‘Logan’ director takes Wolverine character in unexpected new direction

by

Special To The Japan Times

There’s a scene in “Logan” — the latest addition to the “X-Men” franchise — where an aged, ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart) exhorts Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), to open his mind to the possibility of a normal human existence, with a family to love and care for.

The year is 2029, and the mutants are all but extinct. Logan is one of the very last survivors after living over two centuries as a ferocious, fearless, claw-endowed super-being with amazing powers of physical recovery. On the other hand, he has been hurt and abused, by evildoers and authority figures alike. He was betrayed time and again and had to bear witness to the suffering and deaths of his X-Men comrades. Yet, listening to Professor X, a look of hope flits across Logan’s face. Could it be that, after some 200 years, Logan might at last find meaning, and a semblance of human happiness?

“Logan” feels like both a finale and a reboot of one of the most successful action franchises in cinema history, an extravagant farewell (though not in the way you might think) that refuses to play it safe. From the opening sequence, the story swerves into uncharted territory and never quite returns.

In an interview, director and writer James Mangold said of “Logan”: “I studied filmmaking under Milos Foreman and one of the things he said to me was, ‘Don’t tell me that 2 and 2 is 4.’ I always took that to heart, and with ‘Logan,’ I put special effort into saying that 2 and 2 is 5. Most action films only tell us what we already know and have come to expect from the genre. It’s all become a no-brainer. The good guys win in the end and the bad guys fall because they were too greedy or violent. OK, that’s not a lie, but with ‘Logan,’ I started out by asking myself: ‘How could I avoid saying 2 and 2 is 4?'”

Actually, Mangold wastes no time in impressing his algebra on the viewer by smashing illusions and expectations left and right. Don’t expect Wolverine wading through a horde of enemies, and don’t expect any cathartic vindication. What Mangold shows us is painful to witness. Professor X is helpless, prone to terrible seizures that throw his telepathic powers out of whack and affect everyone for miles around. Logan isn’t feeling too chipper either, as the adamantium in his body has deteriorated with age and his superpowers are not what they used to be. He’s eking out a living as a limo driver (though thankfully, he’s not working for Uber) on the Mexican border and taking care of the Professor in an abandoned water tower.

Old age, sickness and poverty have caught up with them both. We’ve never seen Logan so vulnerable and prone to emotion, nor Professor X so helpless. Logan carries him from bed to wheelchair, gives him injections to control his seizures and acts like any son with a senile parent. Outside their water tower, the world is a bleak dystopia, swirling with dust. With his creased visage and deadly stare, Logan is much closer to Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven” than a sci-fi character from the Marvel Universe.

When a girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) shows up asking to be driven to North Dakota, Logan grudgingly agrees. With a band of thugs led by the super-bad Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) now on their trail, Logan learns that Laura is a mutant with claws just like his and reluctantly agrees to protect her, knowing it’s a losing battle either way. Part of him wants to stay in the water tower and be there for his ailing mentor, but the urge to go on this mission wins. Besides, as Professor X points out, with Pierce determined to get his hands on any remaining mutants, there really is no choice.

“Essentially, I was trying to tap into Logan’s character in the most primal, Clint Eastwood, Alan Ladd, Humphrey Bogart kind of way. I had hoped that for male audiences, seeing the raw masculinity of Logan would offer up a new vision of the action genre. There are no women in this movie, which makes it less distracting and easier to focus on Logan’s mission. This isn’t a story with ‘something for everyone,’ but I did hope it would offer a different kind of experience,” Mangold says.

The film also has an R rating that pretty much distances the “built-in audiences that go see blockbusters,” as he puts it. “But I think that studios have become alert to the fact that the wider audience is tired of the same blockbusters with similar story lines and the over-abundance of explosives that slam you in the end. The problem is, these vehicles are extremely expensive to make but the studios can’t really expect a huge return from them anymore. And after the success of movies like ‘Deadpool’ (a self-parodying Marvel vehicle that turns the superhero formula on its head), studios have come to realize that there’s money to be made by being different. In a capitalist system, that’s always the catalyst for any real change.”

“Logan” was made on almost half the budget of other “X-Men” films, and according to Mangold, “Hugh Jackman took a pay cut in return for the freedom to make the character of Logan into what it is.” The lack of big bucks is evident in the dearth of CGI, explosions and stunt work. Instead, we get flesh-and-blood, up-close-and-personal action. The camera stays low and close, resulting in the sense that we’re watching a boxing ring suspended just above eye level. Rather than being elegant, the fight choreography is urgent and visceral. And the ending has nothing to do with bombs or the easy satisfaction of good prevailing over evil.

“It’s a very personal ending for Logan,” Mangold says. “He finally comes close to getting something he had always wanted but had never actually expressed in words. It’s an ending he rightfully deserves.”

“Logan” opens June 1 at cinemas nationwide. For more information, visit www.foxmovies-jp.com/logan-movie.