Someone once said “All men at some point believe the song Desperado was written about them.”
What this means, essentially, is that Western society has idolized and romanticized the “stoic loner with a good heart” trope that it has become a signifier of what men want to be, how we want to see ourselves. In our heads, we’ve been out riding fences for so long now, just like our old-school macho heroes John Wayne and Han Solo and Wolverine. Which is why it’s so interesting that for most of Logan, James Mangold’s retirement party for the Jackman incarnation, our eponymous anti-hero is shown living the life many middle-aged men actually live instead of the one they wish they did.
Set in 2029, which is basically just 2017 but with self-driving trucks, Logan introduces us to a version of the character who quite frankly ain’t as good as he once was back when he was the best there was at what he did. He doesn’t heal as well, he drinks too much, and his claws don’t pop out as quick as they used to, if they can pop out all the way at all. (This is one of several phallic metaphors which pervade the film). With no new mutants being born, Old Man Logan is stuck caring for an Alzheimer’s-addled Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, also giving his character a farewell tour), hiding out in the Mexican desert with a nagging albino mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Making his living as a limo driver, Logan is forced to come out of hiding and serve the greater good once more when he encounters a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keene), on the run from the bad guys (Boyd Holbrook and Stephen Price) who grew her in a lab using Logan’s DNA.
Yes, Logan’s supporting cast include a concerned “spouse”, a non-communicative “daughter” and an aging “father” who refuses to take his pills.
But this isn’t a family drama, nor is it much of a traditional superhero movie. Instead, this is very much a “hired gun forced back for one last ride” sort of story, the kind that director James Mangold absolutely loves. If you doubt it, the movie flat-out shows iconic scenes from Shane. The film also works as a coincidental companion piece to last year’s Hell or High Water as Logan and company wander through the same American southwest towns and encounter remarkably similar situations as that film’s Howard brothers. All this is to say, Logan is a slow burn by superhero standards, it’s a journey movie modeled in the vein of westerns that kept their action beats spread out along the way.
Logan does have more than its fair share of action scenes, though, and they are designed for maximum impact and supported by excellent sound work. In one scene, a dissonant paralyzing din flexes in between the familiar clinks and whirs of a casino. In another, a tinkling, slightly out-of-tune piano undercuts the heavy drums of the score, evoking and subverting a classic wild-west stereotype. Without having to disguise or hide the attacks like previous X-men films, Mangold is allowed to develop creative action sequences that are fun, visceral, and very very violent. Highlights include a Mad Max-like desert car chase to a slow-motion scene best described as the exact inverse of that Quicksilver scene from Days of Future Past.
A note about the politics of Logan: Given the history of the X-Men as stand-ins for whatever minority group is currently receiving the most public persecution, it’s hard not to read the villains in this film as a hyper-militarized border patrol agency.
It’s no coincidence that the film writes Laura as Latinx, nor is it unintentional that the biggest fights in the movie revolve around border crossings. During the final showdown, young mutants are rounded up and forced to wait on their knees, evocative of the INS arrests we’ve seen in news coverage or in documentaries like Cartel Land. An actual Border Patrol vehicle is featured heavily in several early shots. The enforcers are even led by Boyd Holbrook’s smarmy Aryan Texas redneck, a great performance which is sadly cast aside when the film introduces its real bad guy. The in-movie villain motivation isn’t much less politically-charged: They are employees of a Mutant Monsanto, conducting the same “breeding a weapon” storyline we’ve seen before, but with extra emphasis on trademarks and copyrights, which makes them feel even more heartless than, say, X-Men II’s General Stryker, played by Brian Cox. Logan paints a world where the mutants have lost their fight to be considered human so badly they can now be considered products.
There’s a certain viewer for whom Logan will hit all the right buttons, and I am incredibly that viewer. The darker tone of the film isn’t exclusively in bloodshed, it’s also in a sense of relatable melancholy. The consequences of this film are small-scale, especially in comparison to the the other franchise films, and as a result they feel more real and more desperate. Logan isn’t out to save the world this time, he’s essentially trying to keep one kid from getting deported. Along the way, this means plenty of lonely Logan sitting in a bar, drinking whiskey and listening to Jim Croce. Trucker-Dad Wolverine is by far the most relatable and personal version of the character, and that’s a refreshing change in a genre normally noted for bombast. And yes, much like the aforementioned Eagles song Desperado, there’s a bit of eye-rolling cheesiness to this heavily-male-centric existential crisis. But if you’re the sort of person whose heartstrings are tugged just a little by Don Henley’s wistfulness, then you’ll find great pleasure in watching Logan realize his prison is walking through this world alone, wondering if he’ll let somebody love him before it’s too late.
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