The Brilliance of “Logan”
This isn’t a review of the movie. Just some thoughts I had after watching Logan last night.
Minor spoilers ahead.
The modern superhero movie revolution started with X-Men in 2000. Yes, there were several fits and starts before 2000. Some good (1989’s Batman). Some terrible (I see you 1994's The Shadow). But the movie that became the foundation of what we now call the “Superhero” genre was X-Men.
In the year 2000, technology ran close enough to imagination it didn’t seem implausible for a character to shoot destructive beams from his eyes or for another character to disintegrate into salt water. Pretty neat times if you were a comic book nerd.
And that’s the way Hollywood looked at it. Pretty neat: have fun comic book nerd.
What Hollywood saw in their new genre was an age ceiling. Films could be no riskier than PG-13 — ensuring children (and the parents of children) would fill theater seats, eat popcorn, and drink sugar water at inflated prices.
It also meant that, to emulate what is “comic book-like,” cities needed to be destroyed by act 2, and the fate of the world, (if not the galaxy), needed to be imperiled by the 3rd.
Both are fine. I like art that can deliver a return on investment. It creates space for more art. I also like stories with the fate of the galaxy is uncertain. But too much of either is boring.
The Superhero genre is a way of telling a story. Like any genre, there are motifs and images that need to be seen. The rest is fluid. It doesn’t have to be PG-13, nor does the final act need an extinction level event to be its fulcrum.
In the 20-odd years of Hollywood telling the Superhero story, this sensibility has been missing. Logan starts to fill this void.
Most people will focus on the ‘R’ rating. It’s the most obvious thing Logan gets right. It’s a little absurd that for seventeen years we’ve accepted the story of a man with retractable foot-long claws that does not depict him as a murderer. This should be your baseline. When you consider the essentials of Wolverine: soldier, mercenary, brainwashed killing-machine and it becomes impossible to truthfully render his story with a PG-13 rating.
Fans who wanted this version of Wolverine should be satisfied with Logan. This Wolverine is the R-rated version of the character. The fights are not fights — they are the bloody rampages his ardent fans have been begging for since they were told the man who is the best at what he does, and what he does isn’t nice would be on the big screen.
In those scenes, Logan is a horror film. This is a 100% correct. We are watching a character who has been described in every cinematic outing for the last 17 years as an unstoppable killing machine. An Unstoppable. Killing. Machine. That we are rooting for the killing machine should make no difference in how he is shown mechanically killing people.
That’s pretty cool if that’s all you’ve been waiting to see in your comic book movie. Thank you Deadpool — without your monster box office success, we would never see this realized version of Wolverine.
But the violence the R-rating allows isn’t what makes Logan a great movie.
What makes Logan great is the journey it takes the audience on with the given circumstances. Logan is a meditation on the end of things. The superheroics are the window dressing to get you in the theater.
People want to see stories of other people living through uncanny events. Genre is just a way to say, “I’d like to see these uncanny events in the key of X.”
I think all of us: critics, audience members, artists, too often get caught in window dressing of genre and lose sight of the story.
Logan is using the Superhero genre to tell a compelling story of how things end and how we find meaning in life before our death.
The character scenes between Professor X and Wolverine, now Charles and Logan, mean more to me than the truthful depiction of the berserker rage. The fear conveyed by Jackman’s face when his sixth claw will not fully extend tells me more about the fight than the body count afforded by the R-rating.
The emotional beats are earned in Logan by using the visual language of cinema combined with dialogue to deepen our relationship to the people on screen. And yes, that is a stupid sentence to write — all cinema uses visual language combined with dialogue to deepen our relationship with the people on screen, but this is movie is in the same family as The Shadow. It’s not as superfluous a statement as it should be.
There is no planet-eater at the end of the film. No tsunami. No ancient demi-god threatening our heroes.
The adversary is worthy of the story, and the consequences of the final conflict are satisfying. Because of this, Logan can shut up and take my money.