When Christopher Nolan brought his dark, moody batman up against his amoral nemesis the joker in his 2008 The Dark Knight, many interpreted it as a new start for superhero films: Nolan’s batman was deeply flawed, and his Kantian ethics brought many of Gotham’s citizens in harms way. James Mangold’s Logan is even more important for the genre, which, in the years following 2008, has only become more bloated, trite, and intellectually exhausted. Mangold’s superheroes are not endowed with their superpowers but haunted by them, burdened by them, and ultimately destroyed by them.
Another talking point surrounding this film has been the R18+ rating, the second superhero film in two years to receive this rating (the first being Tim Miller’s Deadpool.) The R18+ rating, in the context of this film, is essential rather than gratuitous (as it was in Deadpool). Where Deadpool used it’s rating to show a childish infatuation with violence and language, Logan uses it to curate a completely alienated reaction to violence. Where we cheer in prior X-Men films when buildings are exploded and we gasp in awe in Avengers films as entire cities are reduced to rubble, every single death in Logan feels, as much as is possible, like what it is: a death. The end of a life. In the numerous action sequences throughout the film we are always reminded that for every cool combat technique mustered by Logan, and his young protege, a human life is ending.
The story of Logan concerns itself with Logan (Wolverine) and Professor Charles Xavier smuggling a child names Laura with mutant powers to an area where she might be safe from the dastardly clutches of Logan’s former employers, the arms company Alkali-Transigen. The minimalism of the plot is refreshing in a genre polluted by unnecessarily complicated storylines, and is a factor in growing suggestions that Logan isn’t a superhero film, but is, in fact, a Western. There are arguments to be made on either side of this, yet whilst Hugh Jackman’s unwilling knight errant is the cinematic heir to John Wayne’s iconic Tom Doniphon, I cannot entirely agree with these claims. Halfway into the movie, the trio are in a hotel watching a Western movie of the cowboys of old, and this to me did not so much suggest reflections in the structure of the film I was watching but within the characters themselves: Wolverine, and Charles Xavier, were modern day cowboys who had lost their west. They were now just drifters, and the era of their reign and protection had long since passed. These are characters waiting to die.
The movie comes to its fierce, brutal, emotional climax as the trio stay the night at a family farm run by a family of black locals, themselves victimised by their white community. They enjoy a dinner, a light conversation, a sense of family and peace that it becomes all too obvious has never been possible for Charles or Logan, or Laura for that matter. This is what they have been fighting for their whole lives, be it through global terrorist conflict, or standing up to local neighbourhood bullies, they have been fighting in search of the sense of community that occurs in this household of such regular people. To continue to talk about this scene would be to spoil an extremely important part of the film, but watching the film through it is the area where we concisely, effectively, and violently learn the filmmaker’s intentions. A world class piece of cinema built in to a Hollywood blockbuster.
If the film had simply ended there, it would truly have been the postmodern superhero film for our times, but one can’t imagine a universe where that is the case. The fanbase has to have its plot settled, its character questions answered, and Mangold does this, however the last third of the film feels unnecessary and too obvious and clumsy compared to the preceding acts: we learn nothing new, and nothing is revealed to us any more effectively than it has already been. Whether or not Mangold wished to make this final third of the film is unclear to me. It is by no means poor filmmaking, but when posed against the rest of the film, is shown to be unimportant and emotionally bare.
Logan is a surprisingly vital superhero film, with original and expertly cut commentary on the place of heroes, heroism, and violence in a world that is constantly in need of less conflict and more communication.