WARNING: Great heaps o’ spoilers.
These days I make it my business to avoid almost every movie that makes shit-tons of money at the domestic box office, but every now and then, I find myself lassoed into checking out some big-tent Main Attraction motion picture. This year, it was Logan, the nth installment in the X-Men franchise, and Hugh Jackman’s nth appearance as the claw-wielding Wolverine. What was the magical or chemical formula that induced me to peek beyond the curtain of my non-participation in what’s come to feel like state art? I wear no badge of loyalty for the franchise, nor for the director James Mangold, inexplicably (to me) lauded at Chez Bordwell-Thompson. News that Logan paid considerable homage to the venerated 1953 George Stevens western Shane, didn’t sell me, either – but my combative relationship with Stevens movies is another topic for another day.
Nevertheless, thanks to whomever among my friends or colleagues compelled me to do so, I jotted Logan down on my scratch pad as an iTunes rental. (Sad, desiccated shell of my former cinephile self, I rarely go to movie theaters anymore.) Here’s a quick summary – spoilers abound: in the medium-distant future, Wolverine is an Uber driver, transporting dumb Americans hither and yon along the US-Mexico border. When he’s off-duty, he cares for the dementia-afflicted Dr. Charles Xavier. Playing nursemaid is the sun-fearing Caliban. That third character, last seen as a sharply-dressed huckster in X-Men: Apocalypse, is played by British comedian and writer Stephen Merchant. (Yes, I’m fully up to date on my X-Men film franchise. I do not avoid big-budget movies, Mandrake. But I do deny them my essence.) All three principals are past their sell-by date. Yes, it’s going to be an Outta Retirement For One Last Job story.
Enter various parties who recognize Logan from Before, including menacing Pierce and desperate Gabriela, the latter with pensive Laura, pint-sized, in tow. The mercenary wants the munchkin, who’s apparently late of a top-secret genetics lab. The mother, who isn’t the mother at all, is killed, and the moppet becomes Logan’s problem. Yes, it’s also going to be a Road Movie/Life Lessons story.
But wait! Forget all that story shit! Logan is rock hard! It’s got huge balls! Like 2/3rds of a snowman! In the opening scene, Logan, sleeping off a bender in the back of his stretch limo Cadillac (he drinks hard!), is awakened by no less than a battallion of carjackers (he apparently parks hard?). Mangold wastes no time showing pocket aces as Wolverine, between jokes, severs limbs and punctures skulls. Blood spills, bullets fly! Because Logan has an R-rating! It’s hard! It’s not some shit-kicking PG-13. Grrrrr!
Half the show here is just that: Logan luxuriating timidly in its R-rating. Blood doesn’t so much spill as spritzes, in chaste CGI, edited quickly so as not to provoke the viewer’s object permanence. Logan presents as raw and hardcore but its treatment of violence is no more advanced than an installment of Castle Wolfenstein: bad guys suck at fighting, fall like dominos, and their corpses are irrelevant to the forward progress of the game. Perhaps the legacy of grindhouse/spatter is too cruel a yardstick to lay across Mangold’s hands, but it’s not out of bounds to object to the film relentlessly trying to show us that it can wear Big Boy pants.
Okay but back to the summary, this too-long-by-half chore of a movie ends with Logan’s death at the hands of a lab-bred doppelgänger – you know, like when a computer-1984’d Arnold Schwarzenegger appears in Terminator: Salvation, or when Tony Stark puts on a terrifying holographic diorama of Tuff Turf-era Robert Downey, Jr. for MIT students in Captain America: Civil War. While the oft-alluded-to “what happened in Westchester” is ultimately laid at Professor Xavier’s doorstep (he killed all the X-Men in a seizure/mindquake, spoiler alert), the movie bears the marks of some structural hedging, as if, at little cost, the backstory could have accommodated Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s 2008 comic, Old Man Logan – yeah, I looked it up – which blames the Wolverine for the mass mutant-ocide, due to mental trickery courtesy of the supervillain Mysterio. With that tweak in the movie’s script, Logan’s test-tube double could have served the film with some thematic weight, a living manifestation of the Wolverine’s conscience, come to call: “he” “kills” “himself”. Snikt.
Anyway, tempting as it may be to entertain wouldas, a provisional other-movie isn’t an entirely relevant digression. Logan‘s reason for being consists of a handful of basic elements: (1) to adjourn Hugh Jackman’s (and, secondarily, Patrick Stewart’s) 17-year run, (2) to perpetuate the franchise, (3) to administer franchise fans with a “no kidding around” big finish, with blood and F-bombs and whatnot. (And exactly one pair of boobies.)
To upholster these reasons with some movie meat, Logan beckons from co-writers Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green a script of decidedly ordinary proportions. I’ve already made fun of what Mangold the director does given the purported hedonistic bliss of a gloves-off R-rating. (Which, by all accounts, also means no hints of sex, no truly horrifying carnage, and absolutely no humor.) What defies comprehension is the sheer, brain-smoothing ordinariness of every scene. And I’m not talking about the ordinariness of life, observed unadorned yet artfully, in the manner of Ozu or Pialat. I’m talking about the agonizing, head-on-desk banality of ninety-nine out of a hundred movies and TV shows, only what makes Logan doubly infuriating is its airs of realness and no-prisoners-ness, its overtures to noir and western genre films that would sooner laugh Mangold and his cadre out of their dive bar than give this movie the time and temperature.
This is yet another big-box retail movie product that speaks the point of every scene in kindergarten scrawl. I don’t know this Michael Green character but I have to assume Scott Frank (The Lookout, Out of Sight) was signed on to give Boyd Holbrook lines like “Wull wull wull, what have we here” and “As I live and breathe.” You know, real Jim Thompson sour mash, to shake off the fainters and bed-wetters. Three brains agree to pepper the dialogue with lots of “fucks” and “shits” and “assholes” but, naturally, never anything really creative.
Which is in itself no grievous offense, except the hypothetical “what if you took a superhero movie and let them say ‘fuck’ once or twice every ten minutes” doesn’t really scorch my bark. Does X-Men: Days of Future Past improve if Nixon said “fuck” and called Magneto a cocksucker? What if the sentinels had futuristic android schlongs? What if worms had machine guns? Who cares?
I’m dwelling on Logan‘s pseudo-boundary-pushing pretentiousness because it irks me so, but if I’m being honest, I’d give all of that a free pass if the movie’s scene-by-scene, moment-by-moment, act-by-act strategy wasn’t straight out of the manual. You get business like the head mercenary discovering the coordinates – the fucking coordinates! – to the good guy hideout just in time to stand between our protagonists and the finish line. There’s no labor involved in what the bad guys do, they just hop in their convoy and show up exactly where the script requires them to be, smug as you please. When Logan or his double sustain critical injuries, the film introduces a glowy green healing serum. (Maybe this bogus miracle elixir has some background in the books, but I don’t see why that should make it less bullshit.) Down to his last spiritual nickel, Logan juices himself with the whole vial and makes one last charge.
This is all flat-footed storytelling expediency with no interest, suspense, or insight – IKEA screenwriting. It’s away from the action spectacle that this mindlessness really stings, like the seemingly innumerable temper tantrums Logan throws concerning the X-Men comic books Laura’s reading; he’s always barking “This isn’t like the comics, this is real!” or some variation. At one point, Professor Xavier say to Logan, “This is what real life is like” and what he means is, look at this family, they’re living off the land and whatnot. Only it’s an awful television family projected onto some indeterminate piece of America by a couple of writers drinking craft beer by a poolside in L.A. This is, in point of fact, the ceiling that keeps Logan from rising above its own mediocrity: characters are constantly telling each other “This is real” and pointing to something counterfeit.
I’m almost done but what the hell happened to futurism? This misfortune is too vast to pin on Logan alone but the film is symptomatic, just the same. It’s decked out in Prudent Futurism, an orchestration of tech as we understand it today, or what we’re pretty, pretty, pretty sure we’ll have in 10-15 years. Factory farming is rampant (check), highway trucking is piloted by computers who blast safety beeps (check and there’s actually the hint of plot relevance related to a near-catastrophe caused by a self-driving truck but the screenwriters can’t decide if they’re going to litigate so that tiny thread is terminated with “I dunno”), and there are mechanical limbs for the likes of Pierce, which are cool and highly responsive yet still kinda Skid Row Steampunk Chic. There was a time when movie designers would indulge highly fantastic concepts for futurism, and adhering to what’s being discussed on CNBC and the investing class was never a top priority. I tend to think Minority Report was the last time I truly felt immersed in smart, fantasy-driven futuristic design.
I wrote this post not to drag or shame or otherwise excoriate fans of the film. The way I see it, if you like a book or a film or what have you, go with god. I like the Guy Ritchie The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I like the Alex Proyas Gods of Egypt. I like Paul W.S. Anderson and Jerry Lewis and 57-minute John Wayne westerns from before Stagecoach and late Woody Allen and Edge of Tomorrow. So yeah, I like some stuff that’s not always in everyone else’s top drawer, and that’s okay.
No, I wrote this because, for whatever reason, I felt I should watch this film, and after I did, I couldn’t remember the reason – I could only dwell in the aggravation it caused me, which was considerable. I wrote this to exorcise my irritation. Maybe it did that for you, too.
by Jaime N. Christley
Hey look, I’d be derelict in my self-care duties if I didn’t mention my Patreon. I’m a writer, and I need to get paid for what I do, so I can keep doing it. Did you value this unabashedly clickbaity-yet-artisinal Logan takedown? If so, consider becoming a patron or benefactor of some kind. Thanks!