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:Movie Review: Logan

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Logan
Release Date:  March 3, 2017 (USA)
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Starring:  Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant and Dafne Keen
Director:  James Mangold
Rated R

Review by William Nesbitt
Professor of English and Chair of Humanities and General Education
Beacon College, http://www.beaconcollege.edu

Logan is the last in a trilogy of films focusing on the X-man character Wolverine.  Whereas X-Men Origins:  Wolverine and The Wolverine detail his beginnings and his middle years, Logan follows Wolverine through his declining phase.  The X-Men may always have been underdogs, but they were top-of-the game underdogs exploring and enjoying the peak of their powers and their lives.  Here, they are bottomed-out strays struggling with the realities of aging, failing health, illness, how to survive and make ends meet.  Logan walks with a limp and his accumulated injuries keep him in constant pain as his healing factor—along with his other abilities—is largely diminished (a wordless scene in which he must pull on one of his metal claws to get it to fully extend so that he can retract it is almost heartbreaking).  In the meantime he, along with fellow mutant Caliban, plays caregiver to his father figure and mentor, the now very elderly Professor X who can no longer fully control his massive mental powers due to some advancing mental illness that is never specified but which the film suggests may be Alzheimer’s.  The year is 2029 and Logan works as a chauffeur in order to raise money so he can retreat and retire on a sailboat along with Professor X, maybe or maybe not with Caliban.

Without giving too much away, the basic premise of the film is that Wolverine and Professor X intend to protect and escort Laura, a young, mysterious mutant, to Canada where she will be beyond the reach of Donald Pierce and his forces who are intent on retrieving her. (Boyd Holbrook plays Pierce and does a fine job, but Josh Henderson who appeared in the 2012 Dallas series as JR’s son might have been an even better pick).  The trio plays cat and mouse with Pierce as they work their way up the map of America.  The real story is not the plot but the character exploration.  For example, Logan continues to think that only bad things happen to him and those around him and, therefore, the only solution is isolation.  But he has not totally given up; he feels a better world is possible, even if that world includes only him.  In contrast, Professor X believes, as he always has, a better world is possible for everyone.  For example, at one point, the group stays with a farm family and Professor X tells Logan that the normal evening they have enjoyed, that home, a safe place with people who love each other is still possible for Logan. 

Though their mutant abilities are depleted, unstable, or situational (e.g., Caliban can track mutants), the remaining X-Men each get a final moment in the spotlight.  Professor X’s greatest fear is accidentally hurting people, which the movie references and shows him doing, but his powers can still help.  In an earlier scene, he uses his abilities to calm down a group of frightened horses that have gotten loose.  Caliban has his moment, too, when he rises up against those who have bullied him, pulls the pins on two grenades, and announces, “beware the light.” Wolverine has a brief return to full-power former glory with a late display of his berserker rage complete with tensed muscles, wolverine scream for blood, and a leap through the air with claws fully extended, though his penultimate moment of power comes at the end when he has an emotional reckoning and transforms from Wolverine to Logan, weapon to human being.

And that’s why this film is the best superhero film ever after Watchmen, which examines super-heroism as psychological condition, as neurosis, as compulsion, featuring superheroes just as flawed and incomplete as us (Logan intersperse clips from Shane, and The Wrestler is another film that comes to mind).  There are no flashy costumes, fancy jets, or stately mansions.  This is the most realistic of all the X-Men films and that is one reason it is so successful.  Logan is much more than over-the-top special effects, a thin plot line, two-dimensional mustache-twirling villains with vague plans for world domination, stilted dialogue, and violence (though with an R rating that Hugh Jackman wanted in exchange for reduced payment, there is plenty of that).  The film is a brutal and realistic look at death, aging, loss of friends and family, the realization that whatever the best was, it’s behind you now, and the best that remains may not be that wonderful.  Ultimately, everyone, including us as viewers, gets to where they need to go, but it’s not necessarily where they want to go.  Logan respects the audience, urges us to become who we are whether we can or not, has the potential to shift paradigms, and I hope other comic book films follow in its path. 

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