Review: Ultraviolent & Subtly Layered; ‘Logan’ Is A Game-Changer

A family of three provides food and shelter to another as thanks who helped them after a small mishap. The guests — an old, wheelchair-bound man, a muscular middle-aged man who can’t stop coughing, and a young girl who doesn’t speak — are treated to a hot, home-cooked meal, which they scarf down as though it’s their first in ages (and it is). The teenaged boy loans the little girl his portable music player for the night. As they’re about to settle down for the night, the old man tells his ‘son’:
“This is what life looks like. People who love each other. A home.”

If this sounds like something out of an acclaimed, critic-bait drama instead of the latest X-Men movie, it may be the beginning of the end for that association.

Logan, directed by James Mangold, is the game-changer the flailing superhero genre has needed since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), now nearly a decade old. It is a deceptively layered, slow-burn road movie with thrilling action sequences and the lilt of Cormac McCarthy’s writing (specifically, his 2006 novel, The Road).

Here, at last, is a movie about one of Marvel’s most iconic characters, Wolverine, which shows us what those adamantium claws are truly capable of.

To say Logan is merely ‘violent’ is like calling Donald Trump ‘somewhat immature’ — this is, possibly, the most violent comic book movie of all time, one that earns its ‘A’ rating like martial arts students earn black belts.

A still from Logan. (Photo courtesy: Marvel)

Faces get blown off, characters are impaled, and eyeballs are pierced like we’ve never seen before in a Marvel movie.

If Nolan’s Batman trilogy invented the ‘dark and brooding’ superhero, Logan represents an important update. Set in a mildly post-apocalyptic future (2029, as a diegetic radio broadcast exposits early on), Logan (a sublime Hugh Jackman) now goes by his birth-name James Howlett and makes a living as a limo driver in the border state of New Mexico. Mutants, we’re told, are virtually extinct. An alcoholic who seems to be suffering from a visibly debilitating ailment, Logan spends time attending to the ailing Charles Xavier (a wonderful Patrick Stewart), whose telepathic abilities have now grown dangerously beyond his control and must be kept under control with medication. Two wonderfully executed sequences show us what happens when he doesn’t take his pills.

Xavier’s only companion is another mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), who can sense and track other mutants.

And then, after an unknown woman is swiftly murdered, it’s up to Logan to take charge of the mysteriously silent young girl Laura (Dafne Keen, in a star-making turn on par with ‘Eleven’ from the TV show Stranger Things), who has, well, a few things in common with him.

A still from Logan. (Photo courtesy: Marvel)

The sheer magnitude of nihilistic violence, especially when performed by Keen, may turn off some viewers, but to Mangold’s credit, the film strives to be about more than that.

I awaited, with dread, a typical ‘Marvel money-shot’, in which the characters line up for a production-still frame, claws are drawn and blood spurts out in slow-motion to the sound of a bass drop, but this is a smarter film.

The violence feels visceral, real, and as distressing as a comic book movie is allowed to make one feel. The themes, of alienation, sacrifice, and a fight for dignity, resonate deeply with current events and feel organic. Logan makes Kick-Ass’ violence seem cartoonish; the DC cinematic universe’s faux profundity feels hollow in front of it.

The screenplay, by Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green, takes the trouble to detail and flesh out its characters, a rarity in franchise/blockbuster cinema nowadays.

A still from Logan. (Photo courtesy: Marvel)

There are exceptions, of course: antagonists like Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Zander Rice (Richard E Grant) are somewhat shortchanged and reduced to one-note villains. Meanwhile, for all its carefully orchestrated, spaced-out violence, in tribute to classic Westerns like Shane (1953; referenced directly in the movie), its climactic sequence is a bit of a letdown.

But these are minor quibbles.

I’d given up on superhero movies, but a — screw it; I’ll say it out loud — game-changing film like Logan gives me hope even as it ends the journeys of some of pop culture’s most beloved characters. What a way to end a 17-year journey.

(The author is a film critic and culture journalist who resides in Mumbai. Previously, he was the entertainment editor at a leading website and has written for a number of publications. In his spare time, he makes music. When free from all of the above, he travels.)