(Warning: Slight spoilers ahead.)
I’ve been watching a spate of what I call men-in-crisis films. It hasn’t been on purpose, but hey, when you’re the target demographic, you try to go along as best you can.
That meant seeing Logan, the new Wolverine movie—and fortunately, it meant seeing it in the best possible place, the majestic Uptown Theater in northwest DC. The 80-year old theater has a 70-feet wide screen, as well as a balcony.
But we digress. If there were ever a man in crisis, it’s Logan at the beginning of the film. The once-fearsome mutant has been reduced to schlepping around bachelorettes in a ramshackle future version of El Paso. (He’s traded his “X” for a “U.”) He drinks. He fights. He mostly wants to be left alone. He has a secret he’s trying to protect—and for the large majority of the film, his thirst for anonymity crowds out any sense of heroism or morality.
If not morality, the film is a meditation on mortality. Already, in reviews, it’s gained a lot of comparison to The Dark Knight, but, really, it’s a very different kind of work, somber, low-key, and under-stuffed. In that way, Logan reminded less of any comic-book movie I’ve seen (that’s good), and more like Unforgiven, the Clint Eastwood classic about an aging gunfighter.
Logan is a take on that one-final-ride genre (and the film scans more as a Western than anything else, albeit with lots of bloody knife fights, and specifically references Shane), while also incorporating the one-last-job trope. But the stakes are largely personal—things remain on human scale–which gives the film its emotional weight. It’s also quite the political film, explicitly about the protection of helpless refugees who want nothing but a safe haven, and that, and its southwestern setting, makes it a cousin to other films I’ve reviewed on this site, Hell or High Water and Sicario. (Call it #TrumpCinema)
Honestly, I would have liked the film even better if it has almost dropped its superhero trappings completely (as director James Mangold’s previous Wolverine film tried to do until the end with the, you know, samurai robot, a phrase I really liked writing) and made it simply about an aging warrior (with claws, ok) battling a paramilitary force to protect some kids. But he went as far as I’m sure he could given that this was still a studio-backed major picture. And the presence of Patrick Stewart, struggling to contain his abilities, enriches the film immensely.
Logan functions on another level: During the course of a film he becomes a surrogate parent. If The Descendants was about learning how to give, and Arrival centered on the parental journey, Logan is about the sacrifices we’re prepared to make to give our children a better life and about how to guide our reckless, talented offspring forward into their adulthood.
That’s another way in which it differs greatly from Nolan’s films, which were largely explorations of the meaning of heroism and morality in an indifferent urban hellscape. In Logan, heroism is expressed through the lens of family, with Wolverine serving as father-protector of small band of travelers, which gives the story its frontier feel. In that way, the film very much earns its ending, and to its everlasting credit, doesn’t cheat it all, and honors the nobility of its namesake.