No More Guns In the Valley
A Review of Logan
“Joey, there’s no living with… with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand sticks. There’s no going back. Now you run on home to your mother, and tell her… tell her everything’s all right. And there aren’t any more guns in the valley.” -Shane 1953
So before I begin, obviously, spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen this movie. Stop what you’re doing right now. Leave your baby in the tub and go see Logan. You’ve been warned.
I want to begin with what I understand is a rather strong claim
James Mangold Logan is not just the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen. It’s so good. It should, by all rights, be the last superhero movie for at least a generation.
Mangold’s film is a merciless and near perfect examination of a life lived by violence, with consequences to both body and soul. But most importantly It describes a generation that has outgrown superheroes
From its opening scene Logan is a departure from expectation, Logan awakened from a hangover in his limo, which he currently leases to drive for uber. Nameless, nearly faceless Hispanic thugs are trying to steal his tires –a proving scene as old as the action movie itself
We as the audience knows this scene. This is Wolverine. He’s supposed to deftly, quippingly dispatch them with a clever catchphrase but instead he loses, throws his claws like a bar drunk armed with kitchen knives and survives only due to his failing healing factor and his anger, helplessly tossing a tire iron after his escaping assailants’ car. We the audience are made aware right away this is not a superhero movie we have ever seen before. The James Howlett of this film is a weakened, limping shade of his former superhero self. No longer wolverine but truly, as the title implies, Logan.
Logan is a movie about what makes us strong turning against us. Logan’s body fails him, is, in fact, killing him. A life of violence is manifested in a broken body full of scars. His claws, his strength, useless in a world that has defeated him without a battle.
Meanwhile his mentor, Charles Xavier, the world’s most powerful mutant, has lost control of his own mind. His ultimate power, the power to stop time, has turned into an unexpected ticking time bomb.The incident in Westchester hangs like a cloud over the film. The site, of course, is Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters. We can guess that in the first of Charles’ seizure has killed the last of his pupils and taken his sanity and his safety with it. Charles Xavier who only ever wanted to protect mutant kind proves its destruction.
The first time I heard about Wolverine I was 7 years old. My father’s collection of comics had long ago been deemed “too violent” by my mother, but on the rare nights my father got home early enough to put me to bed the X men were my bedtime stories.
Before I ever saw the panels themselves, Wolverine loved and lost Jean Grey in my mind’s eye. I clutched my knees and lay awake thinking about the Morlocks that might be underneath my bed.
I witnessed the birth of the x men on film. From the excellent comic book loyal animated series, to its teen reboot in X men evolution, to its clunky premier on screen.
Since then we comic book fans have closely followed a variety of successes and failures. We watched Batman soar in Nolan’s reboot only to be horrified by the lessons it taught Hollywood and the Batman Versus Supermans and Suicide Squads that those lessons yielded
And with each film it has dawned on us more and more that the MOLD of the superhero appears broken
A tremendous number of our favorite comic heroes, the x-men especially, were born of the cold war. In their early years stopping a Russian submarine as often as Magneto. They represented an American ideal against a villain we could point to. But the cold war is over and we turned out to be the villains. In a twist ending worthy of any comic WE turned out to be the evil empire. Bombing children and spying on our own citizens like clumsily written villains. Like Logan, our philosophy of violence leaves us lacerated by ugly wounds healing too slowly.
But Logan’s message, I think is one of hope. It is also about a changing of the guard. The contrast between the aging Logan and the young Laura (exquisitely played by Dafne Keen) is the blood in the veins of the film. It is no coincidence that she is Hispanic, female, and a refugee. She succeeds where he fails. She delivers a eulogy for her fallen father figure where he is unable , she kills x-24 (an all too on the nose version of Logan as killing machine) when he cannot, but more importantly she is able to rise above her circumstance. In Logan’s own last words she is able to be “more than what they made her.”
Laura serves as a witness to the glorious death of comic books. In the finale of the film Logan injects himself with a healing serum and it is through her eyes that we see him just once and all too briefly as the Wolverine. Slicing his way through opponents, heroic poetry in motion. The best at what he does one last time.
It’s through Laura that Logan finds redemption, not as violent rescuer but in his final moments as a father– a creator rather than destroyer of life. And it is with this realization that Logan finds the happiness that Xavier so desperately implores him to understand earlier in the film.
Logan is not a perfect film by any means. It has lazy moments. It drags us through the hero trope all too slowly but nevertheless it is an important movie. Important enough that if I had my wish it would be our last superhero film for a while. I don’t want us to be able to distract ourselves with yet another too thinly spread X Men sequel, remake, reboot, revamp. I childishly wish instead that we all had to live with the final image of the film for just a bit longer so that it could change us the way art is supposed to
Laura, the battle done and her father buried, turns the home made wooden cross on its side. The cross becomes an X. A perfect and surprising monument to the last great. X man.
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