Logan and The End of Superheroes
In the year 2000, the movie "X-Men" was released to general acclaim and commercial success and can be said to have marked the beginning of the superhero franchise era of Hollywood cinema, which has held sway for nearly twenty years since. As it stands today, there have been ten X-Men movies and a raft of other iconic and colossally successful film franchises such as Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, the Marvel Cinematic Universe etc. which have all been brilliant in their own right, but have not offered anything as strikingly unique as what was offered by Logan; the final instalment of the X-Men franchise which will feature Wolverine as portrayed by Hugh Jackman.
At first, I thought of Logan, the movie, as a metaphor for how the film industry's conducting itself with regards supehero movies. Making new mutants (movies) from the DNA of mutants with which we're already deeply familiar in the name of profit. As a result of which, these newer mutants would have to be liberated from the clutches of executives (Transigen) where they might go on to self-actualise and find their way while the original version finally dies a deserved death after decades of impeccable service. It wasn't a metaphor that fit perfectly, but I liked it.
At the end of Logan, the crucifix at the head of Wolverine's grave is dislodged from the ground and lodged again into the ground sideways so as to look like the letter "X". This simple act is not only an affirmation of the philosophical and narrative arc of the movie but that of the character of Wolverine as well. Having been the first great star of cinema's superhero era, Wolverine may well be the first to leave it permanently, signaling the beginning of the end for the genre.
Logan is a deep contemplation on & interrogation of the superhero mythology and an investigation on whether or not it is possible for it to take on a different form. As you must when experimenting on such a popular, widely understood and perhaps slightly overdone facet of popular culture as this, director James Mangold sets this film in a stripped down world where he takes everything from Wolverine and his associates whose presence or availability can often be taken for granted.
The haven of the Charles Xavier's academy, the financial security that comes with being under Charles' care, the costumes in which he and other mutants become symbols of hope and justice, the beauty in nature that once surrounded them, hope for a better tomorrow, the belief that joy or love may yet be found, idealism, the avoidance of profanity and graphic violence in order to make the move accessible to teenage audiences; all of these are genre conventions stripped from this movie so that we may see Logan in a harsh, true light. Even his famed nickname is taken from him, save for being mentioned as a bastion of a time gone by. He is, in this, just Logan.
What is most fascinating about this stripping down of traditional features is the degree to which it complicates the past actions of all superheroes ever, not just the ones in this movie. This is shown through Charles Xavier, once the most powerful telepath known, who is now kept constantly contained and medicated as his aging mind is suggested to have triggered some psychic event that caused the deaths of innocents. It's also shown through Logan himself, whose past sacrificial heroics are expressed through violent trauma in his nightmares.
This movie even goes so far as having Logan hold up comic books and saying to Laura, "you do know this is all bullshit right? Maybe only a quarter of this stuff happened and not like this" so as to dispel the fantasies brought to life by those incarnations of him and his friends and expose their inadequacies (The scene where this happens is a remarkable piece of filmmaking as at the time, Laura and Charles are watching a movie when Logan begins his short diatribe against comic books. But when he does this, it's as if he's talking to us through Laura, as we are also sat back watching a movie as well and are the only persons in the room whose perception of comic books and the mythologies therein is the same as Laura's). This point is further illustrated by the gruesome violence we witness in it, previously only suggested dismissively in favour of the bigger picture of having "saved the world", particularly when our three main characters spend the night on a farm and it ends in tragedy for the family that takes them in. It is not only the brutality and violence of the world Logan and Xavier have inhabited this entire time that's on display but also it's arbitrary nature. It can't be said that those people had to or were deserving of death but they did die. Almost as if to take the point home without any audience member mission it, this brutality is carried out by an exact clone of Wolverine.
In a touching scene towards the end of the movie, Logan confesses having contemplated suicide to Laura. This, for me, was the most moving part of the movie; to see a once invincible icon of my childhood reduced to the kind of disenchantment and trauma previously reserved the "real" world where Meryl Streep is the invincible icon. We learn here that the risk of unmitigated devastation lurks close by for those who hold moral power.
Logan reminds me, in many ways, of Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven", oft considered by many to be the last great Western. Both feature an aged version of their traditional protagonists who's lost the desire or even willingness to partake in the things that brought them fame to begin with, riddled with trauma and nightmares about that life and are struggling for confidence on how to take action at times. They both ridicule the conventions of their respective genres as well and try to exhibit, to the audience, the impact and consequences of the actions of their respective protagonists as well in the face of a, more or less, traditional foe. The Western is an ideal analog for the superhero film in this sense.
Towards the end, laying on the brink of admitting defeat, the heroes in both movies choose to engage in one last attempt at the heroism for which they are known in order to protect a group of people who could not defend themselves against the malevolent force they were faced with, just as they would have in the comic books or any prior superhero or Western film. This serves to illustrate that although we've explored emotional and physical territory previously unattended to in this kind of story, we are not meant to go away with the message that all the heroism to which we've become so attached was meaningless or untrue, but that behind those actions lies something more than just a symbol for virtue or justice or victory. There is a person, living, growing, feeling and always at the front row of what we cheer for.
To return to the beginning of this piece, I want to explain why I thought the dislodging of the crucifix and lodging of the "X" in its place was revolutionary to me. It seemed to be a rejection of the Christ allegories that are so incredibly rife in superhero movies of all kinds and acceptance of Logan as being "mere mutant-kind" so to speak. It was a way of saying "here lies one of X-Men" then leaving to all who see it to decide whether they saw a hero, villain, just another grave or nothing at all. One last stripping down of all the romance and exaggeration associated with this genre. Every layer of embellishment peeled away yet the knowledge that the small truth of that which you've cherished is still valuable.
Though I can't say I won't be sad to see the superhero genre gone, I am excited. Westerns went away and we got neo-Westerns, which are basically a remaining of that old genre that doesn't bastardise or mock it's legend. There's an opportunity here to do something vastly more interesting. I hh hope it's realised.
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