No More Claws Left in The Valley (Logan’s Coda)

A quick note on spoilers. There will be. Major ones. I’m not writing this post to entice people to go see this masterpiece (though if you haven’t stop reading and go out and see it NOW!), but rather to express my own experience.

Well here it is. The end of an era. The light is going. All good things must come to an end, but what an end. A sad, somber, violent, somehow glorious and absolutely fitting end. James Mangold’s “Logan” is a mature, riveting requiem for the character, and if Hugh Jackman and this cinematic Wolverine must come to a close, how appropriate it is that it is with blood, reflection, and redemption.

First, a threecap. 1. Me. 2. Meta. 3. Mythos.

1. It’s no secret I’ve been a Wolverine fan my whole life. As far back as I can remember, he was always my favorite superhero. Part of it was a personal connection. See, I was always the short kid in class, and I didn’t like that, but here come the X-Men, and the coolest and toughest of all is short Wolverine. I liked that. Yellow became my favorite color. I was Wolverine for Halloween. And I adored the animated series.
Coming home to this at 4 in the afternoon almost made school worth it. And of course there were Saturday mornings. The ’92 cartoon opened a world of fantastic superheroics with deep, rich characterizations, and always at the forefront was Wolverine. A tortured mutant with a troubled past, who found himself a family in his new team. Wolverine’s relationship with Jean Grey may have been my first exposure to unrequited love.

When I was a kid there were 3 movies I always hoped they would make. Rocky 6. Ghostbusters 3. And an X-Men movie. Finally, in 2000, we got one.
And my fandom grew and grew. X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Deadpool, X-Men Apocalypse, and now…Logan. Bryan Singer created a franchise, breathtaking and monumental.

And maybe it’s silly, but every couple of years, when Wolverine had a new movie out (2009, 2013, 2014), I would grow my chops out. You get the picture. Huge influence on me. My number one hero.

2. Hugh Jackman was an unknown when he was cast as Wolverine way back in 1999.
This Aussie newcomer would surprise the world with his masterful performance, perfectly capturing the strength and vulnerability of the character. At 6’2, Jackman was no shortie, but he still conveyed the fact that Logan is the eternally persistent underdog. The mutant the whole world wrote off, but he keeps coming back, again and again, unstoppable. From X-Men, Jackman’s was launched into mega-stardom, becoming one of Hollywood’s premiere stars and eventually hosting The Oscars.
The Boy from Oz made good, and for all his roles, from The Prestige to Les Miserables, both Jackman and the fans would always have one character in our hearts.

Has any actor ever been so thoroughly associated with a superhero? Christopher Reeve’s Superman was certainly iconic, but the extremely popular television portrayal by George Reeves was still fresh in the minds of much of the audience, and he would be followed by Dean Cain only six years after his final performance. Now Henry Cavill portrays the Man of Steel for a new generation. The point is, there have been plenty of Supermen and Batman, and a couple Spider-Men as well. Dozens of Sherlock Holmes and a handful of James Bonds.

But there has only been one Wolverine. I say this with full respect to Cathal J Dodd, who first gave the character a voice for me to hear. Hugh Jackman brought the character to life, and through mutual loyalty of filmmaker and fans, has faithfully portrayed that role starring in 7 films, with significant cameos in 2 others. They’re inseparable by this point. Recasting is inevitable, maybe 5 years, maybe 10, maybe sooner. That’s the way of Hollywood, and I get it. There are more stories to tell. But Jackman made his mark, and that’s never going away. He is Wolverine.

3. To preface “Logan”, let’s recount the character’s history through this franchise.
The life of Jimmy/Logan/Wolverine has been filled with tragedy, war, death, and hatred. From a sickly childhood, the deadly reveal of his father, war after war, brother by his side, he was turned into a weapon and that appeared to suit him. Everyone he loved, from Kayla Silverfox to Jean Grey, he would lose, and inevitably feel responsible. Yet for all his tragedy, Logan persists. He joins the X-Men. He saves the world. He goes back in time and gives young Charles Xavier hope, as the Professor would for him one day. He’s the best he is at what he does, but what he does isn’t very nice. That’s his motto, but with the X-Men, finds a place, and the true use for his power.

“Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.”

And now it comes to a close, in the brutal, no-holds barred mediation on the fate of the character, simultaneously devastating and inspirational, that is James Mangold’s “Logan”.

First of all, this is a bleak movie. I don’t just mean that seeing the end of this era and character will, if you’re anything like me, rip your heart out with adamantium claws and leave you weeping like a bloody puddle of tears. It’s a movie that goes for your feels, right in the throat and doesn’t let go. Overall, one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had at the movies, and I say that as a well-established cinephile.

“Logan” opens up in dire times. The year is 2029. Most mutants have died out of one cause or another, and there hasn’t been a new mutant birth in 25 years. Logan himself, now drives a limo in El Paso under his old real name, Jimmy Howlett. Nobody knows who he is, and nobody would care if they did. All his enemies are dead, but so are most of his friends. He’s pushing 200, and it shows. He’s alcoholic, doesn’t heal as well as he used to, and his claws don’t come out all the way. It turns out that the adamantium fused to his bones, the very thing that gave him such strength, is slowly poisoning him. Right from the start, you have to see your hero fade, and it is painful.

Logan takes care of Professor Charles Xavier south of the border, keeping his perennial father figure in a rusty dome that keeps his psychic seizures contained- or so is the intention. Now America’s most wanted mutant fugitive, nonagenarian Xavier suffers from dementia- he has some degenerative brain disease that manifests itself In dangerous seizures that temporarily paralyze everyone in a wide range. In his few moments of lucidity, Charles tells Logan what a disappointment he’s turned out to be. Logan loudly wonders if mutants were only ever God’s mistake. Like I said, brutal. Yet there is an unspoken tenderness in these early scenes. You can’t help but think that tough longer Logan could leave at any moment. Why be burdened by such a responsibility? Why scrimp every dime he has to buy medicine for such an old and far gone man who’s days are numbered? The implicit understanding is that Xavier is the last person Logan has left, the final connection to the X-Men. Logan loves Charles, burden that he is, and the fact that he stays by his side and cares for him, however begrudgingly.

The third survivor in this grim refuge is Caliban, an albino with mutant tracking skills whose skin burns in the sun. Stephen Merchant’s performance is surprisingly affecting. He’s appropriately forlorn, noting that Logan and Xavier’s plans to buy a boat and hit the ocean hardly leaves room for him. He also can smell the adamantium of the bullet Logan keeps, correctly ascertaining it’s suicidal purpose. Logan is contemplating ending it all, but what keeps him going. Logan and Caliban’s relationship, is terse and pragmatic, but as with Xavier, there is a stirring commitment, a loyalty that may not manifest itself with warm affection, but remains nonetheless. These survivors must stick together.

I won’t get too much into the plot details, again, it’s about detailing my experience.

Laura, aka X-23, is like Logan, very much like him. Dafne Keen is an exceptional discovery. She brings all the ferocity the role needs- this is a movie not afraid to impale an 11 year old girl in the chest, so long as she gets right up and decapitates her attackers- as well as a childlike spirit and finally a moving pathos in her arc. Artificially engineered in a lab, she was also designed to be a weapon. At only 11 years of age, she is already a superhuman fighter with claws of her own. She could walk the animalistic path, be the weapon she was designed to be, but she is saved by compassion. First from Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez), whose sense of basic human decency made her try to rescue as many of the children the Transigen corporation has created. Gabriella instills Laura with hope with X-Men comic books- one of the fascinating things about the movie is its own deconstruction of the fictionlized mythology. This is a world where the X-Men exist in fact and fiction. Logan grumbles that only a quarter of what was in those books ever happened.

Laura needs the help of Logan and Xavier. Logan doesn’t want to take on another straggler, but Xavier sees that the girl needs them. As Logan’s clone, he points out, she is sort of his daughter. Besides, isn’t it really in his nature, admit it or not?

His introduction in this franchise saw Wolverine taking troubled runaway Rogue under his wing. Frightened by her own powers, Rogue has no one to help her and nowhere to go. Logan sympathized with her, and together they joined the X-Men, gave these geeks a shot, and the rest is history.

And so it goes with Wolverine. Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Jubilee. Fierce and solitary as he considers himself, Logan always thrives as a big brother, a mentor, a father figure. He is not an animal.

The paradox of the character is that while Logan is so seemingly fitted to a brutal life of pain and seclusion, by nature, by man’s experiments, and by the violence and loss he leaves behind him, he invariably is drawn to a team, a family, someone to care for and fight for. In this film we see him care for Charles, his last remaining friend, take on Laura as his daughter, and they befriend the Munsons, a Christian family who insist that The Lord will provide. This is the most overtly religious of the X-Men movies. It’s a painful and heartfelt story of lost wanderers (but not all who wander are lost), people in need and in search of the light, and how redemption can come to even the most unlikely of God’s creatures.

It hurts so much because the characters are so real. There’s a scene where Logan takes Charles to bed, reminding him to take his medicine and offering him the remote, is he wants to watch TV.  The mundane somehow makes it memorable, because you can see these characters as not simply comic book superheroes, but as real people, with real pain, but that lingering hope that somewhere, over that next hill, Eden is waiting. Or how about the scene where Charles and Laura watch Shane on the hotel TV and he tells her it’s a movie he saw as a young man. He’s the most powerful psychic Marvel has to offer, but more than anything else right now, doesn’t he just remind you of a grandfather?

This is Sir Patrick Stewart’s final bow as well, and what a powerful note to end on. Stewart has brought gravitas to the role since the beginning, and while James McAvoy is pitch perfect as the younger Professor X, the good knight will be missed.

In Logan, Charles has also reached the end of his days. In one of the most devastating bombshells, we learn that his psychic seizures killed 7 of the remaining X-Men. It seems to be night now, but what was it he told himself?

“It’s not their pain you’re afraid of Charles, it’s yours. And as frightening as it can be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, .it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It’s the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking. And it comes from the most human part of us: hope. Charles, we need you to hope again.”‘

Charles has always been a man who carries great pain, but keeps eternal hope. In a world that rejected and persecuted mutants, he gave them a haven, a home.

He took in all those lost children, and made them his own. Now, in their final chapter, he encourages Logan to do the same. He tells him he can still know a normal life. He can be a father to Laura. “Logan, you still have time.”

One of the most brilliant but unsung things about the movie is that even the villains are pitiful. Oh, I don’t mean they’re ineffectual or less than menacing. Indeed, X-24 is as daunting a physical opponent as Wolverine has faced in this entire franchise, Dr. Zander Rice But he is a newborn, and though wild, mute, and seemingly mindless, he clings to his father.

What to say about Richard E. Grant’s brilliantly understated Dr. Zander Rice? He’s achieved more against mutant kind than Stryker or Trask ever did, and in his own subtle way, is as powerful and significant a foe as Sebastian Shaw or Apocalypse. They were superpowered megalomaniacs who sought world domination. Rice is a pragmatic scientist who illustrates the banality of evil in as nuanced as I’ve ever seen in a movie. He didn’t start out trying to kill off the mutant race, per se, just put his genetic poison in home products and breakfast cereal to “cure” them, like Polio, he states, matter of fact. Rice only makes his villain speech at the goading of the swaggering Pierce- who shows an affecting frailty in his last panicked moments, trying to sic X-24 on the young mutants. One of the lasting chords of Grant’s performance is the general sense of detachment he brings to the role. He mentions that his father was on the Weapon X project that created Wolverine in the first place, and dryly acknowledges that Logan probably killed his father.

You see what I mean by pitiful, don’t you? Racing to stop the runaway mutants before they cross the Canadian border (out of their jurisdiction), and hoisted on their own petard, they’re the final foes Logan and Xavier have to face, but they’re so vulnerable in their own right, that it just drives home how fragile and dangerous this cruel world is. I did want Mr. Sinister, but after watching this film, and its villains as grounded and subdued as the heroes, I realized what a fitting choice that was.

The ending makes such an impact because you see it coming. This is Logan’s last stand, and he knows, it, we all know it. I kept wishing for something over the border, some miraculous lab that can cure his adamantium poison and let him walk it off, as he always does, into the sunset. But there is no fairy tale. There are only the mutant children, and he has to protect them in his final moments. Logan is the last of a dying breed, and he makes the conscious choice to make his last charge.

Ultimately, the relationship between Logan and Laura is the heart of the story. They didn’t ask for this, any of it, but they have to accept, and in bonding, they can save each other. Old Man Logan, who has lived plenty of life and taken it too, tells young Laura, already a budding killing machine, that she has to live with every death she inflicts.
“They were all bad people,” she responds.
“All the same,” says a man who knows what he’s talking about,

Logan’s final, greatest redemption may be simply this, to recognize who Laura is, and to guide her off that dark and violent path he went down. “Don’t be what they made you.” He tells her simply as she takes his hand, begging her Daddy, as I was begging my hero, not to go. But all things come to an end, and in his last mortal moments, Logan finally knows what it is to be loved. But it’s not really over, is it? You’re a hero, Jimmy, you can never be over.

Deadpool’s just getting started, X-Men: Supernova and The New Mutants are on the horizon. The franchise will continue. And for our old friend, Logan? He’s always been a healer, and nothing could ever keep him down. He lives on, in our hearts, in our fandom, and in his legends.

Rest in peace, bub.

About the author: brianzblogger

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