Movie Review: Logan
By Ben Gruchow
March 9, 2017
Truth be told, it may be better than that film in a number of ways; it doesn't have the same jaw-dropping sense of scale and velocity, but not for a moment is it pretending to try to. The Batman film was technical and calculating and cold; this is an intimate and personal piece of work, usually concerning itself with two or three characters in spaces that feel confined by design. For that, and for the implications and texture and timeliness of its story, it is emotionally powerful in ways that even the best moments of the genre rarely aspire to, let alone succeed at.
We’re not aware of this right at the outset, and the movie begins rather as a chronicle of senescence and deterioration in two old men. The battered and overtly distrustful world of Logan has no mutant civilization left of any significance, and no fear or awe at their past existence; perhaps we've gotten so proficient at maiming and killing each other as regular people that we need no energy field or sentinels to spur us into action. Logan himself is a limo driver as the movie opens in the year 2025, recognized as a former X-Man in the way that a celebrity long past their prime is briefly recognized by passersby before they go about their day. He lives in a derelict farm in the Southwest, or maybe Mexico; he still looks the part of Wolverine, mostly, but the bigger problems are beneath the surface. Wounds don't heal quickly or at all, he's prone to coughing fits, his eyesight is failing.
His two main companions have it worse. Caliban (Stephen Merchant) is a conflicted former hunter of other mutants, allergic to the light. And out in the collapsed water tower on the property lives Logan’s ward: an addled and invalid Xavier (Patrick Stewart), kept on a steady dose of medications to control seizures and prevent his increasingly unstable mind from unleashing telepathic chaos on the world. He comes back to lucidity only briefly, in Logan’s presence, and when he does and the two actors share early scenes verging on distrust and antagonism, we realize that the sheer volume of exposure we've had over the past decade-and-change with these characters, spotty individual installments or not, has nonetheless invested what happens here with history and weight. The movie cannily uses this, referencing events from 17 years prior from the exhausted vantage point of a painful deathbed, recalling moments of promise and potential wasted for two people who never seem to have forgiven themselves for their sins. Put aside the comic context, wispy as it already is, and we are witness to a somber picture of men arriving at the end of violent and difficult lives and realizing, with despondency, that they have never achieved the redemption they've been seeking.
The movie articulates this in every movement and shot of this scene and the ones after, and it would perhaps be unbearably grim if not for the arrival of Gabriela, a nurse who begs Logan - and only Logan - to transport her and her young daughter Laura north, across the border into the United States, to safe haven. Logan is the only one who can help her, she says, and there are men after the two of them, aiming to separate mother and daughter for their own ends. Here, then, is this entry’s reference to current events, and the filmmakers - perhaps sensing where political reality might be headed during preproduction and production - could not have chosen a more immediate humanitarian crisis to literalize, especially not one to do so trenchantly. Since we have seen the trailers and we know that Laura ends up on a road trip with Logan, we also know that Gabriela won't be in the picture for very long; foreboding thus hangs around her appearances, and her final moment of speech to Logan (and by proxy, to the audience) is one of the most emotionally-charged moments ever to play across the screen in a film of this genre.