Written by: Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green (screenplay) and James Mangold (story)
I almost never hate a superhero movie, but I seldom love one, either.
Which is part of their megamass-appeal point; they’re the Burger King Double Cheese Whoppers of cinema. And over the last decade, since “The Dark Knight” (love), I’d started thinking they really worked for me only when they veered deeply into comedy — “Iron Man,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Deadpool,” the new “Thor,” all those 21st century descendants of “Men in Black.” But “Logan” made me revise my theory: hardly a joke in sight, but nonetheless a very fine, impressively peculiar example of the genre. It’s superhero movie as unglamorous noir realism, and not just because of the southwestern location shooting and bare minimum of CGI. Within the fantastical imperatives of an “X-Men” vehicle, the writers — Scott Frank, Michael Green, and director James Mangold — committed to real-world cause and effect from the get-go: “Should anyone in our story … fall off a roof or out a window,” the script explains on page 2, “they won’t bounce. They will die.” The premise and mise-en-scène are dark and sad: an alcoholic, middle-age, working-class loser caring for his elderly, demanding, bedridden de facto father in the desolate Texas-Mexico borderlands, both waiting to die in their grungy DIY hospice. The title character also has a damaged daughter, and a main plot device amounts to at least an allegorical version of dementia. An unorthodox pitch for a $100 million franchise picture, but as it turns out a perfect end-stage extrapolation for “Wolverine’s” angry brawler character and grisly lo-fi superpower. The relationships among the three main characters are written in more plausibly human and tragic fashion than I’ve ever seen in such a movie.
“Logan” is like a magical-realist Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver,” “Blue Collar”) or Clint Eastwood (“The Outlaw Josey Wales”) film from the 1970s. In fact, the big opening fight scene, in which the white hero butchers a whole gang of Mexican-American criminals, struck me at first as shockingly retro, like something borrowed from “Death Wish” or “Dirty Harry.” (The apparent quasi-racism is nullified a few scenes later when we learn that Logan’s daughter and her angelic savior are both Mexican.) The brilliant final shot of the film, a tree-branch cross on a fresh grave that tips over to become an X, struck me as ’70s-portentous, “Jesus Christ Superstar” meets “Billy Jack.”
But “Logan” also has excellent post-’70s, post modern touches — a scene in this neo-Western where the main characters watch “Shane,” another in this “X-Men” movie where the titular superhero dismisses X-Men comics as bullshit make-believe. Which reminded me of the self-conscious genre subversions I enjoy so muchin “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Deadpool.” As super-expensive, digital-over-dependent comic-book spectacle becomes Hollywood’s mainstay, it’s heartening to see that at least the Marvel sector of the fantasy-industrial-complex doesn’t only produce bland and manic meh.
Andersen is the bestselling author of “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History,” and of the novels “Turn of the Century,” “Heyday,” “True Believers” and (with Alec Baldwin) “You Can’t Spell America Without Me.” He’s also host and co-creator of “Studio 360,” the Peabody Awardwinning public radio show, and contributes regularly to the New York Times. Previously, he was co-founder of Spy magazine, editor-in-chief of New York, design critic for Time, and cultural columnist for the New Yorker.