Wolverine has always been a murderous thug with a heart of gold, but the X-Men film series has tiptoed around his brutish behavior thanks to its PG-rating. No more. Logan revels in its R-rating, which means Logan finally gets his due. That knife cuts both ways.
The movie forms a family for James “Logan” Howlett (Hugh Jackman), who thanks to his metal-laced skeleton is dying from adamantium poisoning (maybe, the film doesn’t come out and say this but it’s part of the comic on which the film is based). He forms an unlikely father figure for a nearly feral mutant girl with similar claw-slicing powers named Laura (Dafne Keen). Rounding out the family is mega-telepath Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is suffering from dementia and bouts of telepathic blasts that paralyze everyone around him. Wolverine, in other words, is us 17 years later, caught between raising an itinerant 11-year-old girl and a father figure who has to remember to take his meds before he hurts himself and others. This a superhero film made for adults.
Logan takes place in an alternate future in which mutants have been suppressed and Wolverine’s healing powers no longer work the way they used to. His limo-driving job that spans the Mexican border exposes him to a wide range of stereotypes (party girls, Latino gangbangers, frat boys) and the African-American family that takes him in is inevitably doomed as soon as they step foot on screen. Logan works hard to be different, but its high stakes will allow nothing but a slow march to doom that – we can only hope, as parents – means the younger generation survives. There’s no room for old folks in Logan.
Unfortunately, Logan is so inwardly-focused that there’s really no room for bad guys. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) is head of Transigen, the organization using Wolverine’s DNA to create Laura and a murderous clone named X-24, but he’s largely ancillary to the film. Donald Pierce (Brad Holbrook) is the head of a paramilitary cyborg organization that works for Rice known as the Reavers. They are basically there to shoot guns and get sliced into bloody chunks by Wolverine and his spawn -- the real bad guy in this movie is Wolverine himself.
The film’s narrative strongly rejects Wolverine as a hero, despite Xavier’s monologues to the contrary, with the strongest evidence being the fate of the family who takes them in. Superheroing doesn’t work anymore – in a crapsack world, the best you can do is take care of your own.
This is a tough film with a tough message, repeated twice: “There's no living with a killing. There's no going back from it. Right or wrong, it's a brand, a brand that sticks. There's no going back. Now, you run on home to your mother and tell her, tell her everything's alright, and there aren't any more guns in the valley.”
By the end, Wolverine ensures there are no more guns in the valley…including himself.
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