The Long View: Logan

“Logan” is the second film I’ve seen within a week about an aging superhero learning to bond with his young ward and elderly mentor. Besides this coincidence, of course, “The Lego Batman Movie” and “Logan” couldn’t be more different.

“Logan” is the first R-rated film in the X-men franchise, and boy, does it flaunt it. We finally get to see Wolverine (Hugh Jackman)—or Logan—really show us what he can do. The clawed mutant drops F-bombs, guzzles alcohol, and graphically skewers bad guys to his heart’s content. Not that his heart is particularly content these days. After a century of life, Logan’s regenerative powers have begun to fade. He’s haunted by decades of slaughter and abuse. Mortality is nipping at his heels. Working as a limo driver in Texas, Logan ferries around drunken partygoers to purchase prescription drugs for Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).

Now in his nineties, Charles is suffering from dementia and seizures that can unleash terror on innocent bystanders. The world’s most powerful telepath has become an involuntary weapon of mass destruction, which is why Logan is now hiding him away in an abandoned water tower across the border, using drugs to suppress his telepathy.

The film is set in the near-future, a gritty and dystopian United States. The setting presents a grim contrast to the glowingly optimistic coda to the last X-Men film (chronologically speaking), “Days of Future Past.” Charles always placed his hope in the X-Men, but in the dystopian future of “Logan,” mutants are practically extinct.

Or are they? In a development that recalls the similarly violent 2005 film “Children of Men,” hope arrives in the person of a miraculous child. Fierce and laconic, young Laura (Dafne Keen) shares both Wolverine’s powers and his ferocity. In fact, she’s even more brutal than Logan—a trait bred in her by the mad scientist and sadistic guards who are now on her tail.

She enlists Logan and Charles to help her find refuge and they set off to find a possibly-mythical sanctuary: “Eden.” Their journey across America takes them through deserts and cornfields, casinos and farmhouses, pursued by suave Southern villain Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his reavers.

Logan’s relationship with Laura becomes the hinge for the plot. That’s a problem, because Laura is underwritten, a kick-butt female fantasy who has neither the time nor the inclination to cope with morality or vulnerability. She has just as much rage as Logan does, but the script papers over her brokenness with eerie silences and feral aggression.

In what could be the fim’s most misanthropic, hopeless scene, Logan talks to Laura—an eleven-year-old—about regret and guilt as if she were hovering near life’s end as well. “Logan” treats Laura like a miniature adult until her innocence can be used for unearned emotional payoff. That’s a disservice to the character and to the reality of children forced to violence.

But while Laura’s storyline doesn’t really work, the film still has its moments. It’s strongest as a farewell to the two most iconic characters in the X-Men universe. Logan and Charles have a wonderfully dysfunctional, offbeat father-son dynamic. Hugh Jackman puts in a performance for the ages, as the irascible Wolverine deals with grief, regret, and responsibility in his new role as caregiver. Patrick Stewart, a sprightly, hip 76-year-old in real life, morphs into a doddery, sentimental, and spiteful nonagenarian. Together, the two men bring to a graceful end a relationship which has spanned 17 years and nine films.

Many people have been calling “Logan” the best superhero movie of all time. That’s absurd. It isn’t even a superhero movie, really, but a gritty, nihilistic western. It has a tendency to substitute R-rated filler for substantial character development, and enjoys its own cruelty rather too much. Still, it’s a solid and thoughtful film about regret and mortality, forming a suitable farewell for Hugh Jackman as he hangs up the claws.

– Hannah Long

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