Logan, the Superhero Western I Didn’t Know We Needed

Spoilers, obviously

Logan looks old. He’s tired, out of breath. His wounds don’t heal the way they used to. He drives people around in a limo, carrying an adamantium bullet that’s a nerve center for his own self destruction. No new mutants have been born for years and he’s one of the only ones left. He’s a survivor. He wants to kill himself but doesn’t because he needs something worth dying for.

The passengers of his limousine are a study of excess. The men, hanging out of the sunroof shouting the familiar chant of “USA! USA!”, the women out partying, the stereotypical Texan billionaire with a cowboy hat. To them, America is great. It is great, but only for them. This is not the world that Logan experiences. He’s taking care of his old mentor, Charles Xavier, and he places him south of the border. That’s a safe haven for him. The clashes with the normalcy of life in this movie are so jarring. These people are so over the top, don’t they see what they’re like?

Enter, stage left: A woman with a child. She pleads with him to take them to the border up north, so they too can get to a safe haven. He initially refuses, he has to take care of Charles. She looks at him like a hero and he doesn’t think he is one anymore. But she persuades him with the prospect of money. He thinks that he can complete this task and finally have enough money to just sail away and get out of this place, find his own safe haven. But of course, that’s not how these stories end.

Logan is an old fashioned cowboy. His character, as portrayed through so many other films at this point, is a gruff loner that talks with his claws instead of his words. He’s a classic stereotype from a western film. There’s a scene in the film where the 1953 classic Shane is on a television. A film which I feel has a lot of thematic resonance here. Shane is also a gun toting badass, the entire weight of the genre sits on this character and gives him credence. There’s a weight of expectation leading up to the action. He’s like a coiled spring, waiting to go. He wants to lead a peaceful life but we know that isn’t going to happen. It’s the same with Logan. The weight of his character from all the previous films adds to him, hangs over his head like a sword of Damocles. Logan and Shane are both people that tend towards violence and it’s going to escalate without a regard for whatever path they wish to take in life. There’s only one way these films can end and it isn’t pretty. There’s no going back. Hugh Jackman is so good in this role. He’s always been good but there’s never been an X-men film that really let him shine. The only good x-men films before this, in my opinion, were the ones that he wasn’t in. This is pretty interesting to me because it makes the old movies feel better in retrospect, just by being close to this film. 

The child in this film, Laura, played by Dafne Keen, is a real revelation. She’s so quiet, subdued, broken up by sudden flurries of violence. This is her second ever role and it’s a star making one. I really hope she does more after this role. There’s a strangeness about her, the way that she acts, that feels so inhuman. Her carer almost immediately dies and she’s left with people she has only read about in comic books. She doesn’t talk. She spends most of the film completely mute. She only says anything during combat, and then it’s incoherent screams. It’s only until much later on in the film that she shows any emotion other than anger.

The hunter, Pierce (played by Boyd Holbrook), is an evil man who thinks he is good. All the evil people in this movie don’t think they’re evil at all. Pierce actually says this. He’s trying to tempt Caliban (Stephan Merchant, hell yeah) into helping him earnestly, he tells him that he can do “One more thing for the good guys”. These people hunt the mutants because they’re scared of what they can do, it’s justified to them. Everything they do in this film is an exercise in control because they’re scared. They exploit Mexico and create life that they don’t even see as human. They talk about the children like they’re products, they have copyright on them. They ruin these people in the name of justice and pat themselves on the back for making America a better place. This is what true evil looks like. If this all seems extremely topical right now that’s because it is. It’s what the X-men have always been about, right from its inception. They’re films and comics about outsiders and what that’s like.

Later in the film, when they reach the farm, we see Laura experience what a normal life might look like. She doesn’t really have any idea how to act like a normal person and it’s never more apparent than in these scenes. Logan is constantly teaching her small things that she should know. This is where she smiles for the first time. It’s her seeing for the first time seeing something truly positive in life. That people can be good. Charles tells Logan “This is what life looks like”, but he doesn’t see it yet because he knows what’s going to happen, what always happens when he is around. Of course, that’s what actually happens. He blames himself for the violence that is brought down around him because that’s what always happens to him, even if in this case he hasn’t actually done anything wrong.

Throughout the movie, Logan is just waiting for the right thing to die for. Things in his movie happen without meaning. Caliban dies having achieved nothing, Charles dies without ever being able to articulate the fact that he understands now. He’s dangerous too, people around him get hurt. He never gets that moment of catharsis where he tells his surrogate son that he’s not alone in the way he feels. He just dies. It’s sad and it feels like his death means nothing.

He buries the man who has been like a father to him for so long. He takes a shovel to the car because he still doesn’t have any outlet for his emotion, just like Laura. But you see, Laura is getting better. It’s just after this that she talks for the first time, and she’s the only one who heard Charles’s final words. She learns things from these people. She learns to eat with a knife and fork, that she shouldn’t steal things, that great men can do bad things and still be great. That you’re going to have to live with the bad that you do in this world. That a life with love is important and you’re worthy of it no matter what. Logan and Charles teach her this, before passing the torch for her to bare. With that, their deaths are given new meaning.

“There’s no living with a killing”, Shane says on a TV screen in the middle of the movie, “There’s no going back. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand that sticks.” I think that in that final day of his life, he understands what he was fighting for the entire time. The right for his daughter to never have to fight again when this is all over. So he takes the medicine which he knows will turn him into everything he hates about himself, but this time he brandishes it as a sword of justice, to cut through to a life that’s better for his child. They work together to take down the people that hurt them. Laura shoots X-24 with an adamantium bullet, the very thing that Logan wanted to hurt himself with, and she uses it to wash away the personification of all of Logan’s hurtful qualities.

In the end, maybe his last words being “So this is what it feels like” are about finally seeing what death is like after all these years, after all he’s been through. But I would like to hope that he’s thinking about the final thing Charles said to him. This is what life is like. I’d like to think in that moment, his daughter clutching his hand, he understands what it’s like to have a family. When she turns the cross into an x at the end of the film it’s clear that he hasn’t died for nothing. The ending shot clarified everything that his film is about to me. This is how she sees him. She has seen every flaw in him and she still sees him as one of the X-Men. A superhero. This is a sad film, but it’s a film that ends with a hope for the future, a new class of X-Men. They’ll strive to be good despite it all. They have been through a lot but they’re not too far gone. They have years to live and life to lead. They can build upon everything that has some before them and maybe this time they can get it right. It says a lot to me that even with the amount of violence that has been in Logan’s past, there’s still something in there worth aspiring to. That’s what makes this a superhero film.

Logan is a dark film, metaphorically I mean, the film is actually impeccably lit from a production standpoint. But it has at its center good characters who have depth and meaning and I don’t think a lot of superhero films (Read: DCEU films) understand this. They make their films dark but with heroes that aren’t heroes at all. People have been talking a lot about the fact that this is an R rated movie. Logan doesn’t work because it’s R rated although it’s certainly a film that needed it. It works because it’s just good storytelling. I don’t think a film being R rated or PG-13 really has a basis in quality, good films can be made in either one (and they have). I do however think it’s troubling to alienate younger fans, and would be strongly against too many of these.

There’s going to be a lot of imitators over the next couple of years. Most of them probably won’t be good, just know that Logan is great and it’s one of the best superhero films in years.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Logan, the Superhero Western I Didn’t Know We Needed

  1. Awesome analysis! I think Logan works as a western because Wolverine fits that world. Willl there be copycats? Yep, probably, and they will probably try to stuff characters in it that don’t belong. I also like your comment about the R rating. It earned it’s R, but I wasn’t really thinking about the rating or the content while I was watching the movie. I was thinking of the story. Thanks!

    Like

  2. Wow! That explained somethings that I didn’t understand! I see that we agree on many things and on many you’ve come up with things I never would have thought of.

    I enjoyed the film very much, but now I know why! Lol😄

    Like

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