A real conversation I had with my mom after she saw an advert for the movie Logan went a little like this:
“I can’t believe the violence in movies now. The guy had knives on his hands!”
“Right, but there’s a story to it. It’s not just about a guy stabbing people…although there will probably be a lot of stabbing.”
“There’s a little girl killing people in this movie. It’s disturbing. What a shame that they’re allowed to make movies like this.” (I was about to pull up PowerPoint and start lecturing about film, but several hours of philosophy and movies seemed like a bad idea).
“Well…the idea is that people want to control and command other people for their own gain. The hero fights against it and there’s conflict. It’s not that crazy. It’s just that different movies show universal themes in different ways that appeal to different parts of people. Nothing distasteful about that.”
It occurred to me that someone who doesn’t pay much attention to movies doesn’t really know why movies that aren’t geared towards them have to be made and that a “universal” appeal is equivalent to quality.
The appeal is there for whoever wants it, but if you don’t like ripped Hugh Jackman tearing dudes to shreds, it may appear as though Logan is a one-dimensional, brainless action fest. If you let the bells distract you from the church, you’ll never get to see past the outside.
Logan was the Wolverine movie we had been promised since 2008. The action was brutal, Hugh Jackman was vicious, and when someone gets stabbed by three giant super-sharp claws, we actually see some devastation in the wake. It took years of praying, but Deadpool may have finally broken the fourth wall and saved comic book movies by allowing the training wheels off in an R-rated movie that can actually show violence without neutering the script for 13-year-olds with lame moms.
The action wasn’t the only reason to watch this film, but it was the steak in the burrito for me. Not just because the film takes place in Mexico, but because the layers they added felt like they finally got the recipe right with Wolverine after going through so many ups and downs.
The center of the movie is a young girl who gets her hands dirty (with blood if you didn’t quite catch on yet), and performs her role with a perfect mix of standoffish disdain, cautious self preservation, and a secret sweetness that you can’t get to Wolverines soft gushy (literally) center without. Stephen Merchant also appears as a mutant, and while he had moments, it may have been my expectations that made him feel underutilized.
A little bit of exposition, heavy dialogue, and lines that just missed the mark exposed a little weakness in the script, but it was nothing that Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman couldn’t act their way around. Solid supporting characters have been lacking in the X-Men universe where we’ve seen iconic characters turned into unrecognizable creations or potentially important parts be muddled by logistics. This film felt like they tackled that problem as best they could by having villains that felt threatening, but didn’t take the focus off the hero while making the goals of his cause (saving a mutant child) immediately impactful.
Overall, Logan managed to deliver on the big ideas behind the X-Men series. Not just in big action movie fashion, but also in the smaller details that made the film feel a lot smaller and closer than previous releases. The intimacy that came through was a product of hitting the nail on the head, by showing tyranny and the universal struggle behind it through the lens of the tremendous toll it takes on aggressors and victims alike. Humanity is always at odds with itself and sometimes it takes looking at mutants to see ourselves.
Here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it yet:
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