Logan: The first faithful X-Men movie
The X-Men saga has treated us to colorful costumes, magical superpowers, and impossible battles. In hindsight (or immediately following an X-Men movie), the story and the visuals can feel exaggerated and out of touch. Logan shows us just how absurd the previous X-Men movies were, and it does so while delivering on the self-reflective power of the original comics.
X-Men was never about flying, or shooting laser beams from eyeballs, or emanating psychic energy. X-Men was about the dichotomy between the individual and society’s expectations.
For example, consider the framework for every mutant’s story. At first a mutant is a human like any other. The mutant goes to school and has normal friends. Then one day in the midst of puberty a mutant suffers an abrupt realization that he/she is something different, something unusual, something often despised. Each mutant’s first thought is “why can’t I just be normal?” Each mutant’s second thought is “how do I tell my parents?” Each mutant’s third thought is “maybe I can simply pretend to be normal and no one will know.” Some mutants choose to live in the closet, while other mutants come out only to be rejected by family and friends.
Does the story of a mutant sound familiar? I would imagine that the X-Men comics have historically been an escape for gay teens struggling with their identity and future.
Logan delivers in a similar fashion. Logan certainly is not an X-Men movie. But more surprisingly, Logan isn’t even a superhero movie. It’s a movie about the horrors and tragedies of everyday life, placed on a pedestal by accentuating the story with magical abilities. Logan is an allegory with claws.
The Senile Father
As a child, a father is a superhero. There’s nothing that can stop a father, and I’m positive that my dad could beat up your dad. Each of us eventually face the realization that our fathers aren’t superheroes. In fact, they’re just as fallible as the rest of us.
Logan delivers a crumbling superhero. But I’m not talking about Logan, himself. I’m referring to Professor X, the most well respected mutant of them all. Professor X was so legendary that even his nemesis proclaimed:
“Charles Xavier did more for mutants than you will ever know. My single greatest regret is that he had to die for our dream to live.”
Staying dead would have been better for Xavier’s legacy. Logan finds a senile Professor X. Not only is the audience asked to cope with Xavier’s fall from legend, but the audience watches Logan take care of Xavier as if he were caring for an incontinent child.
Mirroring the real world tragedy that many face, Logan becomes the primary care taker of the man who once took care of him. Logan does that while watching a “disease of the mind” rot the very mental acuity and faculty that made Professor X so great. It is perhaps the greatest fall from grace that an X-Men movie could possibly muster.
The Mid-Life Crisis
Professor X is not the only crumbling hero. Wolverine has drunkenly stumbled into the not-so-super life of an Uber driver named Logan. Logan limps through most of the movie. His power of healing is waning as well. Logan’s narrative throughout the film is one of a man struggling with aging, falling short of greatness, and generally dealing with the reality of what occurs after “happily ever after.”
Logan retreats into substance abuse, self-pity, and even considers suicide. Logan can’t find purpose in his existence, and he is watching his very identity wither away.
True to life, Logan shows that the only cure for a midlife crisis may be to secure the future for one’s child. What more can you do?
The Illegitimate Child
Some fathers don’t know they’re fathers. As the story goes for some men, Logan is approached by a woman he doesn’t recognize only to find out that he has a daughter. Her origin is a bit unusual, but nonetheless Logan is her father.
Logan defensively rejects his child for as long as he can, and his daughter isolates herself without showing any attachment to her father.
Eventually a bond is formed where Logan’s daughter doesn’t want him to leave. Logan’s cold adamantium heart melts and he sacrifices himself to save his daughter. In the end the two are finally father-and-daughter.
No Heroes, Just Heroics
As I said in the opening, Logan is not an X-Men movie and it’s not a superhero movie. Logan is an allegory of middle-class life. In real life there are no heroes that stand the test of time, but even in real life it is heroic to care for the dying, earn a living, take responsibility for a child, and sacrifice your own well being for others’.
Every aspect of Logan draws a distinction between the harshness of reality and the glossy wonderland of superheroes. Logan’s makeup, cinematography, and even the story itself slashes the dreamworld of the previous X-Men movies.
Patrick Stewart foregoes the Photoshop work that removed his wrinkles and imperfections in previous films. He now bares every wrinkle, freckle, and mole. Hugh Jackman likewise puts his wrinkles and gray hair on display, not to mention the scaring all over his body. The actors feel more real than ever before.
Where earlier X-Men movies show mutants jumping out of aircraft and blowing up entire cities, Logan now struggles to take drunken steps through the sand. A piece of pipe or broken glass on the ground now feels like a larger hurdle than battling a flying metal robot. Logan brings the camera down to the ground and into the scene to show that simply running across the yard is an exertion for an aging man.
Logan even calls out the fiction of X-Men directly in the narrative. Logan picks up an X-Men comic book in the movie and trashes it for being exaggerated and mostly fictitious. The previous X-Men movies were about exaggerated super powers being exercised in dramatic world shaping conflicts. Logan rejects the global perspective and draws the attention back to where it belongs, the individual struggle.
The purpose of super powers in the original X-Men comic was to draw attention to the hurdles that individuals face. Nobody would read stories about average people living average lives — the stories would disappear into the vanilla pages. Instead, average people were imbued with super powers to distinguish these stories from the backdrop, to pull in the reader’s attention and engage the imagination. Super powers were merely a facilitator of allegory, a dark inked outline around an otherwise unremarkable narrative. Logan is the only X-Men movie to be illustrated in the moral vein of the comics.