Hugh Jackman defines the X-men comic character Wolverine. With the movie “Logan” the Jackman-Wolverine era is over. Logan follows an aging Wolverine on a resentful quest to save a girl he doesn’t want with a Professor X hobbled by seizures and infirmity.
The movie is, in one word, violent. Needlessly so. For the record, I don’t mind blood and guts when it serves a purpose and even when it’s gratuitous and used for effect. The problem in Logan, however, is that the movie was scene after scene of gritty realism. The violence was unreal, as in could not be believed.
On the one hand, the viewer is to believe that Wolverine is past his prime. He gets shot by thugs trying to steal his hubcaps and comes off the ground slowly. Rather than scare the rabble off, Logan goes animal and slices them all to pieces. Why? Why would an older, wizened former-hero trying to hide out lose his cool about stupid hubcaps? It didn’t make sense. And to carry the story further, wouldn’t it have been more impactful if he got in a couple licks but they beat him up and took his hubcaps?
Further in the movie, there’s a moment of beautiful familial community. The family ends up slashed to death but not by Logan. Professor X gets stabbed. It’s bloody mayhem. Why? Here’s where the movie decided to descend into social commentary: normal families are being destroyed by industrialized farming. Computers are making people obsolete (self-driving semis that don’t move out of the way for cars.) There’s no hope for the American family what with agribusiness, depersonalization, and an all-powerful police state. Again, the point could have been made more subtly: Logan could have been impotent. The family could have been left without water. Logan could have left behind a family whose survival is in question.
A Logan upset about his hubcaps enough to kill is not apathetic enough. The blood, then, is for the viewer’s sport. A Twitter pal called Logan a slasher flick and that’s what it is–a slasher flick dressed up as a post-apocalyptic Western. It’s the reverse of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with more blood and guts.
This brings us to the villains. Logan’s enemies (besides himself) are ridiculous. Why not a subtle villain? Why a mouthy, annoying one?
Logan is a subtle hero. He’s a reluctant hero and always has been. He was worn out and irritated decades ago. The natural arch for this character is apathy which begets appeasement and “neutrality” because nothing matters. It’s nihilism.
His weariness begs for a banal villain. A bureaucratic do-gooder who in an effort to better the world, makes it violent. The Reavers in Firefly come to mind. This was government do-goodism gone wrong. Good people were made into monsters–the ones who survived, but that’s not Logan’s antagonist. Logan fights a fantastical foe and needlessly violent one.
Like many of the X-men films, Logan gets close to something really great but doesn’t quite get there. The intimate moments of family and connection are beautiful. The tired Logan and hopeful-to-the-end Professor X capture aging and love and longing–for health, for wholeness, for family, for time, for peace. Laura, the runaway girl, watches Logan as a child observes a father: every decision, action, word is in acute focus. The flaws, the family traits consume them both.
The brutality of life’s disappointments is enough without the blood and gore. The gratuity detracted from the violence within Logan. The man was dying and he wasn’t going gracefully as some do. He was a man at war with himself and unforgiving of his sins. He saw no redemption.
Did he find redemption in the reflection of his daughter’s eyes? That’s not clear, either. And that’s too bad. In death, like life, Logan finds no peace. He does find violence, though, and through that, something to fight for. So it was something, just not enough.