Is “Logan” Marvel’s Dark Knight?

"Logan" is proof that the greatest superhero movies are the ones that aren't really about superheroes

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Is “Logan” Marvel’s Dark Knight?

Shak Saidjanov, Assistant Editor

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When thinking of the current formula for producing blockbuster superhero films, we usually picture dazzling CGI, comic like action, an undeniably evil villain, and a hero whose morality is never brought into question. Rarely does a film in the ‘superhero genre’ manifest as a grueling character-driven tale with scenes of deep emotional contemplations, naturalistic focuses, morally nihilistic heroes, and ambitiously violent but equally beautiful action sequences.

But surprisingly, that is exactly what Marvel Studios’ final X-Men film Logan delivers.

Gone are the flashy super-humans and epic battles for civilization evident in many other superhero movies such as The Avengers or Batman V. Superman. In their place, a tired, alcoholic Wolverine is dragged one final time into a position of servitude, tasked with transporting a young mutant girl north out of the desert landscape of Texas into Canada, where the corporation that wants to kill off mutant kind can’t reach her. Alongside an old Professor X, the three push north for a final hurrah before fans never hear from Logan and the X-Men again.

The storyline’s specific focus — the salvation of one girl and not millions — enables it to become inherently personal to the viewer. As we witness Logan’s transformation from initial attempts of relieving himself of any heroic duty to eventually caring for the young mutant girl and a dying Professor Xavier, we sympathize with our protagonists in a way that flashy CGI aliens never would allow. The most joyous surprise in watching Logan is that in many ways, it’s easy to forget that we are watching a superhero movie at all; what we witness is a broken man who swears like a sailor, desperately trying to forget the past that continues to follow him wherever he hides.     

Consequently, the most intriguing aspect of this film is that Director James Mangold’s intention with Logan was not to emphasize heroism in the characters, but rather their morally flawed humanity. In an interview with SFX Magazine, Mangold states that “the key is not to think about making a comic-book movie but to think about making a movie and just let the fact that your characters are superheroes be a reality.” Much like how Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was more a philosophical film noir than a traditional superhero flick, Logan is more reminiscent of a classic Western movie, its focus being the character of Logan and not the icon of Wolverine; even the movie title of “Logan” is meant to sharply contrast the usual title of “Wolverine” found in previous installments.

That’s what makes Logan truly beautiful — it’s not just a great superhero movie, it’s a great movie in general.

And with Mangold and Hugh Jackman’s conscious choice to shy away from a PG-13 rating in favor of an R rating, what audiences get is truly not a family friendly endeavor, but a complex movie clearly meant for mature audiences. Besides the violence, which is gruesome and sometimes difficult to watch, long scenes of multidimensional dialogue and concepts between actors Hugh Jackman (Logan) and Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier) provide a breathtaking experience for older viewers but will tire most young audience members.

But even among its grit, humanity, and authenticity, Logan stays true to the nostalgic properties that bring back fans of the series. In many scenes, Logan grudgingly handles an old X-Men comic book, sometimes ranting that “only about half of it happened… and not like this.” Wolverine’s claws are as sharp as ever, but the villains are relentless and looming throughout; their military grade weaponry and steampunk aesthetic remind us that Logan is in for a fight not unlike many before it.

One of the only ways that Logan falters would be being too ambitious with its mature rating. Much of the violence, though cleverly and sparingly used, is needlessly graphic, and a scene in which a woman flashes her breasts at Logan seems unnecessary at best and at worst seems forced. Even so, these occasional overreaches add to the gritty aesthetic of this Western, creating an atmosphere of violence and vice that the mutant children in the film need protection from.

So is Logan to Marvel as The Dark Knight is to DC? Like Nolan’s tale of Batman, Logan is a great superhero movie because it truly is not about superheroes. Its complex narrative, Western vision, cleverly paced story, and precise violence treat the audience to a film that clearly demonstrates that Logan, like Bruce Wayne, is no hero; his powers are seen as a curse, not a blessing, his acts are seen as penance for past sins, not acts of moral valor. Even so, Logan is offered to us as a watchful protector, a silent guardian. Logan, like The Dark Knight, makes us ponder our own morality.

This is the mark of a great superhero movie. The ability to see our own flaws in the characters is infinitely more rewarding than witnessing a man in a leotard saving the day once again. It’s Logan’s vulnerability, not his claws, that we admire in the film, which makes his inevitable demise even more tragic.

As Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” brought Logan to a close and the lights came on in the theater, I felt relieved. Not because the movie was over, but because the journey James Mangold had taken us on had finally come to a close.

Old man Logan, not Wolverine, had effectively brought the X-Men series to an end. That in itself seems pretty heroic to me.  

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What did you think of Logan? Let us know in the comments!