I am not whatever it is you think I am…
We have spent so many years watching story after story where superheroes save the day from certain destruction. It’s at the point where they have become more than superheroes, they have become avatars. They are shorthand for compromised morals, steadfast justice, unbreakable vessels, and contained chaos.
But what if they are more? What if below the capes and above the boots lays a beating heart and a heavy soul. What might become of those most fragile pieces of these indestructible icons after years and years of thinking of everybody except themselves?
What would it take to remind them of how human they truly are?
Set in 2029, LOGAN catches us up with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) many years after The X-Men have disbanded.
Several steps slower, slowly being poisoned by the adamantium in his bones, and far more weathered than we have ever seen him, Logan is living off the grid. He drives a limo for a living and plays caregiver for the increasingly demented “Professor X”, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Now in his 90’s, Xavier is a glimmer of his former self. His telepathy is all but gone, and unchecked, his telekinesis can cause violent earthquake-like phenomena that threaten to kill everyone within a very large radius.
Through alcoholism and drug addiction, Logan continues to try to tend to him. He is helped by a tracker mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), but clearly seems to be playing out a losing game. It’s at this stage that he is approached by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook): a government operative with ties to mutant experimentation. He’s out to get a tighter grip on what mutants remain in America, and offers Logan a job which is quickly refused.
Soon after, Logan is approached again by a woman named Gabriella who is a nurse within Pierce’s organization. She wants him to shuttle an 11-year-old girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to a place called Eden. She claims Laura is gifted, but doesn’t elaborate.
When Pierce and his foot soldiers approach Logan and Xavier again, it becomes clear that their target is the child…and the encounter underlines why.
Laura’s gift is that she too has been infused with adamantium. She too is unbreakable and a lethal weapon. But where Logan has had years of Xavier’s guidance to channel his rage and his abilities, Laura is prone to the impulses and tantrums of any eleven-year-old child. In-short, she’s dangerous.
So it goes that Logan, Laura, and Xavier flee and go on the road, given lots of time together to contemplate the burden of past sins, and the hope of future promise.
LOGAN isn’t out to short-sell the violence of its encounters. They are brutal, they are bloody, and their inclusion hands the film an R rating. Doesn’t matter: LOGAN takes that rating and wears it proudly, leaving several million dollars in ticket sales on the table in the name of better storytelling. The result is sadder, angrier, wore world-weary, and perhaps even more adult.
This is a comic book story that includes plenty of action, but includes far more character exploration. It realizes that sometimes getting to know certain members of a team means pulling focus away from the rest of the team and keeping the spotlight on just a few. The result is deeply affecting, and never once do we find ourselves missing any of the characters who aren’t present.
In the second act of LOGAN comes a dinner. The house is warm, the food is plentiful, and while we don’t see it happen, and even if grace isn’t said grace is certainly present. In this moment, we listen to Logan and Charles Xavier tell this kind family about their past. Charles speaks with sweet sorrow about not being a better teacher, Logan wryly retorts that he wasn’t a good pupil. Their words are laced with both fondness, and regret. The expressions on their faces are a combination of “remember when” and “what if”.
This is where time has brought them; to a point where they aren’t heroes, but instead teacher and student…father and son. They are, at long last, human.
The feeling continues into the next scene, and we are given a moment to consider the true blood bonds that develop between these characters through the pure passage of time. If it’s not a first, it’s a true rarity. We’ve been force-fed stories these characters saving the world from certain destruction, meanwhile left to wonder what they talk about over drinks. How do they affect each-other? Where would they have been without one-another? How do they handle the post traumatic stress and unfathomable loss they experience?
In LOGAN, we see it laid bare.
We consider what would have become of Charles Xavier had he not taken Logan in. We realize how truly rudderless Wolverine would have been had The X-Men not given his life purpose. Invulnerability is a blessing and a curse, and while the curse is that these two men survive so much longer to endure so much more physical and spiritual pain, the blessing is that in their final days, they have each-other.
LOGAN goes to great lengths to remind us how hard it is for both Logan and Xavier to use their powers anymore. How heavy that adamantium inside of Wolverine is weighing him down, how sick it’s making him. Every exertion of telepathy threatens to kill Professor X; every deployment of Wolverine’s claws tears his hands that much harder.
And yet they continue to wield their gifts, if only for a chance that one girl will be able to go on to something better. They will sacrifice for the generation behind them until they have nothing left to give…because even heroes can feel the blood bonds of family.
There is no universe-building here; no easter eggs which need to be seen to set up the plot. This is a straightforward story of sweet surrender. A story of fathers, sons, daughters, repentance, redemption, regret, and renewal. Chances are taken and perils faced, but all in the name of giving the next generation a chance to do better…to get out…to be free of the trauma that has made the previous generation’s life so heavy.
Such is the nature of family.