Rebellions Are Built On Hope

The archetypal hero’s journey goes for a new spin in Logan, the striking X-Men spinoff that stands as the very best of the films derived from the long-running Marvel Comics series. Hugh Jackman enjoys his last hurrah as Wolverine, a.k.a Logan, a.k.a the character who turned Jackman into a household name. The boy from Oz delivers a performance that is as vulnerable as it is powerful.

Director James Mangold gives Jackman — with co-stars Patrick Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen — an open structure in which they could explore familiar characters. On the run, with enemies behind and the promise of salvation ahead, the trio grows close. Logan, grizzled and failing, is finally showing his age; Charles Xavier’s powers are spinning dangerously out of control; and young Laura, new to their circle, is feral and unpredictable.

Shorn of skin-tight superhero get-ups, a churning plot, and (most of) the special effects grandeur we've come to expect from other comic book movies, Logan is a surprise that defies expectations at every turn.

It’s an understatement to say that Logan isn't your typical superhero movie. Its premise, unique among blockbusters but familiar in the context of film as a whole, allows the movie unusual freedom to dip in and out of various genres. Logan has elements of superhero sagas, coming-of-age movies, Westerns, and by extension, samurai films. But Logan really stands out as a road movie.

The premise of the road movie is simplicity itself: Two or more characters, typically opposites thrown together by circumstance, develop some kind of relationship during a road trip. It’s a big metaphor; the trip itself is a never-subtle stand-in for personal growth. More often than not, the protagonists are running away from something. Think Thelma & Louise, Transamerica, Wristcutters: A Love Story, even Mad Max: Fury Road.

As a superhero movie, Logan is great; as a road movie, it is phenomenal.

Logan's location sets it apart from every other X-Men movie. There’s nary a green-screen stage in sight, and the scenery is breathtakingly real. The journey begins near the Mexico-Texas border, far from Charles Xavier’s lush Westchester, New York mansion. As events kick into action, Logan, Laura and Professor X find themselves racing across the dust bowl of Texas, desperate to find safety in more fertile lands.

The vast desert, harsh and uncertain, serves as a fitting metaphor for the journey. The trip is an emblem of survival, with the companions all struggling to stay alive with each new day. It's them against the world and their harsh environment is a constant reminder of the fragility of their existence. That these three people are vulnerable and endangered despite their superpowers only amplifies the uncertainty of their fate.

Not only is the desert setting a deep nod to classic road movie conventions, it elegantly represents the tone of the film and that against-all-odds attempt to survive.

Superhero movies have a well-earned reputation for being a bit cheesy — but hey, that's why we love ’em. Logan's lack of comic book clichés helps it stand out from its superhero siblings. As Logan scowls at common human experiences, like intimacy and weakness, this film still offers flashes of trademark Wolverine humor. Yet it presents its story in a decidedly mature light, with noticeably minimal cheese.

Even without the prolific gore and violence, Logan is as raw as it could get. The violence rips through conventions about what is appropriate for superhero films, like adamantium claws through a car door.

Gone are Wolverine’s well-maintained mutton chops. This Logan is at the far end of his life, disheveled, weary, rough. He looks like an alcoholic who sleeps in his car. The chaotic road trip does not treat him well; in fact, it makes his well-being far worse. Logan’s conversations with Xavier and Laura reveal his interior to be every bit as weathered and battered as he is on the outside.

Wolverine as seen in this movie is a stark contrast to the vibrant hero of Days of Future Past. The difference isn’t just in the depiction of Logan's deteriorating body and age; it's a bold deviation in tone from the usual X-Men aesthetic.

Similarly, the glamor and privilege of Professor X's estate is a distant memory. His fantastic manor and spoils of his inheritance are replaced by tacky hotel rooms and a rotation of used cars. This setting echoes the real grit of the film. In the manner of the best road movies, Logan presents a desperate situation in a context that's both relatable and a bit wild.

Road movies aren't about getting chased down a dusty desert highway in a beat-up old car. They’re all about using the tarmac as a blank canvas for the introspective journey of the passengers.

This is the core of Logan. The new mutant Laura is racing towards a safe haven, a place called Eden, where she can be free of her pursuers, and where she might start a different life away from the experiments that defined her early years.

As Wolverine discovers, the destination Laura so desperately seeks might not exist outside of comic books that fictionalize Logan’s past. But still he presses forward despite initial objections. The trip begins as a literal expedition, but quickly becomes a search for personal redemption, and even healing, as the three characters confront their worst fears.

He won't admit it, but Logan wants to find his own version of Eden. He wants to rediscover the man he once was, and find a version of freedom that allows him to embrace the idea of family. He's driving toward a place called Eden, but Logan is really looking for salvation. As he barrels towards his uncertain future, he carries the X-Men film franchise into brilliant new territory.