Logan: The Australian Review

Logan: The Australian Review

Logan comes out today, finishing Wolverine’s story with a film that has the potential to redefine what a superhero movie can be. I went along to a screening with Gizmodo’s Amanda Yeo, and after chewing over our thoughts for a couple of days we sat down for a conversation about it. Here’s what we think of Marvel’s Logan.

Amanda: I went to see Logan with cautious optimism. The trailers looked fantastic. The story sounded like it would bring something new to the superhero film genre. However I’d been burned by good trailers for bad films before (hi Suicide Squad), and there have been some real X-flops in the past.

But, it’s unfair to compare Logan to past X-films. Logan is a different country. While the X-films, and indeed most superhero films, portray their protagonists at their arsekicking peak, Logan is what happens when time marches on and reality ensues. Bodies break down. Regrets accumulate. Friends disappear. The film’s tone is of death and dying, not with a bang but with a whimper, a fade into mediocrity, then obscurity, then obsolescence.

With a description like that, you’d think that there would be a lot of navel gazing, a few “what is life?” conversations and staring into the middle distance for long periods of introspection. But this is still a superhero film, and an MA15+ superhero film at that, with all the action the title entails.

In fact, the first thing that really stood out to me about Logan was the blood. There was so much blood! And maiming! It’s the kind of blood and maiming you’d expect from an action film wherein the protagonist has ridiculously sharp knives sticking out between their knuckles. It felt dangerous in a way that previous X-films didn’t, the logical conclusion to fighting with adamantium claws. The gore wasn’t stylised or gratuitous – it was simply fact, and satisfying as a result. Rather than distract from the tone, it added to it.

Hayley: I think I saw exactly one trailer for Logan before seeing the film, and while I was impressed by Marvel’s restraint in not putting a singular explosion in it, I can’t claim I was too hyped for it. As a rule I generally don’t like superhero films — but I’m not sure I agree with Amanda that Logan was a superhero film at all. It’s certainly not a superhero film we’ve seen before.

Now, I don’t think the level of blood or gore in a film really has any impact on whether said film is good or not (sorry Amanda), but I do agree that the action in Logan was great. It managed to stride the line between realistic and superhuman with a level of grace I haven’t seen in any other superhero film. I usually just tune out as soon as Marvel movies get to ridiculously overpowered yet totally insubstantial action scenes, but the action in Logan was viscerally satisfying in the way all superhero movies should be.

One of Logan‘s biggest achievements: it nailed the ‘gritty reboot’ in a way that few so-called ‘gritty reboots’ ever do. I know Logan is less a reboot and more of a sequel slash alternative universe continuation (or something, no one’s ever made it clear where it sits), but it does the concept justice.

Logan is good gritty — eschewing the shiny tech, beautiful architecture and fast cars of other movies in the genre for a dusty, beat-up aesthetic. Even in a future where giant quadrupedal robots harvest corn for the thriving high fructose corn syrup market (too real), the characters can still travel cross-country over dusty roads in a beat-up old pick up truck.

I think the main reason Logan does this so well is because it’s not afraid to touch on themes you usually wouldn’t see in superhero films — Logan is not gentle in its depiction of mental illness and physical wasting, doesn’t shy away from poverty and is possibly the only big-budget Hollywood film where you’ll see a young girl so thoroughly beaten up on by unrepentant adults.

Logan: The Australian ReviewImage: Supplied

And, as Amanda pointed out — there’s such a big focus on death. Not superhero movie death where you know some deus ex machina is going to come along and bring the hero miraculously back to life when you ‘least expect it’ — but real death, and what inevitably must come after it.

Amanda: I agree in that copious amounts of gore do not a good film make, but I’d say that here it serves a purpose and makes sense. Logan would have had a much more difficult time nailing that ‘gritty reboot’ sensibility had it confined itself to a level of viscera acceptable to a lower rating.

That being said while Logan does nail the ‘gritty reboot’, the worldbuilding was a little unclear to me. It seemed like it wanted to evoke the lawlessness of a post-apocalyptic society, or the Wild West. But then Logan was driving a limo, chauffeuring around carefree women in wedding dresses and boys in ugly formal suits.

I suppose it could be that only Logan’s little section of the world has fallen apart, while the rest of the world keeps turning without him. That would make sense, and even be a bit poetic. But it isn’t reflected in the way other characters behave. Where are the police during all this? Where is the government? You’d think that, if there was a functioning society going on outside Logan’s world, he would butt up against it, what with the trail of bodies he leaves in his wake. But even with this quibble, it wasn’t an overwhelming issue — the story pulled me along and was entertaining enough that I could forgive and forget such quirks.

Logan: The Australian Review

As Hayley mentioned, one of the great things that Logan does is to face themes that other superhero films — or indeed most action films – generally avoid. And it doesn’t only touch on them – it sprints at them, full tilt, claws out and screaming. Superhero films are usually two hours of fun escapism. In contrast, Logan punches you with mortality.

The deterioration of Logan’s body, through both age and repeated injury, is confronting when compared to how indestructible he has previously been depicted. Professor Xavier, known for his sharp intellect as much as his psychic abilities, rambles and whines, no longer in control of his own mind let alone anything else. They serve as a reminder that nothing is forever. You could be the best at what you do, but one day you will no longer be able to do it.

It’s a very depressing, persistent theme. But even so, it never gets to be too much or too depressing. This is because of Laura. Logan was really all about Laura, AKA X-23, played by Dafne Keen. Yes, the film is named for Hugh Jackman’s character, and yes it does feature a wonderfully pottymouthed Sir Patrick Stewart (the source of some of that aforementioned humour).

Yet Keen’s Laura is the main event. From her first action sequence, I couldn’t get enough of her. Even when she doesn’t speak, there’s a fierceness and surety in her — she knows exactly what she’s doing and doesn’t need to justify herself to anyone. Where Logan and Xavier are fading, she is rising, bright, headstrong and brutal.

Logan: The Australian ReviewImage: Supplied

Initially I was concerned about how Laura would be treated on the big screen. When the character was first introduced in the comics in 2005, there was no shortage of fans taking umbrage at the introduction of a female Wolverine clone, feeling that Logan was being forcefully replaced. But Laura is very clearly not another Logan, and she is taking nobody’s place. She’s making her own place, building a tower rather than filling a hole. She’s experienced firsthand the violence of how it was, and it’s now on her to determine how it will be. Laura is the next generation and through her life goes on, even in the face of so much death.

Hayley: I’m with you there, Laura was definitely my favourite part of the movie — and this with the context that usually I hate kids, child actors and any type of fiction that attempts to make children the main focus. Keen’s performance is key to this, thankfully proving her to be a level above the usual standard of child actors.

I guess one of the reasons Laura works where so many other little on-screen brats fail is that she’s so wonderfully, weirdly un-childlike. When her more ‘childish’ traits do show through a usually stoic and solemn demeanour, they make for beautiful little moments where we see through her eyes. This happens more and more as the film progresses — Logan closes off and Laura opens up and the movie subtly shifts its perspective. They way this story has been told is really well done.

I have to admit that I didn’t have the same problem with the worldbuilding as Amanda did — I loved it. One of my favourite little things about the setting was the weird, fourth-wall nudging fact that the X-Men comics do physically exist in this world. Many of the characters have read them, comparing Jackman’s Logan to the Wolverine that they read about in their comics. He’s as much a reclusive celebrity as he is a superhero, constantly forced to explain that the comics were more some author’s fantasy than a chronicle of what really happened. One kid carries around an action figure of Wolverine in his distinctive yellow outfit from the comics. It’s another little detail that serves to set Logan aside from many of the more ‘fantastical’ comic book adaptations.

More broadly, I loved that the film didn’t feel the need to tell you everything that was happening in its world. You only got the parts of it that directly impacted Logan and Laura. And they’re really what this movie is about at its core. It’s a surprisingly intimate story. There’s no grand ‘save the world’ or ‘protect the innocent’ plot in play, and there’s certainly no sinister energy laser beaming into the sky that the heroes have to stop. You do, of course, find out some details about the baddies’ grand plots and plans, but it pales in comparison to the story of Logan and Laura just… getting to know each other.

Logan: The Australian Review

Speaking of the bad guys, though, I feel like they were Logan‘s biggest disappointment — if I had to pick something to complain about, which I’m surprisingly disinclined to do with this film. While Boyd Holbrook is legitimately enjoyable to watch as Laura’s ruthless yet charismatic pursuer Donald Pierce, there’s nothing about him or Richard Grant’s ominous doctor Zander Rice that is new or interesting in the way its protagonists are.

They fall into the usual superhero movie trap of being too one-dimensional, too randomly amoral, too evil. Granted that does give Logan more time to spend building up its heroes instead, but the times that the bad guys are on screen are the times when Logan most resembles the rest of the bland, indistinguishable superhero movies that Hollywood is currently saturated with.

One thing I am very glad of is that Logan avoided the lure of two notorious Marvel staples — the tie-in and the cameo. The aforementioned comic book thing was as far as they really went with this — there were no gratuitous Marvel TV show characters popping in to say hello, no characters introduced with that “I’ll be back” set up for their own films, nothing. In Logan, Marvel has finally managed to stick with the one film they were actually making.

Logan just isn’t your average Marvel movie. If you go expecting a superhero movie you’ll probably be disappointed, or at least mildly confused. But it’s a great film. I might even go far as to say that Logan is the first superhero movie that’s also just a good film — no caveats needed.