Logan – A writer’s review

All spoilers will be BELOW THE CUT – so just stay above the cut if you don’t want to see spoilers about Logan.

Below the cut I break down the movie into the 3-act structure and talk about character motivations.

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There is an important maxim for story-tellers, be they scriptwriters, authors or working in any other medium.

This maxim is straightforward. It goes like this:

Characters are like geodes. On the surface, they just look like boring rocks.

To see what they’re really made of, you have to break them.

Logan is, without a doubt, one of the best demonstrations of this maxim I have ever seen, to the point of causing the audience some degree of distress. Centring on an ageing Wolverine/Logan and Charles Xavier, the movie gradually unfolds to reveal more about what has happened to these characters who we thought we knew so well, now crushed by the weight of past mistakes and misdeeds.

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There’s a bit of post-modernism going on. The movie’s grim nature, dwelling heavily on what happens “after the party is over”, could almost be seen as representative of the X-Men movie franchise as a whole, and perhaps the feel of malaise that has unfortunately started to creep into the entire comic-book-hero movie genre.

In truth, it seems hard to believe that this movie is related to the original X-Men, a movie I saw in the cinemas seventeen years ago – or that it shares a lineage with Blade, a movie I saw even earlier (some of my followers just thought “wow, he’s older than I thought” – probably).

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What’s also interesting is that it comes out at a time contemporary to Deadpool, another comic-book inspired movie with an “R” rating, yet although both based on the same source material, the two films could not be more different if they tried.

In this context, Logan is an arresting film. It takes characters you know and shows them in a light you may find surprising, and that’s a big achievement when working with Wolverine and Charles Xavier, characters who have already been portrayed by countless artists, story-writers and in one case even multiple screen actors. You might go in thinking there are no more ways to really make the franchise feel “fresh”, but believe me, you’d be wrong in that assumption.

Is it good, though? Well, more beneath the cut, but I would certainly say to go see it if you’re a fan of the franchise and you’re not afraid of seeing some very violent action. The performances are good, the action is pacey and the emotional journey is pretty much flawless – I’m not really sure you could ask for more.

Spoilers beneath the cut.

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You’re beneath the cut now, which means there are going to be SPOILERS, so stop reading if you don’t want to see them!

The movie, when summarised, follows a traditional 3-act structure pretty closely.

Act 1

The movie begins with an ageing Wolverine, clearly suffering from some kind of affliction, working as a limo driver and taking care of an ill Charles Xavier, along with Caliban, another mutant, at a compound out in the desert. The movie makes clear that they believe they are the final mutants alive. Into this premise we add two further elements; Wolverine is stashing away money to “retire” on a boat (where it is strongly implied he intends to kill himself), and Xavier is suffering from a brain condition where he has seizures, during which his powers go haywire and threaten to kill those around him.

Right from this premise, we have an uneasy equilibrium. It’s obvious that Xavier is a ticking clock, but also that Wolverine’s time is also growing short, and Caliban will struggle to survive without them.

Then we launch into our inciting incident. The equilibrium of the group’s life is disturbed when a woman tracks them down, a nurse with a young girl in tow, who Xavier immediately recognises as a mutant. A private army turn up. They kill the nurse and want to take back the young girl, “Laura”, who it quickly turns out is genetically Wolverine’s daughter (who X-Men comics fans will immediately know to be “X-23″). Wolverine considers abandoning her (Second Thoughts) but changes his mind when he sees himself in her, and risks everything to save her in an action scene (Act 1 Climax).

Act 2

What follows are some scenes where Wolverine is compelled to go along with Xavier and take X-23 to a place in North Dakota, which he believes to be a waste of time, while they are pursued (Rising Action).

The midpoint twist comes we find out the people who created X-23 have created X-24; a soulless, unfeeling clone of Wolverine, and this mirror image forces Wolverine to confront the person he was once supposed to be (in a sense, X-24 is a “perfected” Weapon-X).

Two things happen here. Firstly, Xavier confesses he has finally remembered “what he did”; the act that put them in this situation – Xavier killed the X-Men, and it seems as though it was in-part by accident, but he blames himself – then Xavier dies (Disaster).

Act 3

This soon leads to a crisis. X-23 seeks to cross into Canada with other escaped mutants, but their enemies are on the move, and Wolverine has to confront his clone and his own mortality to try and save them.

Obviously this is followed by a resolution.

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There’s a lot that could be said about the movie, but one thing needs to be immediately addressed – Jackman gives a good performance, as does the actress playing X-23 (in fact she’s better than good; she’s really quite amazing), but the person who steals the show is most definitely Patrick Stewart.

Ever since the X-Men franchise began, Patrick Stewart’s involvement has been a huge draw for fans. I remember well when the films were first announced, we all thought they were going to be poor, until we found out Stewart was playing Xavier, literally the best casting move imaginable… And we all suddenly decided the films were something to be excited about.

The movies have taken us on a journey that has followed Xavier, under the auspices of various directors and two actors; a journey that Stewart and Logan’s writers brought to an end beautifully.

In terms of his arc, the writers spun all of this out of breaking one key aspect of his character. Xavier is always the patient, kind, heartwarming teacher; symbolic of every good teacher we ever had in real life. Logan portrays an X-Men future where Xavier not only has failed in his mission, he is directly responsible for the death of the X-Men (albeit not intentionally). Dangerous, losing his mind, and with powers that can be lethal to those around him, this inversion of the character is a real stroke of genius.

Of course, this wouldn’t work if in the hands of a poor actor; fortunately Stewart is up to the task, delicately balancing the tightrope of being a man who is both brilliant, yet losing his mind. His portrayal is raw, at times funny, even at times disturbing, but always great to see. Even his death scene is genuinely touching; killed by the clone of Wolverine, an echo of the risk he took taking the original Wolverine in all those years ago.

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In fact, I think the only criticism I could make of Logan is that Xavier’s journey is so compelling that it overshadows Logan himself; not that Logan’s arc poorly written (that’s just how good it is). Perhaps the running time could’ve been shaved down a bit, but that’s a minor gripe when the film was such a pleasure to watch.

So going back to what I said at the start of this piece, characters, geodes and breaking them. Everything in this film comes back to that, repeatedly dragging the characters through hell so you can really see them feel something, and that’s how it triumphs amid a crowded field of comic-book movies.

If you have even a passing interest in these characters, I can’t recommend it enough.

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