The repetition principle states that if something happens often enough, persuasion will naturally follow. Exposure plus time equals acceptance. That’s why a phrase as irritating as “YOLO” can worm its way into common lexicon — first through music, then ironic use, then unironic use, and now colloquially.
Logan a.k.a. James Howlett a.k.a. Wolverine in the self-titled “Logan” is forced into ferrying a young, seemingly-mute girl called Laura longitudinally across the country. But as the days tick on, he finds himself less and less motivated by the initial promise of $30,000.
Now, initially, I had reservations about comparing Fox’s latest “X-Men” installment to Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” It seemed like a disservice to both movies to simply compare them as though they were shampoos or avocados. But the more I considered the films and what they mean to their respective franchises, the more I felt compelled to cite “The Dark Knight” while speaking to the strength of “Logan.”
To properly describe what “Logan” means to the “X-Men” franchise, we have to look back at Nolan’s second Batman outing to see how it affects that series.
Both films take a more grounded approach towards the worlds their respective heroes inhabit. “Logan” sets itself about a decade in the future, but, unlike Professor Xavier’s hoverchair in “Days of Future Past,” there’s nothing here that seems truly futuristic. It’s an old western, displaced to the late 2020’s, with technology that wouldn’t look out of place in 2017 (mostly), avoiding the age-old science fiction-flavored risk of dating itself down the line.
“The Dark Knight” goes even further, stripping both hero and villain of anything that may be considered fantastic, placing them squarely within the confines of mortality. Gone is the Joker’s bleached skin and camp lethality (electric joy buzzers, acidic floral lapels, etc.) as well as Batman’s frankly inhuman martial artistry and Sherlockian deductive skills. Replacing these elements are simply two remarkable characters (with the same base traits as their 2D counterparts) on opposite ends of a philosophical spectrum.
A foreboding sense of cynicism permeates through both movies as well, pushing its heroes into places they wouldn’t dare go normally. Grittiness for the sake of itself is something I find appalling in movies, but when done to service to the characters and plot, a more pessimistic tale may at times make sense. Logan is a man down on his luck, barely scraping by, his powers dwindling and most of his friends dead. Bruce Wayne has his back against the wall, the city against him, a terrorist toying with him, and the love of his life in the arms of another, better man. These negative elements are used to display the inner fortitude of the characters — to show that, even in their darkest hour, they’ll fight the good fight.
But what truly elevates these films — what separates the boys from the (super)men, as it were — is the thematic commentary. “The Dark Knight” finds itself wrestling with chaos and order, freedom and security. Batman only succeeds through his use of a sonar device with no few allusions to the Patriot Act, which begs the question: how much of our freedom are we willing to sacrifice to ensure our safety? Now, while “The Dark Knight” was a morality play that used its characters in service of the theme, “Logan” used what little motifs it had to push the characterization to new heights. The type of toxic, self-destructive masculinity associated with Logan is taken to its logical conclusion as he finds himself worse and worse off over the course of the film. Towards the end, when he tells Laura not to be what they made her, to rise above her designed station as a murder machine, you can read between the massively spaced-out lines that Logan’s really begging her to be better than him: desperately lonely, hyper aggressive, emotionally repressed, and ultraviolent.
With its release to near-universal acclaim, “Logan” certainly draws comparison to DC’s own magnum opus. There will be debates on which film was better or which one stayed truer to the characters, but the fact of the matter is, “Logan” elevates the franchise from which it came, just as “The Dark Knight” did in 2008, and there couldn’t be a better sendoff for Hugh Jackman. See ya later, bub.
Photo: James Mangold