FEATURE: ‘Logan’ and the Resurrection of a Genre
It’s the 1800’s during the Mexican-American wars. A traveling yet reluctant hero with a mysterious past, strolls into a quiet town at dusk. While entering the local saloon he is greeted by a group of bandits who have taken the town hostage. He is forced by a sense of honor to help the local resistance in exterminating these ruffians from within their town’s border. Even though it is against his better nature…
Now this plot setting could apply to any number of classic westerns in American cinema. However, it’s not a plot used in many modern westerns. But with 2017’s Logan; we see our reluctant hero save a child from a group of bandits. Albeit at the reluctance of every fiber of his being honor still calls him to do the right thing. For it’s with this final act of heroism he still finds hope in this dismal dystopian future. Where most of his species has been all but exterminated by the government. Logan completely resurrects the western genre for a modern generation while still holding true to many films that came before it.
Logan was a 2017 comic book film adaption based on Mark Miller’s 2008 comic Old Man Logan. The film was directed by James Mangold and starred Hugh Jackman in the title role. A role in which he played the character of Logan/Wolverine for the better part of 17 years. Including every major X-Men film starting from 2000’s X-Men. However, it is with this film Jackman would make his final appearance as the comic book hero.
The character of Wolverine first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #181 by Marvel Comics and was created by writer Lien Wein in November 1974. Wolverine has been a staple character for Marvel ever since his creation. Being as synonymous with Marvel as other heroes like Spider-Man, Captain America and Iron Man. It wasn’t until Bryan Singer’s live-action X-Men film in 2000 did the character go onto become synonymous with Australian actor Hugh Jackman.
Every X-Men film has taken a certain film genre and integrated into each of their films. As period pieces in X-Men: First Class through next years X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Each film taking on a different decade starting with the 60’s. Each adding more to the lore of the X-Men universe. Logan however, is a futuristic tale that does more than add to the ever-expanding X-Men universe as a simple comic book movie. It brings westerns to the forefront of modern cinema. Jim Hemphill from Talk House adds how while similar Westerns and comic book movies are strikingly different “Apart from a brief period in the mid-’40s during which Hollywood shifted to movies that were either about World War II or designed to provide an escape from it, Westerns dominated American movie screens the way that comic-book movies do now. And while there are parallels between Westerns and comic-book movies, the differences are striking” (Hemphill, Jim. “The Decline of the Western and the Continuing Resonance of The Ballad of Little Jo.”) But it’s with Logan that elevates itself beyond a popcorn comic book movie to completely resurrect the western genre as a film going experience.
However, to understand how Logan reinvented the genre. We first must understand why Westerns declined as a genre. The genre was directly influenced by the Vietnam War of the 1970s. Noah Gittel explains to Michael Agresta of The Atlantic how Westerns initially were more patriotic “Most films of the genre are essentially war pictures, detailing combat between American Indians and frontiersmen.” ( Agresta, Michael. “How the Western Was Lost (and Why It Matters).”) America’s film culture was shifting from the patriotic hero defending his homestead from an attack by savage Indians. To becoming more socially conscious about how colonialism and the American expansion of our manifest destiny was the direct reason for the displacement of many Native American nations. Hollywood has always been at the forefront for many politically driven think pieces. So, when this paradigm shift in American cinema took place; the American western all but disappeared.
This is touched upon in Logan where a Mexican nurse is trying to smuggle a child over the border into Canada. Which is reminiscent of our very own political landscape regarding the Mexican-American border. And the benefits or hindrance this could do to the Canadian population. With an unprecedent number of illegal immigrants fleeing America for Canada. (Semotiuk, Andy J. “Illegal Immigrants Flee To Canadian Border As Trump Cracks Down On Immigration In The U.S.”)
Logan begins in 2029 with the mutant race has been all but exterminated by the governments of the world. A common theme throughout most of the X-Men films and comics. How one select group of people are persecuted for being born different and are exterminated for their race. A theological idea that is very reminiscent of the Jewish people during the Holocaust.
This theme is what Logan is forced to deal with most of his life. Does he act out aggressively towards anyone who sees him as anything but sub-human? Or does he turn the other cheek and sacrifice everything for the greater good? Danielle Berrin touches on this in the Jewish Journal “Does having superpowers [read: Israel] obligate the mutants [read: Jews] to seek peace with the rest of humanity? Or entitle them to wage war at the first sign of human hatred?” ( Berrin, Danielle. “Is ‘X-Men’ a Metaphor for Jewish Survival?)
Logan however at the time of this film has given up on humanity. He is an extreme alcoholic living under the radar of the government on the Texas-Mexican border with his mentor Charles Xavier. James Mangold compares the character of Logan like many classic western heroes who can never stay in one place for to long “He’s a soldier of fortune, a vagabond. Logan is like that Western hero, a man who can never stop moving.” (Vineyard, Jennifer. “The Films That Influenced ‘The Wolverine’.”) This is until a young Mexican woman begs for Logan’s assistants to transport a young Mutant girl Laura to the Canadian border to seek asylum.
Logan literally wants nothing to do with the child or the woman even though this would have been the first mutant born in 25 years since their extermination. It’s not until Charles convinces Logan that this is the right thing to do, does our reluctant hero agree to the job. Director James Mangold adds “Is he frightened of villains? No. Aliens? No. Galactic destruction? No. His own demise? No. But he is scared of love.” (Truitt, Brian. “How Johnny Cash and ‘Shane’ Influenced Hugh Jackman’s ‘Logan’.”) This character arc for Logan was reminiscent to 1953’s Shane. After the dust settles Shane teaches the young boy Joey that killing another man even for the greater good is something he must live with. “Joey, there’s no living with… with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand sticks.” It’s not some galactic destruction that’s driving Charles and Logan to protect this girl. It’s something as simple as doing what’s right against all odds. Even if it means their very own death.
Charles has been hiding out in Mexico ever since an ominous accident occurred a year prior at their mutant school in upstate New York. Charles Xavier has the mutant ability to read minds as a telepath. However, due to his advanced age Charles has developed a degenerative brain disease akin to Alzheimer’s. Which along with his sporadic and at times random seizures can force time itself to stop. Which forces all in the vicinity to suffocate. Only Logan with his mutant ability of cell regeneration can force his way through Charles episodes and sedate him.
Therefore, Logan through all his hurt and pain still cares for Charles. For it was Charles who initially gave Logan a home with the X-Men decades before. When the world saw Logan as nothing but an animal that need to be killed. Now the lone pupil has become the caregiver for his master.
Thus, the two embark on this journey to protect Laura against all odds. Not just from other humans who see her as a lesser species. But from the government who created her. Along the way Logan begins to see himself within the girl.
She was created from his DNA and thus is very much his daughter (albeit more a clone). So, while she has his mutant ability of cell regeneration. She was also forced to undergo the same medical procedure he did that graphed adamantium to her skeleton structure. Adamantium is a fictional metal substance that is supposed to be the strongest alloy on earth. This procedure gives Laura claws between her fingers (just like Logan) and one in her foot.
While slowly coming to know Laura; Logan realizes he must help her. Even if the journey is futile. Giving her the hope of escaping her own extermination is something he must do. Ultimately giving his life for a child he barely even knows. Because she has suffered the same way he has.
Director James Mangold used Logan as not just another comic book movie. He infused his own directing background from 3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line to give you the look of a western. However, he also took elements from past films like Once a Time in the West and The Magnificent Seven (a remake of the Japanese classic Seven Samurai) to give you the feel of a classic Western. While using the back drop of the Texas-Mexican border throughout the film.
Now while he made the film to look like a classic Western, he wrote Logan as a character think piece. Here is a man with extraordinary abilities but is hated all his life for what he is and what he has done. But finding his daughter he’s never even known to teach him to still be the reluctant hero she needs. For if he finds humanity and compassion within himself he can instill the same sentiments into her. And teach her that no matter what she has done in her life, the evil men she’s killed, the people she’s hurt “there’s no living with… with a killing. There’s no going back. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand that sticks.”
Logan wasn’t just a carbon copy of every western film trope that came before it; it is a modern-day western. That will be remembered for many years to come in modern cinema.