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LOGAN: Pop-culture, Cinema and Manliness in the 21st Century

It seems hard to believe that LOGAN is the nineth film in the X-Men franchise that started all the way back in 2000 with the aptly named X-Men. It's a cliche to say of a sequel that "the original was better" and this does tend to be the case. That said, LOGAN is by far the best of the entire X-franchise. It isn't an understatement to say that this is a film of some considerable emotional inertia. Many of us have followed these characters since the heady days of 1980's when Chris Claremont did what many consider to be the most successful run on any comic book yet published.  From the time Claremont took over the X-Men in 1975 he took them in directions no one had ever seen in more conventional superhero yarns. Just as Gene Roddenberry redefined science fiction with Star Trek, Chris Claremont elevated the medium of comics by infusing them with themes rarely seen if at all: overt racism, ethnic cleansing, and self sacrifice that resulted in the death of one of the major characters: Jean Grey. Something that was virtually unknown in comics in 1982 when Phoenix died in X-Men #137, oddly the same year that Spock died in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. By the time Claremont and Marvel had parted ways acrimoniously he'd already reshaped the landscape of comics and left behind a legacy that really has yet to be equaled since that time. 

Bryan Singer was the director who would bring us X-Men (2000) which would have as profound an effect on cinema as Claremont did on comics. Ditching the colorful costumes of the comics for the sharper wardrobe choice of The Matrix, Singer gave us a superhero story that was compelling, morally ambiguous and relentlessly entertaining. Much of the success of that film rests on the decision to cast then unknown Aussie actor Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and Patrick Stewart who for many will forever be identified with Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's a shame that many in the nerd-set dismiss the first X-film now, because without it we wouldn't be enjoying either the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) or the DCEU (DC Entertainment Universe). I think an argument can be made that the current cycle of super-cinema that we're currently in the middle of really kicked off with The Matrix(1999).  Whatever you might think of that film you cannot deny that it introduced a style of action that was much closer to comics than to, say, the typical DIE HARD movie. It showed what could be done and allowed film makers to fully realize what previously only existed in the pages of comics. 

Any film series is going to have occasional lapses in judgement and continuity and the X-movies are no different. Looking at them collectively one is stunned by the quality and power of X2 and by the equally stunning disaster that was X3, a movie that we must blame entirely on the director Brett Ratner who is most famous for the Rush Hour films. What can also be admitted is that even though some of the films fell short there was at least an effort to give each one their own character. For me the X-films never felt obligatory or episodic but always seemed to build on what had been done before in a clear attempt to develop the characters rather than merely recycle them as is par for the course with many an action franchise. If Wolverine is the main character in both the X-comics and the X-films it can only be because the majority of the audience for both are young men who see much in him that they also see in themselves. Mutants in the world of the X-Men are forever outsiders, but Wolverine is an outsider even among mutants: the blackest of black sheep given his deep sense of disconnection and his rage that is second only to Bruce Banner's. Unlike most good guys Wolverine never even "got the girl". Jean Grey died in both the comics and the movies, and even though she was retconned that theme has been pervasive in all versions of the X-saga. It's also a point of interest that Wolverine isn't a superhero in the standard mold. He's not handsome the way Bruce Wayne and Captain America are and never was. In the comics he was short, and his rough facial hair made him look more like a biker so tough he didn't need a motorcycle. Had the decision to make an X-Men movie happened in the 70's doubtless Jack Nicholson would have been the perfect cigar chomping choice. 

Taking Hugh Jackman's astonishing run as the character to it's final chapter was something I admit I was cynical about. Like most fans I was disappointed with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It wasn't as bad as many claimed but the decision to maul Deadpool was seen by many as a sin as unforgivable as the Joel Schumacher Batman movies. The one thing everyone agreed on was that Hugh did a good job and was never anything less than professional. Same with the equally disappointing The Wolverine. Yes, we all know that Wolverine is tough...but atom bomb resisting tough? Really? But again, any faults in the movie were seen as being those of the director and the script. Never Hugh. Hugh Jackman embodies and inhabits Wolverine in a way that is rare to say the least. One has to go back to Christopher Reeve as Superman to find a comparison on equal footing. I've heard some make the same remarks about Robert Downy Jr. and I'm sorry, but while I like Robert...he doesn't convince me for one second that he's Tony Stark. He's just Robert being Robert. That's always been his acting style. He natters to himself even when he's talking to other people. In many ways he's more mannered than William Shatner and just as easy to mock.

LOGAN took Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and the audience to a place no one was expecting. The very first line in the movie is the word "fuck" spoken with such casual disgust that right away we know we're not going to see anything resembling the zinger-filled world of The Avengers. LOGAN is a movie as dark as Fight Club, with our homeless hero hiding out in the desert and working a dead end job merely to pay for Professor X's medication as he wrestles with dementia. In effect what we see is Wolverine placed in the odd position of having to take care of his "father" without medical insurance. A timely theme to say the least. As the film progresses Logan will find out that he has a daughter, that mutants are being harvested as children, and he will be taken to a place of darkness so absolute that only the love of a daughter will be enough. The 'Logan' of the movie LOGAN is a man filled with bitterness, failure and self-doubts as his own body begins to betray him and the source of his extreme durability, adamantium, is now the cause of his tragic demise. It would be as if Captain America suddenly discovered that not only does he have terminal cancer but that the cause of the cancer was his own shield. It is weird that many of us who grew up with Wolverine now feel as he does with the weight of age upon us. 

When Logan says to his own daughter "I suck at this", I was taken aback at how often I've said those exact same words to myself as I struggle at times with being a father to my own children. LOGAN gives us a Wolverine that has never been more vulnerable, but also the most poignant. We see him both as a struggling "son" to the ailing Xavier while seeing him attempt to come to grips with being a parent to the ultimate troubled teen. These are not themes one expects to find in a superhero film. Batman's parents are dead, and Superman's relationship with his father is comparable to Hamlet's occasional conversations with a ghost. As we look back at Hugh Jackman's Wolverine we see a man alone...battling against circumstances like the Sisyphus of Greek legend pushing a stone forever up a hill. Wolverine never really knew what he was fighting against until he found purpose and hope with Xavier against racist humans (Stryker) and mutant extremists (Magneto). Who could have foreseen that Wolverine's final battle would be with his own self-hatred, and that in the end he would win? 

 

 

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