Wednesday, July 5, 2017


     The story is over.

     "There are no more guns in the valley."

     When you come to the end, how do you process the fullness of the book that has now closed with a resounding thud? How do you grasp, appreciate, and grieve the illusory relationship that has now ended?

Spoilers throughout. 

     When Logan begins, there is an undeniable sense that we have reached the final page. It's clear that a great deal has happened. The world couldn't stay mutant-friendly, and Logan himself is back to trying to live under the radar and just get by. In his care is a fragile and often dementia-ridden Charles Xavier, stripped of his once-dignified manner by age and disease, reduced to a wizened and crass old man. Whatever honors and prestige they once had from their heroic deeds is now gone. They are the heroes that the world forgot, the saviors that have been turned on. There are no more missions to save the world, just a few more lethargic and exhausted breaths before the metaphorical sunset.
     Unlike X-Men movies past, Logan is painfully inglorious. No one is battling advanced technology, dodging oversized robots, or fighting vigilante mutants with frightening superpowers. No cities are falling or terrified populations fleeing. There is no league of heroes swooping in to save the day in grandiose displays of teamwork and camaraderie. Here, there are just rolling tumbleweeds and uncouth thugs in the dusty town hiding a few surviving mutants. Maybe the last surviving mutants.

     Hugh Jackman brings a calloused fatigue to Logan that adds weight to every movie appearance prior-- suddenly all of those fights and losses feel cripplingly burdensome; the consequences of being hitherto immortal are coming due. In many ways this isn't the Wolverine we've watched over the last seventeen years, and yet Jackman's tired and outraged Logan is in every way faithful to the character he has carefully crafted over the course of several movies. Throughout this harrowing final chapter, Jackman unleashes Wolverine's primal fury while still making Logan sympathetic in the quieter moments, and ultimately heroic. Logan never wanted to join a fight for something greater than himself when we met him all those years ago, but he was drawn in because a girl needed help. And so it comes full circle with Logan, the Wolverine, once again resisting getting involved, but finding he can't avoid it, because a girl needs help. While Jackman's final performance as Logan is impeccable throughout, no moment shines forth his talents as an artist more acutely than when he stands by Charles' grave. Struggling to find words, each subtle movement of his expression is riddled with anguish, remorse, devastation, and anger, yet somehow restrained behind his tall and muscular exterior. At least for a moment, and then the dam breaks.   

     Patrick Stewart as a now degraded Charles Xavier is particularly effective, if difficult, to watch. The man who once established sanctuary for mutants and spent his life lobbying for mutant equality is now frail and broken, his once brilliant mind now deteriorating under the effects of a mutant-type Alzheimer's. Though it's unlikely that Stewart would garner an Oscar nomination for this role, it would be well-earned. His perfectly balanced depiction of mental disintegration, end-of-life regrets, and occasional comic levity weave flawlessly with his ability to respect the effects of age without mocking them. Seeing the once distinguished Charles now reduced to a discarded senior is painful, but executed with immaculate sensitivity. Consistent with the oppressive injustice of how Charles' twilight years play out, is the manner in which he exits this world. Charles should have quietly met his end on his beautiful estate, surrounded by the many mutants he helped over the years, and his old friend Erik nearby. But this is not the world of the X-Men anymore. Instead, just as his mind opens to allow him to absorb the fullness of all that has happened, he is brutally murdered in his bed with scarcely the chance to impart last words. There is only Logan and Laura to mourn him now and to stand by his unmarked grave and weep. 

     The combination of absolutely flawless performances by Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, and the history behind these two characters are what make Logan the difference between a visceral but truly beautiful valediction, and a tasteless indulgence in graphic violence. Make no mistake, Logan unleashes its violence in a way that no X-Men movie has ever been allowed, and the up-close camerawork ensures that no pierce of flesh or shatter of bone is hidden. And yet in all of the literal heads rolling and blood-spilling, every burst of action feels appropriate and organic rather than obligatory, which sets it apart from your average action movie. At no point does Logan feel like its scenes are merely fulfilling an expectation for the genre, but uses even the limb-slicing, skull-puncturing moments to serve its story. For example, just how dangerous is Laura? One action scene will answer that question and simultaneously reveal how hardened she already is.

     The villain of Logan is not who you would think. While there are despicable humans that pursue Laura with no qualms whatsoever about putting her to sleep like a terminally ill dog (a fate that many of the other children suffered), they're just humans. The true force that Logan and Charles are fighting against is time itself. It was once said, "Time is a cruel thief to rob us of our former selves."  With the effects of age creeping up on Logan and Charles, their mortal time is running out. Charles can't be left alone or he might have a mental episode that could cost lives. Meanwhile Logan's eyesight is fading and his wounds aren't healing like they used to. With only a brief window to get Laura to the Canadian border, time is running out for her as well. Even if everything goes according to plan, Logan and Charles can never go back to how things were; their best hope is to set themselves on a boat and succumb quietly to time's assault. The battle will be lost eventually, the question is just how long they can delay the inevitable surrender.

     The unfolding tale is not really of two superheroes ending, but an achingly familiar tale of regret, failure, and age. Due to an erasure of memory seen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the Logan we know has never held a hope of a normal life. The history that Logan has lived through and the looming end that he faces touch on a particularly tender and personal heart-string that no one wants to acknowledge. Logan forces us to reckon with not only the fear of failure and the inability to fulfill the most important promises, but living with that failure, and having no more chances to fulfill those promises. Example: "'s near the water."

     Logan himself has lived a life of bloodshed, and though he's never been the fatherly type, his final words to Laura are "don't be what they made you." They made her to be him. Laura has already been a killer, but it's not too late to get off that path, which is Logan's final hope for her; to escape the life of pain and regret that he has lived. Just as so much of Logan addresses fears, regrets, and failures, Logan's final moment touches on the fear of so many parents: that their child will be like them. Laura's final words over Logan's grave seems to indicate that she understands his words as she quotes Shane in a poignant eulogy: "A man has to be what he is, Joey. Can't break the mold. There's no living with the killing. There's no going back. Right or wrong, it's a brand. A brand that sticks." 

     At its heart, Logan is a farewell. Rarely has a character of such longevity had such a perfect departure. In an age where franchises wear out their characters so thoroughly that it becomes hard to care anymore (ahem, Pirates of the Caribbean), Logan faces the end with unflinching boldness. Logan pays great respect to where the story has come from, but maturely abstains from hand-holding in terms of backstory. A few broken lines about "the Westchester incident" vaguely reference a cataclysmic event that presumably precipitated the end of the mutant era, but Logan doesn't reveal it outright. Very little dialogue is dedicated to referencing previous X-Men movies, and yet Logan still manages to be a perfect finale to the saga of the character. Storm, Rogue, Magneto, and others have already been reborn as the franchise spins into new adventures, but Logan ends the arc of Wolverine with such perfect closure, that there is not only little hope of ever seeing Wolverine again, there is no desire; such a revisiting would cheapen this final opus. 

     The heartbreak of Logan is complex, manifold. A character spanning seventeen years of cinema is decidedly finished. Logan, the Wolverine, could always come back from anything, and he always did. Part of Logan's tragedy is that he was always destined to watch everyone around him succumb to mortality while his body spat the bullets back out. Part of the attraction of superheroes is the fantasy that people with a little extra gifting could accomplish extraordinary things that normal humans would shrink away from. And so the heartbreak of Logan is not only in the conclusion of a loved and enduring character, but in the death of a dream. Logan takes that childhood fantasy that some characters are untouchable and constant, and forces that child within to acknowledge the all-too painful reality that even our most revered heroes must one day walk a road from which there is no return. Logan, the Wolverine, is gone, and with him, the childish dream that he never would be.

     And yet, how strange that such a heartbreaking swan-song should be so exquisite.

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