Film * James Mangold * The Man Comes Around * 2017
This one hurt. No, really, this is a bleak, despairing movie and at no point does it stop punching you right in the feelbasket. Like, I’ll throw the standard disclaimers right up top here. I don’t really care about superhero movies, nor do I have any particular investment in comic books. Of course I’ve seen a bunch of comic book films, if I didn’t there wouldn’t be anything left for me to watch. I’ve seen about two-thirds of the X-Men movies, even. I know I saw the first two in the theater like 15 years ago, so yeah, feel old, because these things have been around for a while. The difference for me and people who really get into this stuff is, I think, that I watch them once and move on. I don’t have any real, ongoing connection to this world or these characters and am therefore by no means an expert on any of this. I have a passing familiarity with who the X-Men are, I obviously know the principal characters and the struggles of mutant-kind. Outside of the very basics though? No idea what’s happening.
And none of that matters. Now that I think about it, only having a hazy understanding of the X-Men oeuvre might actually be an asset when watching Logan. At the very least, coming in blind to this film is not a detriment. I can only imagine the reaction of someone extremely vested in X-Men lore and a Wolverine fanboy/girl watching Logan and having their whole worldview fucked up. That’s because this is some straight-up darkest timeline shit right here. I’d worry about overselling the uncompromising grimness of this film, but I think that might actually be impossible. Going in for the first time, even if you’ve read reviews and watched trailers, I’m not so sure you’d be prepared for what you get. I didn’t do any of that, but I at least had a sense that Logan was going to be a “dark” and “gritty” version of the X-Men with an R rating and that’s cool.
Yes, Logan is dark and gritty. Sure, whatever. The grim, constant violence barely registers as a reason as to why this movie hurts, though. Sometimes Logan has to put his claws through some dope’s face, that happens when you’re Wolverine. It’s incidental to the real story here. Okay, maybe not incidental, the brutal violence underscores the brutality of the world, the unrelenting oppression that is suffocating everyone and everything happening on screen. Logan is a film about what happens when reality catches up with fantasy. Superhero movies are so often about larger-than-life characters who, while flawed, are still able to master their reality in ways us normal jamokes can only fantasize about. Wolverine might be a surly jackass (with a heart of gold) but then snickety-snack! Claws come out and it’s a rad power fantasy. Charles Xavier might be an old guy in wheelchair, but he could end you with a thought. There are obstacles, but the heroes always win, and they always win on their own terms.
Logan is here to rudely remind you that superhero movies are bullshit. Reality, random and harsh, always wins. I absolutely don’t want to talk specifics here. If you haven’t seen the movie, go watch the movie. If you need a plot motivation, here you go. It’s 2029 and the world doesn’t look much different, perhaps just a little more tired. The X-Men are a memory, and unless I’m mistaken there is no serious mention of any other team members. All that’s left is Wolverine, who’s looking rough. He lives in Mexico and makes his living as a chauffeur. He clearly has a drinking problem. Aside from driving frat-douches around, he is taking care of a decrepit Charles Xavier, who seems to be suffering from dementia of some sort. The story is about the discovery of a new mutant (in this future, mutants seem to have had their own Children of Men catastrophe and none have been born in years), the bad mens trying to capture her, and Logan’s attempt to stay ahead of them. And now I’m going to get specific, because there is plenty to talk about here.
The first scene of Logan immediately sets the tone for the entire film, which is to say dark, grim, and oppressive. We know right away that this is not a Captain America-esque feel-good-fun-time best-friends-will-overcome type of situation. A wise-cracking Spiderman doesn’t show up and start tossing off quips and at no point are we in danger of being in the presence of too much sexy, because despite Hugh Jackman existing, Logan is the least sexy superhero movie ever. It’s weird saying about a major studio release, but nothing about this film feels particularly Hollywood. This first scene? Jesus. Logan’s in his car on the side of the road, trying to sleep it off, when he’s rudely awakened by some cholos stealing his rims. He stumbles out, and is promptly gunned down under the blue glare of a massive video billboard, right alongside a busy highway. Because he’s fucking Wolverine, Logan stands back up and is still cool about it. “Guys, you don’t want to do this.” Of course they do, because they’re clearly suicidal dimwits, and Logan fucks their shit up in bloody, grisly fashion. Again, right alongside a busy Texas highway.
The setting of this scene says more to me about the ambition of the movie than the actual acts of horrific violence. Near-future settings are always difficult to properly execute, since anything you show will easily be debunked in a few years. Logan pulls it off, and that’s because it hardly changes anything about how the world works. Sure, there’s the scene in the middle of the film where Logan is out there trying to corral some horses on a freeway while dodging the automated trucks flying by. Yet automated trucks are going to be a thing, and if that’s as fancy as things are going to get, I believe it. Christ, even the cell phones look largely the same. Visually, there isn’t much to mark Logan as a film about the future, which is the film implying that the present is stagnant, if not getting worse. It’s a future where gangsters can waste a random civilian on the side of a highway without even thinking about it. It’s a future where a few more dead bodies don’t matter to the minivan whipping past as quickly as possible under the protective blue glow of advertising.
Then there’s the whole mutant situation, which is even more dire than that of humanity in general. The X-Men are gone and there’s no real explanation as to where they went. It’s heavily implied that they’re dead. Why? That’s not important, really. (In retrospect, I think Xavier’s nuclear seizures probably had a lot to do with it, but again, the film didn’t bother to spell it all out, so it’s by definition not super important.) It took me about a third of a movie to stop wondering if I had missed something vital by not watching the other stand-alone Wolverine movies (I’m pretty sure I missed nothing, by the way) and take Logan for what it is, which is the last stand of mutant-kind. It’s a mutant post-apocalypse in which the apocalypse is off-screen and the survivors are three broken-down old men just trying to live another day. And let me tell you, even as someone only causally interested in the X-Men in general, seeing Charles Xavier as a 90-year old husk rolling around raving like a lunatic is rough. Although I won’t lie, listening to Patrick Stewart swear makes up for it a little bit. Still, the situation these last three mutants are in is bleak. They’re it, the last of mutant-kind, and they’re only hanging on by a thread.
This is why Logan introduces Laura, and by extension, a new generation of mutants. Otherwise this whole thing would not only be unbearable, but pointless. For a post-apocalypse to mean anything, there has to be an after, otherwise it’s just extinction and it’s hard to feel any way but nihilistic about that. Laura, Logan’s genetic offspring and a gnarly little mini-Wolverine, is then introduced as a way to feel slightly less bad about the abject and total failure of the X-Men. Because guess what? The X-Men were an abject and total failure. Wolverine’s cynicism was proved right, so right that not even Wolverine himself can feel vindicated by it. All those comics, all those movies, all that feel-good heroic posturing, the stirring speeches about equality and the right to live, the villains vanquished and the universal values of humanity defended, all of it dead. Ground out by the unrelenting forces of harsh, uncompromising reality. Wolverine an old drunk. “The World’s Most Dangerous Mind” a desiccated husk prone to seizures. Charles Xavier was fucking wrong about the world and is therefore doomed to live his last moments on the run, with the full knowledge that everything he ever fought for is dust and that he failed. His reward for his lifetime of effort is a shallow grave in the middle of nowhere.
Logan, at least, gets a moment of redemption before he’s relegated to the dustbin of history. He has a daughter, a direct continuation of mutant-kind and an opportunity to redeem the failed X-Men project. Yet how do we suppose this redemption is going to look? Now, comic nerds can correct me here, but my understanding of the main moral crisis of the X-Men was always in the relationship between Xavier and Magneto. Xavier opened his school and tried to make mutants feel and act normally, using their powers for the benefit of society in general. Magneto, on the other hand, believed that mutants were by nature superior and should therefore either run society or have their own separate society (I apologize if I’m fuzzy on the details, like I said, I’m the most casual of casuals) – either way, Magneto was all about embracing power. Xavier’s X-Men apparently won that ideological struggle, and then were in some kind of off-screen apocalyptic event, where they were proved utterly wrong. Clearly, if they had listened to Magneto, they wouldn’t be in this situation. Maybe it would be worse for humanity, but mutants would obviously be better off.
This is the one of two lessons learned by this young batch of new mutants. The whole world’s against you, the very people who created you desire to destroy you, think you less than human. You’ve got all these dope powers and have been trained since birth to use them to vanquish your enemies. The lesson here? Murder everyone before they murder you. Sound familiar? These young mutants have powers that were almost extinct, but are now loose in a hostile world. The only reasonable reaction would be to hide, grow your powers, and then fight back. What else do you have to lose? Look what happened when mutants took the high road, for crying out loud. This is all only somewhat tempered by the second lesson, which is that of Logan’s noble sacrifice. He is at least redeemed. Instead of simply throwing his life away in despair, he uses it to protect these last mutants. To give them an opportunity to see that there’s more to being human than destruction. That final tip of the (almost too symbolic) cross to an ‘X’ seems to be the only spark of hope in the entire film, that maybe there’s a middle ground between the failed approach of Charles Xavier and the madness of Magneto’s power fantasy. Will these wayward, fucked-up young mutants figure it out? Considering how the rest of the film plays out, probably not. But maybe.
Oh, and a quick ‘fuck you’ to James Mangold for using “The Man Comes Around” after that final image. Goddammit, man.