Logan (2017)

Directed by James Mangold

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Logan is a film about a guy redeeming himself.  Well, it’s about two guys redeeming themselves, actually.  They both die, and they both get their moments of zen, but one dies in the middle of the night, disoriented and alone, realizing he may have made another huge mistake which he will never be able to make up for, and the other dies a hero.

The more I think about it, the more ballsy it is to kill off Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) so brutally and tragically.  Logan (Hugh Jackman) dies in the way you’d expect.  He softly utters his last words before departing, and he has someone there to mourn him and carry on his spirit.

We start by meeting an older, depressed Logan, working as a limo driver during the nights in El Paso.  His hair is gray, his beard grown out, and he drinks all the time.  He lives just over the border with Charles and his pal, Caliban (Stephen Merchant).  Logan takes care of Charles, who needs medication to control his violent seizures (which freeze everyone and everything around him), but he’s running out of the pills he needs, and we get the sense that Charles won’t survive much longer.  Logan stays with Charles out of a sense of duty, but he seems constantly irritated with the old man who reciprocates the feeling.

The one thing Charles has that Logan doesn’t is a sense of purpose.  He tries telling Logan about a young mutant, but Logan has no interest in listening to him.  The inciting incident of the story is when Logan is called (through the limo service) to a small motel to pick up Gabriela, a woman with whom Logan was once acquainted and from whom he seeks to stay away.  Gabriela has a daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), who is in danger, pursued by a very evil looking and sounding bad guy named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).  Gabriela insists she knows Logan is a good guy deep down, but just in case that isn’t enough, she promises him $50,000 to take her and Laura to a sanctuary for mutants, though at this time we are unaware that it is a sanctuary for mutants as we don’t yet know Laura is a mutant.  What’s funny is it seems like there’s no reason Gabriela couldn’t just tell Logan that Laura is a mutant, let alone the fact that she shares the same powers as Logan, but she withholds this information for a dramatic purpose.  We will learn later, at the end of act 1, that Laura is quite powerful, and it’s both a surprise and makes complete sense.

Logan agrees to help out Gabriela, but when he returns the next day, Gabriela is dead, and Laura is missing.  Logan returns to the compound where he discovers that Laura has hid herself in his car.  Upon seeing the girl, Charles proclaims that she is the mutant he was telling Logan about, but Logan couldn’t care less.  Pierce shows up, demanding the girl, but Laura pummels him over the head with a pipe, knocking him unconscious.

Logan then sense Caliban to drop off Pierce somewhere far away.  It’s immediately a horrible decision.  There’s no reason not to just slaughter Pierce and get it over with, but that wouldn’t make for a good story, and I suppose Logan has some kind of conscience (though over the course of the film we see him slaughter a number of bad guys).

Caliban is attacked by Pierce once he wakes up, and a team of Pierce’s men swarm the compound.  This is when we see the full extant of Laura’s powers as she cuts her away through most of the men.  Logan, Charles and Laura escape after the lengthy battle, and we move into act 2.

To begin act 2, we establish the new normal, meaning Logan discusses Laura with Charles and tries to figure out what to do with her while the bad guys are in pursuit, using Caliban’s mutant tracking ability to follow our heroes.  There is some really crappy exposition in which Logan uses his phone to watch a secret video Gabriela made while she worked at a genetic testing type of facility that bred mutants for war.  Laura is one of the mutants, and Gabriela wanted her to escape (along with many other children who didn’t make it).  It’s crappy exposition because Gabriela says everything we need to know in a video that is supposed to be discreet, except she gives very clear shots of what’s happening, meaning someone had to have seen her filming.  There is even a shot of a doctor talking to a nurse through a window in a door, and we can hear their dialogue clearly, almost as if they are mic’d up.  Anyways, it’s annoying not just because of that, but because Logan’s phone dies, and then we get another scene a little while later when he recharges his phone and finishes watching the video.  The movie comes to a complete halt while we watch cell phone footage.

The next big moment comes at a hotel they stay at.  Logan tries to exchange their obliterated limo for a truck, and on his way back to the hotel, Charles has another seizure, freezing everything and everyone nearby, including everyone at the hotel.  We see that Pierce’s men were closing in on Charles, so Logan fights his way to the hotel and slaughters a bunch of bad guys who are frozen in place, unable to stop Logan even as they see him coming.  They then hurry out of the hotel, and Charles tries to apologize to people as he is wheeled back.  We learn (maybe it happened in another film, but I didn’t know about it) that Charles had a similarly devastating attack in another city a while back.  His ‘attacks’ make it so that people can’t move and can’t breathe.  Given how long the attack was, it’s a wonder more people didn’t die.

They hit the road, and after a near collision following the recklessness of a self-driving truck, Logan’s truck spins out, causing another car to run off the road, opening their trailer so their horses run around the freeway.  Charles makes Logan stop, and Charles uses his mental powers to calm the horses and make them run into place.  This sequence of the film is much more about Charles than Logan, as Charles addresses his past mistakes and takes conscious steps to make up for them, such as by forcing Logan to help this family.

It’s at this point in the film that the story becomes more imbued with theme and its message of family.  Logan is a man with no purpose who lives on the edge of death as if he’s next in line at the DMV.  He only takes care of Charles and Laura because he feels like he has to, not because he wants to.  When they help this family, they are invited over for dinner, and Charles is excited to accept this invitation.  Charles enjoys dinner and makes it clear that he wants Logan to live a life like this.  He tells Logan that family is important, and it’s not too late for Logan to make this kind of life.  Logan disagrees.

What’s so tragic (but also bold and exciting for the film) is what happens next.  Logan heads out with the father of the family, Will, to fix a damaged waterline.  They are harassed by farmers who own the land, and Logan flexes his muscle and frightens them off.  After this, we see Charles sleeping in bed, and a man approaches him slowly and quietly.  This man, we presume, is Logan.  Charles asks Logan to give them another hour before they have to go, and he then goes into a speech about how this night has been the happiest of his life in recent memory.  It’s such a nice sendoff that you think, ‘oh, so he’s gonna die.’  The man reveals himself to not be Logan, but to be a wolverine mutant soldier who happens to look like Logan.  The man stabs Charles through the chest, killing him, but not right away.

In the ensuing battle, the entire family is slaughtered, and the bad guys show up, following their mutant soldier.  Logan battles this mutant, eventually helped out by Will who rams his car into the mutant before getting out and pointing the gun at Logan.  He pulls the trigger, but the gun is empty, and Will dies.  Logan stands there, a little dazed and probably surprised, but looking mostly lost.  In the fracas, Caliban helps his buddy out by exploding a couple grenades, nearly killing Pierce (but of course not killing him because we need Pierce for act 3), and killing himself.

This battle is the midpoint of the story because it combines the two main threads of the movie: the plot to save Laura from the bad guys, and Logan’s internal struggle to find peace.  There is more narrative depth and risk with the latter conflict, Logan’s struggle, than there is with the external plot.  We know, at least on some level, that Logan and company will get away, for the most part.  It’s too early in the movie for this to be the end, based only on runtime, so we know there is more to come.  Still, Charles’ death and the deaths of the family members are stunning and gruesome, but they say more about Logan’s internal struggle than the bad guys going after Laura.  Logan, before this massacre, was presented with the question of ‘is he willing to try and have a family?’  In this scenario, family means peace.  But in this scene, Logan observes a completely happy, stable family only to see them slaughtered, mostly because of his presence.  This suggests to Logan that he can’t protect anyone around him, so the only option is to isolate himself, even if it kills him.

I think a lot of films play with this idea of the superhero bringing danger to those he loves, but it’s never shown this clearly and brutally.  Since this is the final Wolverine film, however, director James Mangold doesn’t have to hold back.  He is able to effectively demonstrate the real cost of Logan’s presence and proximity to anyone he loves.

Another way of knowing that this is the midpoint, in terms of story structure, is how quickly the elements set up early in this part of the story payoff.  There are story elements and characters set up early in act 1 that will pay off later in act 3.  But here, you set up the farmers who try to intimidate Will, and they show up to get revenge on Will only about 5-10 minutes later in the movie.  They are set up and almost immediately pay off, demonstrating how this scene is at the apex of the story pyramid.  The left side of the pyramid, the rise, includes all the set ups, and the right side of the pyramid, the fall, includes all of the pay offs.  If something is set up and paid off very quickly, it means you’re at that inflection point.

Logan and Laura hit the road, and Logan is a mess.  Charles is dead, and what’s even more brutal about his death is not only that he’s slaughtered and helps bring about the murder of this entire family, but also that he remains alive long enough to see that they are all murdered, meaning he recognizes his failures before he dies.

Logan buries his friend and mentor, and then he gets angry, smashes his truck, and passes out.  He wakes up in a small doctor’s office to which Laura has apparently transported him.  Though Laura is strong, given her powers, it’s unclear to me how she brought Logan all the way into town on her own and how she found the doctor.  He is particularly lenient towards Logan (apparently he likes mutants), but did she know that?  Also, she stole a man’s truck, but it’s unclear how she stole it.  I think it’s safe to say she didn’t kill the man, whom we saw in a previous shot throwing a ball to his dog, but maybe she did.  We also saw, I believe, that the man’s truck was parked across the river, so she went across the river, drove the car all the way around to the nearest bridge… okay, I’ll stop it.  It doesn’t really matter how it happened, but this does seem to be an example of a moment in the script where the story stalled, and they had to think of a way to get Logan to the hospital so he could rest up enough to move us into act 3.  There’s a similar scene to this in Knight and Day, a Tom Cruise movie that I think is under appreciated.  In that film, Tom Cruise, a skilled spy, gets caught up in some kind of trap alongside Cameron Diaz.  It’s unclear how they will get out of this station, and I think both characters are drugged somehow.  It plays out so that Diaz falls asleep, and then she keeps waking up to glimpse Cruise in one crazy situation after another in which he insists he’s got this, and they’ll be fine.  In one moment he’s tied up and hanging upside down and in another he’s piloting a small plane.  Then she wakes up and they’re on an island or something.  It’s unclear how they got out of that predicament, and maybe it’s lazy writing, but the scene is very funny, and that’s enough to justify it, I think.  And guess what?  James Mangold also directed Knight and Day, so maybe he brought that trick over to this movie.

Again, sorry, there’s no need to focus on small details, but that’s just something that I think could be improved, though I suppose it serves to demonstrate how resourceful Laura is, but I think we’ve already seen how resourceful she is in previous scenes.

Since we’re now past another inflection point (past the midpoint) in the story, we have to establish the new normal.  With each break into a new sequence or a new act, there is a change in the characters’ goal.  For example, when we break into the second sequence of the film (after the inciting incident in act 1), Logan’s goal is to take Laura and Gabriela where they need to go just so he can get the money.  Then when we break into sequence 3/act 2, Logan’s goal is to save Charles and Laura and to figure out who the hell Laura is and what she wants.  When we break into sequence 4, though, there is a slight shift as the focus turns to Charles in order to give him his due before he dies.  Charles’ goal in this part of the film is to help a family and promote the idea of family for himself and for Logan.

After the midpoint, where we are now, Logan’s goal is to get Laura to Eden, the alleged mutant sanctuary in North Dakota.  They drive and drive, but Logan gets tired, and it’s clear he’s dying, as Laura points out.  She also says that Charles told her Logan wants to die.  This is more elaboration on the struggle we saw within Logan during the battle back at the farm, as he has seen once again the destruction that follows him.

We hit the next new sequence (number 6), once they arrive at the small mutant children community in North Dakota.  Logan, though still in poor shape, is partially rehabilitated, and he’s remade into young Logan aka Wolverine as the kids shave his beard to look like it once did.  This sequence ends with the “dark night of the soul,” when the character feels alone, like they’ve lost everything they fought for.  In this case, Logan has an emotional moment when he tells Laura he has to leave her, citing the fact that the people he cares about are never safe.  He’s admitting defeat, and it’s a payoff of the conflict first stated, I suppose, when Gabriela was killed, but heightened and made more explicit after the battle at the farm.  At this point we understand and sympathize with Logan.

We are thrown into act 3 the next morning when the kids leave, and Logan is alone.  He notices, however, the bad guys led by Pierce as they chase after the kids.  Knowing they’re in danger, Logan pursues.  He injects himself with a serum that he was only supposed to take a little at a time.  Because of this he is basically a coked out mad man, full of newfound energy (unlike we’ve seen before in this movie), but he will also burn out more quickly.  He saves the day, for the most part, and redeems himself.  Then he has one last face off with mutant wolverine soldier clone (aka a bad guy of equal strength to Logan) and is killed.  He looks like he is about to be finished off when Laura shoots the bad Wolverine in the head with a special gun that can kill him.  She hovers over Logan’s body, and he smiles at her.  She calls him ‘dad,’ and he says, “so this is what it feels like,” before dying.

It is a moving scene for sure, but I’m also tired of that movie trope of someone about to die, only for someone else to show up and save them at the last minute.  It happened already at the farm, when Will drove his truck into evil Wolverine, saving Logan, and I remember it happing back at the compound early in the movie.  It happens, it feels like, in every modern action movie.

Anyways, Logan dies, and we’re all sad.  Then the kids bury him and march on.

This movie was so brutal, but that was almost necessary for the point of the movie to take hold.  Logan is reluctantly brutal.  He gets mad, and he snaps and kills people.  The movie opens with him reluctantly killing a group of Mexican men who try to steal the hubcaps off of his limo.  It’s important that he doesn’t hurt them until they shoot him.  After getting knocked to the ground, Logan slowly stands up and is shot again before he unleashes his fury in grotesque, entertaining fashion.

Laura is similarly hyper-violent, and the overall violence of this film is glorious in a way similar to Inglourious Basterds.  I don’t usually do well with knife violence, but it’s so animated and quick, with the camera spinning this way and that, so I felt like I could handle it.  That being said, the 8 year old girl in the seat next to me should not have been at this movie.  I couldn’t help but see the violence through her eyes, wondering just how many instances of this movie negatively changed her life forever.  There were a couple times I looked over at her father, two seats away as they were separated by another of his children, who seemed to look to his daughter to make sure she was okay, extending a hand out to her as if they had just seen a dog get hit by a car and he has to say, “I’m so sorry honey,” like there was nothing he could do to prevent it except that in this case there was a lot he could do to prevent this, like read a review or check the ratings which instead of an “R” should have been severed, bleeding fingers arranged to spell an “R” in order to really make it clear how violent this movie is.

The exposition, I maintain, was kind of crappy in this movie.  I hate it when a movie spends time with a character looking at a laptop or reading a text, and this movie had an entire scene with Logan looking at his phone.  At the same time, crappy exposition is forgivable if the action works, and it does here.  Movies like Logan are built around the action, so much less focus seems to be given to the exposition which is in service of the stunt man-driven fun we see later on.  It’s like going down a water slide.  Before you can enjoy the ride, you have to stand in line.

Lastly, I enjoyed the internal struggle faced by both Charles and Logan.  It felt real and heavy, like something that could kill them on its own even the evil bad guys weren’t around.  A lot of big budget action films seem to struggle with internal character conflict.  In many cases the action and external conflict is balanced with a character’s love story.  I suppose that’s why there are so many forced love stories in movies that don’t require them, because as the story builds, it needs to focus not only on the action plot, but also on the increasingly personal struggle of the hero.  In Spiderman, for example, there’s a scene as the action builds in which Spidey has to save his girlfriend from the bad guy.  It gives the moment higher stakes, but it’s too simple of a device.  I liked that there was no love story in Logan, though I guess you could say his growing bond with Laura simply took the place of a love story.

 

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