|DANGER - SPOILERS AHEAD!!!|
Logan, the new film by James Mangold, and the tenth outing for the Wolverine character from the Marvel Universe, as played by Hugh Jackman, is receiving a lot of critical praise. Released March 1, the film has been called "the Citizen Kane" of comic book films, and compared favourably to the previous benchmark for quality in this sub-genre, The Dark Knight trilogy, by Christopher Nolan. It shares with that trilogy a gritty realism, a downbeat tone, and serious actors at the top of their game. It is however not an urban picture, but, as every critic has noted, a road movie/Western in its DNA. The cliché is to cite Shane, which the picture does itself, as the blueprint, but this is a red herring, since the actual Western it most resembles is The Searchers - let alone In Cold Blood or T2.
Mangold has co-written the film, at a time of Western darkness (Brexit, the rise of Trump) and the film opens on a landscape torn from Beckett by way of Bannon - loudmouthed American youths on stag nights chanting USA! USA! and a massive Mexican border wall. However, as a serious film-maker (his Cop Land and Girl, Interrupted are indie American classics of their kind), Mangold has mainly based his screenplay and directorial vision on a set of Oulipean puns.
In short, his constraint was to make a film with major allusions to other films that a) are one-word titles starting with L or b) titles beginning with L and ending with Ns. In short, for Logan, read: Lolita, Leon, Let The Right One In.
The 3 key elements of the film are derived from the film versions of Lolita, Leon, and Let The Right One In, in uncanny ways. (These are the Uncanny X-Men):
1. The young girl in the film wears sunglasses, is oddly mature for her age, dangerous, and goes on a disturbing road trip across small-town cheap motel America, pursued by a weird man that wants to possess her;
2. The main relationship in the film is between a pre-pubescent girl and a killer, and they form an unlikely, sentimental bond;
3. The little girl appears dark-haired, quiet, melancholy, and vulnerable, but when push comes to shove, can rip a room of people apart, with her bizarre abilities.
There are of course ways to also see the film as a reprise of The Tempest, or the latest Mad Max, or Rebel Without A Cause* (both films share a trio of damaged persons seeking a safe home) and the strength of Logan is that for all its allusions, film puns, and deep reservoirs of cinematic knowledge, it remains a visceral experience - perhaps, literally, the most visceral (it name-checks Nosferatu early on). The fight scenes are startlingly violent (perhaps the most violent I have ever seen in a mainstream picture), made more so by the humanity of the characters, and their vulnerability; the development of secondary roles, especially that of Caliban, is subtle and moving; the soundtrack is haunting and subdued, when not merely deeply troubling.
It is true that critics could easily claim this as yet another celebration of an American cinema that has valorised violence, lone-wolf gunmen in a wild west, and sentimental relationships where broken older men are idolised by children as would-be father figures. I prefer to see it as a hugely intelligent reprise of all that has gone before in its genres, and an attempt to introduce a whole new level of artistry to the action film. It is a must-see, and Jackman is already a shoe-in for a best actor Oscar nomination for this year coming.
* Logan is set around a series of set-pieces, which all concern a nominally (liminally?) safe space/hideaway, culminating in "leaving Eden" for the ironic new land of "Canada" across a vague border among deep woods. Every safe haven is violated terribly - from hotel and motel rooms, to cars, to rusted-out old factory buildings, to farmhouses - nowhere is safe, period. There are guns in the valley - and until the guns are gone, and the men behind them, then the peaceful, decent settlers are threatened with endless returning threat and death.