Reading the exuberant reviews of Logan on the Internet, I’m left wondering if I watched the same movie as everybody else.
Logan is the latest in a line of X-men movies featuring the titular be-clawed superhero, played by the irrepressibly iconic Hugh Jackman. It tries to take a different tack from most superhero movies; showing our heroes not in their prime, but in a state of decline brought about by the slow wear of senescence.
Set in a near-future Trumpian vision of America, dust-choked and garish and xenophobic, Logan’s setting is a distillation of a world in which the forces of exclusion have won, and the final vestiges of those who are different eke out meager existences at the fringes of society.
The first half of the film is still very good, because it so elegiacally shows the state in which we find our once-great superheroes; it is cathartic in its evocation of desolation. Mutants are no longer being born, resulting in the death of Charles Xavier’s grand life project. In his advanced age, Charles has also started having seizures that prove lethal to the people around him if unchecked. Logan himself is aging, the adamantium in his body slowly poisoning him, reducing his healing factor. He ekes out a living as a limo driver, hiding out with Charles and behind the Mexican border in an abandoned water tower, smuggling in the meds that will prevent Charles from having his destructive seizures, and saving up to buy a boat so that Charles can sail out to sea to live out his last days without fear that he will hurt more people with his seizures.
Patrick Stewart gives a truly heartbreaking performance as the now-bitter and forlorn Charles, a far cry from his earlier gravitas as Professor X. Pent up with an almost childish resentment at the state of the world, he lashes out spitefully at Logan, dependent as he is upon him. His lofty ambitions have given way to the forlorn hope getting a boat. When Laura shows up, a young mutant fleeing from the clutches of evil corporation Transigen (as always), he jumps at the opportunity to help her, though it seems less because of altruism but because it reminds him of his glory days. It is truly tragic to see Charles Xavier portrayed in this way, as an old man reduced to this, and in this sense, the film has succeeded in achieving that sense of pathos.
In contrast, Logan is more straightforward, driven by survival instinct and an odd sort of filial piety to his erstwhile mentor. His tireless physicality has been his only source of strength and with that dissipating, his vulnerability shines through. It makes the initial premise – that, as a shell of his former self, he must take on one of life’s crowning responsibilities – to be a father-figure to Laura and bring her through trials and tribulations to face a better future.
The film chugs along fine till the halfway point, when the group lodges for the night as guests in a kindly farmer’s abode, and Charles, in a heartbreaking scene, tearfully expresses his guilt at having killed innocent people during a psychic seizure to a person who he imagines to be Logan. But this person is actually a mindless, aggressive clone of Logan: X-24, who proceeds to kill Charles and the rest of the farmer’s family. Logan and Laura escape, but not before Logan sustains terrible injuries from which he is slow to recover.
After this point, the film just turns into irredeemable pablum. The sudden collapse of plot coherence is breathtaking. The film starts to reveal that Laura is actually fully in on a game plan orchestrated by the other mutant escapees from the Transigen lab to split up and meet at a staging point to attempt a border crossing into Canada, where they will allegedly be free of Transigen. To accommodate this plot twist, Laura’s character completely transforms. From a vulnerable, mute, unworldly, and emotionless, cold-blooded experimental test subject in need of a nurturing figure, Laura suddenly becomes capable of elocution, turns worldly-wise, and is suddenly emotionally adjusted. Her previous indifference to Logan turns into a daughterly concern. She drives him to a clinic to have him checked out – which really begs the question of why she needed help to escape in the first place, if she could manage a cross-country trip by herself. It’s almost like the plot had to make Logan just as vulnerable as it could make him, and this required creating a dea ex machina in suddenly making Laura into a different person, and not showing the process of character development that led to that point.
Essentially, Logan and Laura’s relationship, the tentpole of this film, is never actually developed. Logan never actually exhibits outward concern when he’s travelling with her – there is little indication that he does the things he does for her – until the very end, when, having delivered Laura to her destination, he tries to leave but returns to help the children when he realises that Transigen has found them, sacrificing himself to kill X-24. He’s a hero, sure, but a father-figure? Not really. At that point, Laura is suddenly grief-stricken at Logan’s death, calling him “father” at the graveside. But that father-daughter bond was never established in the film, making this scene utterly void of emotional heft.
It’s this sudden narrative incoherence and the writer’s willingness to accommodate gaping plot holes to rush the story to an intended end-state without doing the leg work that makes the latter half of this film such a failure, so different from its more affecting first half. Unfortunately, the clumsiness of the plot takes away any emotional catharsis the film might have had if it had devoted more time to exploring Logan and Laura more fully, instead of leaving it to the audience to fill in the gaps. Logan’s end might have been a fitting send-off to the comic-book legend, but the journey there is less than satisfying.
I give this film: 3/5 adamantium bullets