The dystopian movie LOGAN (2017), starring Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, dramatically encapsulates a lot about the dark times we find ourselves in, particularly during the recent Trump administration. Drawing inspiration in part from the Western film genre, especially the touching 1953 classic SHANE (starring Alan Ladd), X-Men superhero Wolverine, a.k.a. Logan (born James Howlett), finds himself reluctantly defending the underdog everywhere he goes. Facing droves of heavily-armed government agents and a posse of hired thugs from an agribusiness corporation, a sick and aging Logan fights his way from the Texas-Mexico border to North Dakota. Traveling in tow are Charles Xavier, dementia-suffering nanogenarian and former leader of the X-Men, and Laura, a mysterious eleven-year-old girl with powers akin to Logan’s.
Logan has grown ill with heavy metal toxicity caused by the “adamantium” artificially sealed over his bones via a torturous procedure that occurred during an earlier film in the X-MEN series. This experience was akin to a shamanic rite of passage in which a painful, life-changing event to one’s mind and/or body results in a person being permanently changed for the better, usually in a psychological way (e.g., one becomes somehow wiser), but it can also be physical. Logan enjoys enhanced muscular strength and healing capacity from the adamantium, but at a high cost that manifests in this final installment. There is a moral implication here: We often pay for being stronger than others, particularly if we use our strength violently. Live by the sword, die by the sword. And Logan has lived by his sword (retractable claws and his whole body really)– largely thrust upon him to use– and is now dying by it, from within.
It is the near future and the X-Men are largely gone, the cause of their demise eventually revealed in the screenplay, but viewers must listen carefully. Hiding out for the past several years in some run-down buildings by the Texas border, the Wolverine and his two compatriots just get by. Caliban is the 3rd and only other remaining X-Man, though he soon goes behind the scenes for much of the film. This leaves Wolverine alone to care for his old benefactor and father figure Xavier.
Laura, a savage, tomboy newcomer, escapes from a strange lab over the Mexican border and finds her way to Logan. In the lab, children were genetically experimented on to create biological (mutant-based) weapons for sale to the U.S. military. Logan finds himself roped into helping this girl reunite with the rest of the escaped mutant children who have taken refuge up in North Dakota, not far from the Canadian border. Canada has promised them safe haven from being hunted down by U.S. government special agents. Wolverine becomes their escort and protector, but not before a lot of fights and property damage happen a long the way, the latter largely caused by Xavier’s dementia-induced seizures which bring on sonic earthquakes around him.
To keep the world safe from actual destruction, Wolverine makes sure Xavier stays sufficiently medicated via pills and injections he has purchased through clandestine methods, all to evade the authorities who have been after him, Xavier, and Caliban for years. Like a grown son attending to an elderly, sick parent, Logan looks after the aged professor. We the audience get to witness their tender exchanges, made more poignant by resentment-laden verbal repartee juxtaposed with frequent physical closeness from the care Logan provides and shows Xavier, historically the conscience of the X-Men yet now the most dangerous. The two are remnants of a bygone era and only have each other, except for Laura and the rest of the new crop of mutants, though they are genetically engineered and designed to kill all the remaining natural mutants. They are the future, or so Xavier hopes and Wolverine grudgingly, skeptically struggles to accept. Additionally, an interesting twist involving both Laura and Logan arises.
For those of you who have followed the X-MEN movie franchise, this is one of the best in the series, if not numero uno, albeit by far the most graphically violent. I usually avoid movies with such carnage. However, the skillful acting, compelling main characters, and clever interweaving of multi-media (namely comic book and television imagery) into the narrative lend a dynamism to this modern tragedy and help contextualize the gruesome moments. Logan muddles through a raw world of blind greed, fear, and authoritarian power run amok, and wants no part of any of it. Surviving heaps of personal losses, the rough-hewn Wolverine pushes onward out of a stubborn moral need to keep a few others safe and alive, because, whether he likes it or not, he loves them.
The frequent references to “news” and clues arising from the comics about the X-Men is both a funny and clever story device. Logan’s criticizing the accuracy of this particular media source is a timely attack on “fake news” and offers some witty comic relief in such a tension-filled narrative.
Like Shane in the late 19th century American frontier, Logan is a rugged individual who finds himself on the good side of justice for the bullied. The references between these two movie heroes from different eras become a bit too direct/repetitive in a few places for my taste. However, this is a minor flaw that didn’t mar the overall excellence of this powerful, poignant screenplay. LOGAN is a superb finale and fitting tribute for Hugh Jackman and his compelling portrayal of the psychologically haunted and tortured (i.e., traumatized) Wolverine (my and many people’s favorite X-Man) in several movies over a seventeen year period.