Failed Heroes: Characterization in Logan

--Pulled from the Imperial article archive on Scarif for your re-enjoyment!--

Just about every kid grows up wanting to be a superhero. They don the Superman cape and run around with their arms stretched out in front of them. They get three butter knives and stick them in between their fingers. They wear underwear over their pants and clasp a belt around their head. Maybe that last one is just me…a week ago.

Logan, however, portrays a superhero I would never want to grow up to be. And that’s just the kind of superhero story that finally has something to say.

For the most part, superhero movies play out very much the same. I’ve bitched about it before in my first Movie Monday. (Yet here I am talking about another one). The heroes are cool with awesome powers, they face something that might just overcome those powers to the detriment of the whole planet, or at least large city. Then, they find that if they just try hard enough, work together, care about something besides themselves but not really, they can defeat that big bad after all. In the process, a lot of buildings get wrecked, yet bystanders somehow still saved, but the heroes got cut along the away with some dirt on their face now. Oh the costs!

And then there’s Logan.

Here I’ll warn you of the spoilers ahead.

What if the costs of having people with supernatural powers were more real? What effect would that have on a government that has to address the fact that there are people living within their borders that can shoot lasers out of their eyes? X-Men has addressed this before. In fact, most of the storylines have to do with this in some way. Yet, here we see the other side of it. Something happened that made people decide they were just too dangerous to be left to their own devices. Mutants were dwindled down and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Logan (Hugh Jackman) seem to be the last of a dead breed.

So what if superheroes failed? If it wasn’t about saving the world anymore but about living in a world that doesn’t want you and will soon forget you? It suddenly becomes a personal story, something different for this genre. Something that is no longer this genre at all, on some level.

Something that Logan does so right is make Wolverine more human. So many times superheroes fly around, throw trucks over their heads, push things with their minds and grow arms back to the point they don’t even seem human anymore. It’s theatrical and dramatic and very much a distant problem for distant people. Here we don’t get that. We see a very real person dealing with failure, doubt, and a loss of belonging. Something that connects us to a character because we get it. Suddenly, it’s not about how he has the ability to have blades burst through his fist, it’s about his will to keep going on.

Wolverine has always been an antihero of sorts but here we see that played upon even more. All he really wants is to keep Charles stable, go out onto the ocean on a boat and die away from anyone else he can bring harm to. He has to make hard choices because he really believes that anytime he is with others, he is putting their lives in danger. This isn’t something that’s some distant concept we just have to take at face value, we see it play out horrifically. Specifically, we see this with the family that gives Charles, Logan, and Laura (Dafne Keen) dinner for helping them on the road. The movie takes it’s time to show them eating together, reminiscing, even laughing. It’s a bit of normal life again, as Charles points out to Logan. It’s something he cherishes and just wishes to be a part of again. A normal life. But this story reminds us that there are real consequences for the lives that they have lived and the people they are. Not to say they deserve those consequences but they’re there nonetheless. That entire family pays the price, and so does Charles, in some pretty vicious ways that almost seem like a dream sequence at first, only to keep going. A story that doesn’t look back, doesn’t hold back. Normal life is something that is impossible now, even for a brief moment.

The characterization is what makes this movie. Not only is the writing great, the acting is even better. As much of a huge Star Trek fan as I am, I would say this is my favorite role Patrick Stewart has done. He’s sad, heartbreaking at times, he’s funny, he’s sentimental, he’s fragile and altogether real. He has so much power and no longer can control it. This movie continues to take something that was once a strength for these characters and turn it right back on them. A dive into the less than desirable aspects of having superpowers. It’s not gritty because the movie makers decided to take all the saturation out of each shot and now it’s a “dark” movie, it’s harsh because the characters deal with real emotions and failures that they can’t take back. It takes the time to allow the audience to invest in the characters rather than just think they are cool. It’s about getting to know them now in their current situations.

For Logan himself, we see someone who cares only for survival. Long gone are the days the X-Men concerned themselves with taking care of people who discover they have powers that make others fear them. Yet, we still get whispers of that old care. Laura has regenerative abilities and blades, just like Logan. There’s an anger in her that connects her with him too, and through the story, we see him have to make a choice to help her or not. There’s something still in both Charles and himself that wants to see new mutants be able to have some semblance of a normal life, away from hate and fear. There’s never an overt declaration for wanting to protect her and it’s a struggle for him to place himself and others in danger for her. Yet his action speaks for itself. The antihero eventually giving his life to give a new generation a chance. A moment earned and felt because of the connection we have to him.

Logan is a movie for adults about adults. It doesn’t hold your hand to explain every detail but lets the emotion of its characters tell a story. This is why creating real characters is so important. You can take a genre that’s been played out, mix it with another genre that hasn’t been popular since Clint Eastwood was wearing ponchos, and create something that is impactful. There’s connection. And that is what storytelling is all about.

Follow Chris on Twitter: @chrismlaporte