Editor’s Note: Logan opens in wide theatrical release today, March 3, 2017.
All art is political, even superhero art. And there’s little doubt that Logan, the second collaboration between writer-director James Mangold (The Wolverine, 3:10 to Yuma, Night & Day, Cop Land) and star Hugh Jackman, qualifies as art, as superhero art, and as political art. Set in a possible future for the X-Men universe – both a sequel to The Wolverine and a standalone film – Logan posits a near future (2029, a nod to Blade Runner) where the world has run down, where it’s fallen from the explicit promise of life, liberty, and justice for all, including mutants, embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. By the third act, it’s clear that the United States of the near future depicted in Logan isn’t particularly hospitable to mutants (stand-ins for any number of marginalized, out groups), forcing children, survivors of government-sanctioned, corporate-run experimental research, to flee into Canada, a country that promises inclusion, not exclusion, acceptance, not rejection, of safety and sanctuary, not danger and prison camps (or worse). And it’s all there, not buried deep below the surface, but right at surface level, easy to uncover for moviegoers who don’t mind, even welcome, social, cultural, and political commentary with their wish-fulfillment superhero fantasies.
The implicit plea for compassion, empathy and inclusion makes Logan – again, intentionally or not – essential, vital filmmaking for our time.
Logan, however, opens with a scene, a brutal, bloody, ultra-violent confrontation between Jackman’s Wolverine, an old, broken-down drunk, and Latino gangbangers (racial stereotype alert), but thankfully Mangold and his screenwriting partner, Scott Frank (The Lookout, The Interpreter, Minority Report, Out of Sight, Get Shorty), leave those potentially problematic stereotypes behind once Logan returns home to the Texas side of the Texas-Mexico border. Logan might have left once vaunted position as everyone’s favorite feral mutant in the X-Men universe behind, but he’s taken on an equally important role in the near future: As Charles “Professor X” Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) health has declined, including the onset of dementia-like symptoms that make it difficult for Xavier to control his telepathic and telekinetic powers, Logan has stepped in into a caretaker role. They share a difficult, fraught relationship, filled with daily frustrations, but also something close to mutual respect and admiration. Logan even allows himself a dream: Buy a boat and living on open water with Xavier at his side.
That dream lives Caliban (Stephan Merchant), Xavier’s other caretaker, on the outside looking in. As a pigmentation-challenged mutant with seemingly useless tracking abilities (mutants have all but gone extinct), Caliban can’t spend more than a few seconds in sunlight before suffering terrible, debilitating burns. Together, though, Logan and Caliban give Xavier almost of the support, mental, emotional, and otherwise, to live a reasonably comfortable life in his last years. Without the superhero game as an option anymore, Logan has turned to driving a limo, mostly for self-entitled, obnoxious Americans, to make ends meet. But even this not-so-perfect idyll doesn’t last long. A woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), repeatedly tries to get Logan to help her and her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), reach the U.S.-Canadian border. Like Logan, Laura is a mutant, possibly one of the last of their respective kind. That alone, however, isn’t enough to convince Logan to take a page from the Transporter series and drive them to the border. A tech-enhanced mercenary, Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), with a standing army at his command, however, ultimately forces Logan’s adamantium claws. He wants to return Laura, willingly or not, to his corporate masters.
Choice by choice, decision by decision, Logan becomes reawakened to his true calling (minus the leather or the spandex), slicing and dicing his way toward self-awareness and self-enlightenment.
A road trip of sorts follows, with Xavier, Laura, and Logan attempting to avoid capture (or worse) while bonding. Laura might be the surrogate daughter Logan didn’t know he wanted, let alone needed. Mangold and Frank fill their scenes with a quiet, understated naturalism atypical of the superhero genre. Nothing blows up. No existential threat drops out of the sky forcing them to set aside their differences and fight for the common good. Instead, they bicker and argue over Logan and Xavier’s past and Laura’s future. Bitter from multiple lifetimes of disappointment, Logan rejects the possible existence of a sanctuary in Canada (Wolverine’s birth country, actually) as wish-fulfillment fantasy best left for underdeveloped comic-book readers (the X-Men live on in comic-book form in this particular timeline or future), but choice by choice, decision by decision, Logan becomes reawakened to his true calling (minus the leather or the spandex), slicing and dicing his way toward self-awareness and self-enlightenment (he’s a superhero and superheroes by their nature stand and fight not just for their beliefs, but to save lives).
Whether a Canadian sanctuary exists or not, however, matters far more than Logan imagines: The United States of the near future has no place for Laura or anyone like her (i.e., non-white, non-privileged). That message, intentional or not, simultaneously a critique of our degraded socio-political climate and the renewed influence of white nationalism and white supremacy in political life, American arrogance toward our Southern neighbors as resources to exploit and abuse, and the implicit plea for compassion, empathy and inclusion makes Logan – again, intentionally or not – essential, vital filmmaking for our time.
Logan is full of welcome sociocultural and political commentary, right alongside the requisite wish-fulfillment superhero fantasies, proving that even superhero movies can be true art.