“There is no living with the killing. Right or wrong, it's a brand.” This quote from “Shane” is one that echoes in James Mangold’s “Logan.” A film that acts as the one last ride or the one last duel for the aged gunslinger in Logan (Hugh Jackman), as we’ve lived with this character and actor dynamic of Wolverine and Jackman for seventeen years and with a triumphally heartbreaking finale, “Logan” is a film that becomes a genre breaker in the most poignant of ways. It goes hard R for the violence and brutality of a story that doesn’t exactly inject realism into its genre as much as it demythologizes it. It holds up superheroes to the mirror and calls them fake and then asks them to show us something that matters. “Logan” is the answer to those who want more than just a man or woman in spandex saving the day, in “Logan” it's not about saving the day as much as it is surviving that day.
The film sets itself in the distant future, 2029 to be exact, in which mutants have almost become extinct. The last mutant born was nearly a decade ago, and now we're left with mutants becoming relics of a time in which life was stable, the air was comforting, and power was only held by the deserving and not the greedy. James Mangold, Scott Frank, and the busy bee known as Michael Green craft a story that reaffirms the mythology of superheroes while exploring its capabilities dramatically. Opening the film with Logan (Hugh Jackman) engaging in a violent confrontation with a few gang members that were attempting to steal the rims from his car. We see the brutality that comic book fans have been longing for since the character's debut on the silver screen. We soon learn that the ultimate weapon is no longer the animal he used to be though, he’s aged, disgruntled, sickened, and self-loathing; even contemplating the idea of suicide by crafting an adamantium bullet to end his life.
As for the other mutants, “they’re gone now” as Logan (Hugh Jackman) states. All that is left is the few, but Charles (Patrick Stewart) is still breathing, but he’s as sickened as his adopted friend. He’s been relegated to a man shouting nonsense whose powers have become uncontrollable to the point of seizures. Each seizure is like an earthquake though, branching out shockwaves that temporarily paralyze anything near him with a mind of its own. His shame for this will cause even the coldest of hearts to crack, but he hasn’t gone completely insane. He’s been communicating with a young mutant, but one that wasn’t naturally born. These experimentations that were smuggled across the border with many other unborn infants are examples of the lengths that man will go to so that they can conserve the right of dominance.
One of those mutants is Laura (Dafne Keen). Resembling X-23 from the comics, Laura (Dafne Keen) is a mutant with the same powers of the man we see before us who sprouts two claws from her knuckles and one from her feet and heals rather quickly. She's experienced her fair share of life’s impermanence at such a young age, as she and the woman that protects her, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), reach out to Logan (Hugh Jackman) for assistance in finding safe passage to the northern border. To find the other children and escape to a safe haven in Canada known as Eden.
All of this occurs while we are given an intimate look at the man known as Logan (Hugh Jackman) whose symphony of violence is uncontainable and continues to leave innocent lives destroyed in his wake. He’s a man that is finally near the end of his road. He’s tired, weakened, and exhausted from fighting. His claws have become rusty, his bones sabotaging his very being. He’s the old gunslinger of the Western genre who wants to save the day one more time.
Mangold directs the film with an indie filmmaker’s touch. He provides a low budget look that haunts back to the westerns of the past; even referencing George Stevens’ “Shane” on more than one occasion. He is here to hold the film up to those who think that genre of superheroes have reached their limits, haunting back to Marvel’s Epic line of comics from the late nineties, in which the heroes are stripped of their mystiques and given real emotion. Mangold does this while affirming the powers that only superheroes can provide in that of his action, but it remains far more mature. We're close to the action, the damage placed on display right before our eyes with no CGI or sweeping exterior shots to hide it away.
It holds up the romanticization of the action in superhero movies and displays the consequences of that action. It’s not without loss and trauma that these events take place, they’re filled to the brim with emotions that distraught far more than they inspire. It’s bloody and far more frightening than you’d expect, but it remains to be endlessly jolting. It excites the audience and showcases the real damage that a man or a young girl with claws can do.
It’s not just the framing that provides this intimate and indie-like essence to “Logan” though, it's also the screenplay that doesn’t have to reach its climax in the second act. “Logan” isn’t limited to a two-act structure that must end without resolve like its fellow superhero allies. The film has a beginning, a middle, and one of the most prominent endings of 2017. It’s not one that blends into the rest; it stands out above the rest with a grimness and grit that echoes with a deafening reiteration of the evolution of comic book movies. Even including comic books themselves as a prop that exposes the inadequacies of the fantasies of men and woman saving the world with a moral compass that overshadows the grief and anguish.
Stewart and Keen deliver powerhouse performances that don’t need an intertwining universe or a sharply made score to evoke emotion from their audience. They may not elicit the same level of empathy as Jackman does, but each of them understands the character they depict and provide a complete realization of them. They become unmerciful in their performances by never hiding away any of the film’s visceral brutality in both their actions or their emotions as the faint cries from Xavier (Stewart) is nothing short of tragic and Keen’s violent screeches are tactile-like.
In the end though, "Logan" reaffirms the power of superheroes as a genre even after exposing its flawed capabilities that were fabricated by design. An example of this is the idea of having Logan (Hugh Jackman) ultimately battle a version of himself which was handled in a way that could have been seen as remarkably cheesy, but the film’s ability to allow you to look at this as one that lives outside the tropes of the genre lends to its assistance far more than to its negligence. It notices the style it could live in and continuously attempts to break free from it, even in the action in which Logan (Hugh Jackman) struggles to have his claws grow from his hands or when he fails to break through the fence with his car in the midst of a thrilling chase sequence that breaks the aged cliche.
Someone who shares that pain of aging is Hugh Jackman. Declaring “Logan” as his last outing as the infamous comic book idol, Jackman describes the process behind the manifestation of “Logan” as one with finality. Being inspired by a film such as “Unforgiven,” Jackman provides a tragic and heartbreaking performance that is a triumphantly saddening finale to an actor and character relationship that is so rare to find. It acts opposite of the burlesque known as “Deadpool” in tone but shares that same symbiotic bond between a man and the character he depicts.
“Logan” evokes nostalgia, romanticizes the aura of superheroes, and demythologizes it's inner workings. It’s fair to compare this comic book film to that of an aged western, because, like Westerns inevitably had to, comic book movies will eventually have to look themselves in the mirror for what they are. They will have to confront the inherent flaws and capabilities of their genre and either extend them or become victims of their own shortcomings.
That is what Mangold and his fellow screenwriters are examining with “Logan,” it's the morality of heroism being placed underneath a microscope and asking the question “what happens when superheroes get old?” This is what it looks like when superheroes get old. It is ugly and fucked up, yet somehow beautiful and triumphant, it’s a canvas that is bloody, rusty and covered in dirt. It’s a eulogy for a character and an actor who are here to remind us that the age of superheroes has much more to give than it already has.