Logan is a study of mortality, first and foremost. The X-Men franchise is, at it’s heart - dating back to the comic books – an examination of oppression and persecution and, while Logan is no different, James Mangold’s film centers around it’s protagonist’s impending impermanence and what it does to his worldview and priorities as the time draws nigh and the ground continues to shrink beneath his increasingly fallible feet.
The film is also, like its predecessors, a powerful political statement about what it means to be persecuted and the fight for a collective survival. The film is not prescriptive or propagandist, but given our current administration’s latest policy enactments, it’s a timely look at intolerance. The film wrapped production in August of 2016, but the proximity of its release to the Muslim ban and recent talks of wall building feels anything but coincidental.
It also feels poignant that the film’s other hero is a Spanish speaking girl whose voice doesn’t emerge until late in the game. She remains silent until she deems it completely necessary to steer Logan off his path to self destruct. She’s been entrusted with a mission from Professor X and she proves nothing but judicious in her allotment of the necessary facts.
Dafne Keen brings a mesmerizing immediacy to her role as X-23. She expresses such grief and such pain with each shriek and slash of her blades that you are forced to recognize the depth of her trauma. There is nothing pretty about her performance and there is no escaping it. It is a raw wound, unsettling in it’s need for expression and cleansing. The quieter scenes between her and Logan elicit a tenderness in her, highlighting her capacity for care taking in a way that brings retrospective weight to the more violent action sequences earlier in the film. The needs and the longing behind her eyes are haunting. The performance belies her age even more than the character’s presence belies the character’s age; I hope the gravity of the distinction I’m making is clear. Cannot wait to see what comes next for this beautiful, young, powerhouse of an actress.
A poignant point of conflict surrounds the existence of “Eden,” a mythical place of asylum for mutants that X-23 found in the comic books and is convinced is real. She needs Logan to take her there and Professor X pleads with Logan to oblige, if for no other reason than that it gives her hope, but Logan is the hardened cynic. He needs her to grow up and face facts: there is no asylum. He’s given up on love, and hope. There is a generational difference in understanding what it means for a place to exist and as much as I'd love to elaborate on that point, it would spoil some things.
In his final turn as Logan, Jackman carries the pain of the world between his shoulder blades and behind his eyes. His self protecting narrative, that “bad shit happens to people I care about,” keeps him from chancing any of it on X-23. We see a different Logan in this film than we’ve seen in films previous. We’ve seen the self loathing, we’ve seen the self destruction, but what is fresh is his realization that time is running out. He’s sick, his powers are failing him, and his allies are nowhere to be found. He’s alone with Professor X on an abandoned oil farm in the dessert, driving for a futuristic Uber Style service to save up for their escape from the hell they've found themselves in. He didn’t ask for X-23, and certainly didn’t ask for the conflict she brings. He doesn’t get the escape he wants, but he gets release he deserves.
I spent the entire film convinced that it was Garrett Hedlund playing Pierce, Logan's major obstacle in the film. Shrouded behind some glaringly silver lenses, he looks like Hedlund, talks like him, moves like him, and it’s a character that I could see Hedlund mesmerizing audiences with and…it’s not him! Boyd Holbrook gives us a bright, intelligent, humorous villain with the uncanny optimism of a man knowingly usurping the good. He steals scenes from Keen and Jackman, both, with a twang and a twinkle that kept me wanting more. His performance oozed with enjoyment and relaxation; he looked like he was having the time of his life playing this role. I spent most of his time on screen eating my heart out, consumed with an admiring jealousy of what he got to sink his teeth into in this film.
Last thing worth noting is the graphic nature of the violence, which far exceeds the previous X-Men features. Severed heads roll, blades go through people’s faces, limbs fly, and we see it all in vivid detail. My experience was reminiscent to many people's first time in the grip of Nolan's grim visions of Gotham, and the grit he brought to that previously campy franchise. The first sequence of the film where Mangold's vision was made apparent was rather jarring, for me, but proved a successfully deliberate departure on Mangold's part, in setting the tone for characters that needed a broader allowance, that refused to play by old rules.
As much as the film is a study of mortality the film is also, in a similar vein, a long goodbye to Jackman’s turn as Logan. Jackman brings a completion to the role, and peels a few more layers off of a character we have already seen so much of. I love the way Jackman used this franchise, and this genre, as such a vehicle for character exploration and I love what these films, as a collective, communicate(d) about prejudice, tolerance, and the struggle for survival and dignity.
Go see it!