart, Jackman, and Keen to be recognized in February!) compared to the "eh's" mainline film X-Men: Apocalypse received (same year as Deadpool, by the way), and you can see that people are responding more to the fresh takes of the superhero genre. Luckily, Fox is seeing this and the 2018 X-slate shows. While mainline fans can enjoy Dark Phoenix as the next main chapter in the X-Men story, we will also get a Deadpool sequel to continue the genre lampoon, as well as The New Mutants. What excites me about The New Mutants is that it takes elements that have been hinted at in a few of the films--namely, mutants trapped in a facility--and is using that as a means to tell a horror movie, an angle we haven't seen in recent comic book movies, if at all.

For these reasons, and the successes we have seen with Deadpool and especially Logan in these new directions, the X-Men franchise is one I'm excited to see develop and stand apart in the future.

For my notes on Logan Noir, click here.

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