Logan is the second film of the X-Men series to receive an R rating, and the first involving characters introduced in Bryan Singer’s original 2000 film. Rest assured that it lives up to it; aside from containing a great deal more language, it’s quite noticeably more violent and gory, the title character using the knives in his hands to graphically sever limbs and heads. It’s also less of an overt comic book adaptation, the atmosphere darker and grittier, the action sequences not rousing so much as shocking. Some audiences would argue that this is the correct approach, citing the fact that a man with metal claws would indeed hurt or even kill anyone he fights, and that sparing us the sight of blood in his fight scenes is merely a way to sanitize the material.
I would counter that argument by reminding said audiences that the root word of the phrase “comic book” is “comic,” meaning light, escapist, and entertaining. While showing the title character’s carnage might make the film more “realistic,” it doesn’t automatically make it more compelling. It definitely doesn’t make it more entertaining – unless you actually derive entertainment from brutal violence, in which case you inhabit a world I want absolutely no part of. As admittedly weary as I’ve grown of comic book adaptations in recent months, I nevertheless go into them with the expectation of having fun, not of cringing uncomfortably in my seat as blood spurts out of gaping wounds.
Adding fuel to the fire, the plot of Logan, which takes place in the late 2020s, involves the title character, also known as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), attempting to save a young girl (Dafne Keen) who was engineered in a Mexico City lab with his own genetic mutations. This means that she too has knives that comes out of her hands. This also means that she will get into savage fights, and that she will use her knives to slice people up. Cinematically speaking, few things unsettle me more than child characters being forced into doing things that even adults shouldn’t be doing for the sake of entertainment. I still harbor feelings of hate for films like Kick-Ass, in which Chloë Grace Moretz played an eleven-year-old machete assassin, and Kingsmen: The Secret Service, which sent the message that the best way to save at-risk youths is to turn them into highly-skilled killing machines.
In spite of everything I just said, I didn’t hate Logan. There are, in fact, aspect of it I liked a great deal. It deals, for example, with a Logan/Wolverine who’s not only past his prime but a pathetic shadow of his former self, having descended into alcoholism and slowly succumbing to the toxic chemicals that were intended to enhance his mutations; when he’s reluctantly drawn into the plot to save the aforementioned young girl, he’s essentially being given a chance to experience having a family, something he has denied himself for well over a century. Factoring into this is Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), now a feeble ninety-plus-year-old in a degenerative mental state, which is to say that he’s no longer in control of his ability to project psychic forces. Whenever he lets loose psychically, it’s such a powerful experience that regular people get hurt, and mutants get killed. No wonder there are no other established X-Men characters in this film.
Logan has been hiding Xavier in a ramshackle metal bunker in the middle of the Mexican desert for this very reason. He has also been trying to keep Xavier under control with a regimen of drugs obtained under less than legal circumstances. But then the girl comes into his life – and so too does an ex-marine with a robotic hand and a gold tooth (Boyd Holbrook), head of security for the evil biotech company that created the girl. He’s basically the muscle for the biotech’s head mad scientist (Richard E. Grant). Anyway, Logan is being tested, as he must now go on the run with not only a girl he knows nothing about but also a sickly old man he could barely take care of to begin with. The test will be made harder by the fact that the mad scientist is forcing a photosensitive mutant (Stephen Merchant) to track the scents of Logan and the girl, as if he were a dog.
I guess what I’m saying is that, for the most part, I liked the film’s character development, which operates on a frequency outside the excessive violence and gore. Still, why did the filmmakers believe violence and gore was absolutely necessary to tell this story? What does it add, apart from opportunities to make the audience squirm? The story was strong enough, meaning it didn’t need any enhancements of that particular type. And it most definitely didn’t need a young girl to be a vicious killer. Nor did it need an additional group of mutant children to behave in similar ways, as they do during the final act in the middle of the woods. Leaving Logan, I knew that I had been told a decent enough story, but I also wished it had been in the hands of a director and screenwriter that weren’t so wrong in their belief that depictions of brutal killings qualify as entertainment.