Logan Review: X-Men back on Form

Logan does what big, established franchise films should: it uses its built-in budget and audience to do high quality, authentic storytelling rather than safe-bet replication of the usual action-hero(es) formula. Imagine: the entire movie—employing 15,000 people, the end credits tell us—has not one youthful action hero-protagonist at the height of (or discovering) his powers. Instead, it has a run-down guy who looks fifty, a guy in his nineties, and a kid. My God, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Logan is a story about getting old. And superhero movie though it is, its exploration of aging could hardly be more down to earth. It has introduced me to an entirely new experience: personally identifying with Wolverine! He’s in a position that many of us are in, myself included: feeling the wear and tear of age sapping our physical strength and energy at the very time we find ourselves caught between caring for aged parents and raising still young and needy children. We find ourselves Aeneas, carrying our father on our backs, holding our son by the hand, and hoping to survive whatever ordeal a difficult world has thrust us into.

I saw a lot of my 84-year-old father in the aged Charles. They are not similar personalities, but they are both great men, worn down by age to frailty and having lost much of what made them who they were. I understand completely where Logan is coming from in his profound need to care for Charles to the bitter end, even when Charles is frustrating, difficult, expensive, and not the man he was. Because he is the man he was, too, and for all that Logan is technically older than he is, he has been a father to Logan. He has won that love and that loyalty; it isn’t going away.

Laura is a wonderful character, full or personality and power while still convincingly a child. Yet I find I have little to say about her. She is in formation. She is the future. Her story hasn’t really happened yet. And I will stand with those who say it would be great to see her get her own film a few years down the line. But this film was about Logan and, to a lesser extent, Charles, portrayed exquisitely by Jackman and Stewart respectively. It was also about our contemporary world.

The X-Men has always been about real-world sociopolitics, and the political backdrop of this film rang true: from the brown women abused and ignored to the brown farmers driven out by agribusiness. The first X-Men movie pitted a fearful human majority against persecuted mutants. It showed senators trying to curry favor with voters by stoking fear of mutants. Well, that plotline would certainly still be current in our age of deportations and bans on refugees—and yet I find the present moment even more exactly depicted in the ambience of Logan. No one’s out to curry the favor of the masses. The masses don’t really matter anymore. The entrenched systems of power act autonomously, sending out armed troops across the land with impunity while most folks don’t seem to notice—and couldn’t do anything if they did. These power holders may be endorsed by the government, purely private; it doesn’t matter; it’s one and the same. They are the oligarchs. They work their will. It’s nice to imagine that Canada remains a haven of social justice—may it prove true. But if there’s one thing in the film that feels too easy, it’s that escape.

Logan takes place in a dark time in a dark world, and it’s a story about muddling through, which seems to be what we’re all doing these days: young and old alike. The youthful action heroes aren’t going to save us. It’s just us, muddling through, like Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” so I’ll end there:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will…

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