Normally at this point in the month I’d look to share some thoughts on some recent reading. However, this past week I went to see the movie Logan. I thoroughly enjoyed it, it felt like a more grown up version of the X-men that I’ve grown up with. It was a darker, grittier and more heart-breaking interpretation for a darker, grittier and more heart-broken world.
SPOILER ALERT – If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know any plot details, go no further. You can always come back and read this later. 🙂
Logan is set in the year 2029. Mutants are all but extinct and no new mutants have been born in the last 25 years. Logan, the Wolverine, has grown old, bitter and disillusioned. He’s working as a chauffeur, he’s an alcoholic and he’s caring for an infirm Charles Xavier who is suffering from a degenerative neurological condition that, when it strikes, can be catastrophic to others. Logan has a plan to buy a boat. It’s hinted at, although not explicitly stated, that his intention is to sail out to sea, wait for Xavier to die and then shoot himself with an adamantium bullet. Their situation is grim.
And then there’s Laura.
Laura is the genetic offspring of Logan, grown and raised in a lab with other mutant children, part of an experiment to develop a perfect soldier. When the experiment fails, Dr Zander Rice, head of the facility and the project, orders the termination of the experiment, including all the children. Some are rescued and released by the nurses and carers working in the facility. Laura is among them. Gabriela, one of the nurses, seeks out Logan, hoping to persuade him to help them get to a rendezvous location called ‘Eden’. When Gabriela is murdered Logan reluctantly takes responsibility for Laura. With his isolated base in Mexico compromised, Logan has no choice but bring Xavier along with him, despite the danger to both Charles and the public if he experiences a seizure.
The movie encompasses some challenging and important themes that are not often explored, particularly in the action genre. The overriding theme is legacy, particularly in the context of growing old. Both Xavier and Logan are seen to be dealing with the impact of long term ill health and degenerative illness. This touches on questions surrounding being a carer, quality of life in the face of illness, and end of life strategy, including suicide and assisted dying. In many ways the movie is hopeless: The school that Xavier started is gone, the good that he and Logan tried to do in the world has come to nothing and there is no hope for either of them to realistically improve or change their situation. They are both dying and there is a feeling from the outset that neither has anything to show for their respective lives and the sacrifices they’ve made. No wonder Logan is so bitter. After all that they have done, the world has gone to shit around them and all they can see clear to do is to just keep going. Given the current political atmosphere in the US, UK and parts of Europe, this is a sentiment that will likely resonate with some.
This hopelessness is the void into which Laura steps. She is the embodiment of legacy: She is literally Logan’s own genetic structure reconstituted in the body of a little girl. If Laura survives, Logan survives. She is the only element hope in this bleak world. In the face of Logan’s insistence that their destination, Eden, doesn’t exist, Laura is adamant, even desperate. She chants the names of the other children that were rescued as if that is a prayer that will keep them safe. It is here hope in the face of hopelessness that keeps her and Logan alive. Although this is a superhero movie about old heroes on their final mission to save a child there is a clever reversal where it is the child that saves them. Laura gifts Xavier with the family life, no matter how fleeting, that he sacrificed long ago and twice saves Logan from death before finally facilitating a return to his former glory. Laura rescues both Xavier and Logan from a meaningless existence and even though it results in their end, it is bittersweet.
However, Logan is far from perfect. At times the movie was gratuitously bloody and violent. There was death and destruction that was clearly for show, designed to make audiences grimace and flinch, as if that was the way to make an impact. Although that is the current style of action movies, it was a unnecessary and detracted from an otherwise magnificent piece of story telling. In many ways, as a result, the trailer ultimately had more impact. This is not the first time that gratuitous violence has harmed an action movie and the lesson is that there is a balance to be achieved.
There is a wonderful moment when Caliban, played by Stephen Merchant, sacrifices himself in order to give Logan and Laura a fighting chance. He does this knowing that it will also end the torment that Dr Rice and his minions have wrought, forcing him to help them work against Laura and Logan. He takes several of the bad guys with him. That’s useful, even heroic. I’m less certain what, if anything, is contributed to the story by the munder of a nice, helpful family. As with many recent superhero movie releases, the trail of death and destruction is excessive and unbelievable.
Regardless of its flaws, the movie forms a literal passing of the X-men torch to the next generation and, after seventeen years, it forms the perfect last hurrah for both Patrick Stewart in the role of Xavier and Hugh Jackman in the role of Logan. The challenge for the future storytellers will be how to continue this legacy without poisoning it, how to echo it without being defined by it and how to grow it rather than simply repeating it. There is a lot to appreciate in Logan and it’s a superb lesson in the employment of theme within a story.
Have you seen the movie? What did you think of it?