Blockbuster offers an unexpected look at the end of life
BY DANIEL GAITAN | firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, we have a superhero film that is not afraid of death.
“Logan” soars as it tackles death and disease — along with showing plenty of guts and gore.
The critically acclaimed flick offers unexpected commentary on aging, caregiving and death in America. It is popular entertainment with a powerful message: we are all going to die, so be ready.
I walked out of the theatre amazed, but I should have seen it coming. Social commentary is nothing new to the “X-Men” universe. The earliest live-action films were some of the first big-budget comic book adaptations to incorporate themes of racism, homophobia, feminism and eugenics.
That’s because an overarching theme in the franchise — and the ’90s animated series I watched as a kid — is compassion and respect for the “other.”
Mutants with varying degrees of power have fought against institutional bias and hate from non-mutants over the years.
LGBT, special needs and minority youth audiences have identified with mutants since they first appeared in Stan Lee’s comic book more than 50 years ago.
Whether it be African weather witch Storm (played by Halle Berry), paraplegic mind reader and team founder Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), or blind team leader Cyclops (James Marsden), there is a mutant for everyone.
It’s ironic that Logan – who has superhuman healing – may become the mutant for the ill and aged.
Logan, better known as The Wolverine, is a killing machine with an indestructible metal skeleton and retractable claws. He can heal from most serious injuries in minutes.
First played by Hugh Jackman, now 48, in 2000’s “X-Men,” he reprises his role for the ninth time in this R-rated installment. It is the best performance of his career.
Now, Logan is tired, cynical — and angry. Years of fighting the system have proven fruitless — and have finally taken a toll on his body (he’s still pretty ripped, even as he walks with a limp). It’s 2029, and mutants are nearly wiped out. The few that survive live in the shadows.
That is where we find Logan in the new film directed by James Mangold. He is working as a driver for an Uber-like company near the U.S.-Mexico border so he can fund his alcohol addiction and procure medicines for 90-something Professor X, who is facing dementia and severe seizures. Xavier – who once had the world’s “most powerful mind” – is slipping away.
The outcasts live in an abandoned smelting plant with albino mutant tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Logan is the professor’s most loyal friend and primary caregiver, so he must deal with his fits, messes and judgement. Baby boomers caring for aging relatives will surely identify with some of the film’s early scenes.
Things change when Logan is approached by Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a nurse for biotechnology corporation Alkali-Transigen. She is seeking help escorting her and an 11-year-old Mexican girl named Laura to a place in North Dakota called “Eden”. Logan agrees — mostly for the promised cash. Caregivers don’t make much money, you know.
Laura (Dafne Keenis) is dangerous — and valuable. Transigen’s security team tracks them to Mexico and they barely escape after an impressive car chase. Unfortunately, Caliban is caught early on and tortured until he uses his powers to track them.
This is where the film really takes off. And yes, things get very dark.
Logan and Xavier learn through a video on Gabriela’s smartphone that Transigen was breeding mutant children using DNA from several mutants for the “X-23” project. But, they found that children were far too difficult to control as they grew older.
Upon completion of the “X-24” project (fully adult and complacent mutants), the children were deemed obsolete and terminated. But Gabriela helped several escape from the Transigen compound before smuggling Laura, who is revealed to be Logan’s biological daughter, across the border. Laura also has superhuman powers. She is, essentially, a stronger, younger Wolverine.
The film functions like an old-fashioned Western: it’s a two-hour chase. Wolverine is slowed down as he cares for Xavier, who is nearing death. Wolverine ignores his own health to comfort him; again, caregivers will identify with this.
“In the real world people die,” Logan tells Laura in a surprisingly moving moment.
Logan is sick and repeatedly refuses medical treatment. He knows his time is ending and is tired of fighting. He has one final mission: saving Laura from Transigen.
If he should fail, Logan has a backup plan to end his suffering: a single bullet made of indestructible metal. He wants to go out on his own terms. The bullet is fired, but not at Logan.
It’s refreshing to see an iconic character grapple with his own mortality.
“Logan” is a rare blockbuster that could be a game-changer, as the Roger Ebert’s Brian Tallerico writes in his glowing review. It is already one of the highest grossing R-rated films, earned an A- CinemaScore and claims a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The New York Observer’s Vinnie Mancuso writes that the film is “the most human movie ever made about characters who are more than human.”
“Logan” may be the last film in the long-running “X-Men” franchise, so dealing with death at this point makes sense.
It’s never too early – or late – to consider and communicate your end of life wishes with loved ones. You may not have super powers, but when the time comes, be prepared to unleash your inner Wolverine.