What I Like About: Logan and Reflections on the Parasocial

SPOILERS!!!! I talk about Logan in its entirety, so I spoil the entire damn film. You have been warned. Also spoilers for, like, every X-Men film Wolverine has a significant part in

(funnily enough, as I sit down to write this having finished my rewatch of Logan for this article, it just got nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in the 2018 Oscars.What a happy coinciI MEAN THIS WAS TOTALLY PLANNED AND DEFINITELY WHY I AM WRITING THIS!!!!!!)

Logan is my favourite comic book movie of last year. What’s funny about that is, on the surface, nothing about it really stands out in comparison to other comic book fare we received. It doesn’t have the irreverent high concept hilarity of The LEGO Batman Movie. It’s not as culturally significant or ethically challenging as Wonder Woman.  It’s not as emotionally sweeping or visually stunning as Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. It doesn’t have the distinctive earnestness of Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s not as creative or balls-to-the-wall fun like Thor: Ragnarok is. Also Justice League is here. It’s really just a character study of a man growing old and wondering what kind of mark he’ll leave. He also sprouts metal claws and growls like an animal.

It’s far from perfect. The villains are pretty flat, the final act, while never losing the fact that it’s Logan and Laura’s story, tries to get you to care about these mutant kids introduced into the plot 30 minutes prior to it ending. While I really do dig the dinner scene, it drags in places and causes the second act to sag after its excellent pacing (the greedy assholes controlling the cornfield were also pretty useless). Caliban is kind of disregarded after the first act despite not dying til near the middle of the second and having a pretty strong introduction. Certain shots tend to drag on too long. And yet…it’s still one of my favourite movies of 2017.

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Such is the magic of the ranting old man Xavier!

A lot of that is down to the writing, which is consistently on point with dialogue and set ups and especially tone. One of the things I really, really love about it, however, is what definitely makes it stand out among the rest. It’s an element that, really, this movie was tailor-made to handle. Not a lot of other movies would be able to do what Logan specifically does here.

In my previous What I Like About post, I talked about legacy. That was an internal legacy. This is a bit more external, more metatextual. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart had been playing these roles for 17 years prior to the release of Logan, and have been shown in nearly every X-Men film (Stewart less so due to Xavier’s recasting). That’s 17 years we’ve been following both of them. To contextualise that, Robert Downey Jr has been playing Tony Stark for a decade this year; that’s still 8 years behind Jackman and Stewart. Christopher Reeve had been the closest to reach this number of years having played Superman for 11 years, and may have gone on to make it further had it not been for his tragic accident. These men have played the same characters for most of the lives of a lot of people going to see an R-rated Wolverine movie. Definitely mine, anyway-I was 10 when X-Men came out.

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My, how this ageless mutant has come along in years!

Logan hits on this point excellently-it’s a film about letting go, about us letting go of these actors alongside these characters. And that’s honestly kind of unique. And what makes it even better is that it’s not a celebration of Jackman’s Wolverine and what he’s accomplished. If anything, it tears down his life and makes us wonder, on a narrative and meta level, how much has really been achieved for him with this hero’s journey.  It’s not just Logan that gets this kind of reflection, though-the audience is brought along for this ride. We have a history with the series as rich and multilayered as Logan’s.

And I don’t think this is something unintentional. There are constant references to the past films, most blatantly Charles’ mentioning the Statue of Liberty from X-Men. There’s also the motif of the X-Men having their own comic in this universe, which builds up the basis of Laura’s faith in their plan to escape to Canada. And Logan (the character) is constantly, constantly dismissive of them-he brushes off Charles’ reminiscing, he says Laura is a naïve idiot for believing in the North Dakota base, etc. He’s generally reacts brash and hostile towards things that reminds him of the past. And he’s also always wrong about it.

A lot has been read into the Western parallels, with the obvious influences being that of Unforgiven and Shane, the latter of which is watched and quoted by characters in the text. And there is a lot of analysis about how this marks Logan’s transition to more thoughtful and contemplative superhero movies that reflect their own genre, just like these films did for Westerns. One of the best videos on the topic was by Nerd Writer. But what I find more interesting is not just how these genre-bending movies reflect on their own subject matter, but how they reflect on our own relationship with the material. That’s what makes Logan so great; it uses our relationship with the text to explore not only our connection with superhero films, but Logan’s own connection to the world.

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I just googled ‘Wolverine Cowboy’ and was not disappointed

To those who do not know, parasocial relationships are essentially those that are one-sided. While they’re usually used to describe relationships people have with, say, celebrities and the like, it can technically apply to fictional characters. I mean, sure, they don’t have a relationship with anybody because they’re not real, but you have a connection with them by the simple fact that they bring something to your life. Logan could be replaced by Joe Everykill, and you would not get as much out of this because you have a rapport with this particular character. In a way, yes, you have a relationship with him. It may not be as important as, say, any one you have with living, breathing physical people, but it’s something that affects you.

Logan feels like a celebration of that. Of that love and empathy we have with this brash centuries old Canuck mutant. It gives us that warm, fuzzy feeling of seeing him build a bit of a rapport with Laura, or interact with Xavier like an old friend, but it’s not just a positive portrait. It forces us to look at what we want from an X-Men story and whether that’s always the best thing for it. If you’ve ever been in a fan group when an announcement about any geek-related project is made, you can figure out pretty quickly how important that is to examine.

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What got people really excited about Logan? An R-rating. Finally, after showing that R-rated superhero movies can turn a profit, fans got exactly what they wanted with some gritty, bloody, violent Wolverine action! And yet, look at the violence we did get. It’s brutal, yeah, but not in the way we would want. I mean, some of the moments were, but for the most part it’s intense, uncomfortable and punchy rather than flashy or cool. It’s playing with our expectation of the coveted superhero violence and making us reflect on how difficult this all is for the character. In a way, as Logan reaches the apex of his life, we’re forced to grow up with him.

Over a decade and a half of movie Wolverine stories, and they’ve consistently been characterised by loss and connection. Logan has lost his family, his memories, his loved ones, several times, his purpose in life, everything down to nearly losing his humanity. What makes his final outing so poignant is that it’s not very dramatic or grand-it’s pretty demure and understated. Hell, he fucks up more than he succeeds, gets several people killed, and only really helps Laura escape because he sacrificed his own life to barely let them get across the border.

Logan’s want for connection is boiled down to a family here, which is something the traumatisation of his life has caused him to reject. This is something reflected in the series; he finds a family in the X-Men in…X-Men, but leaves them (even if briefly) to figure out his past. He finds hints of his past in X2, but abandons that for the X-Men only to lose someone he loves. He tries to save that person in X-Men: The Last Stand, only to murder her. His guilt forces him to completely isolate himself in The Wolverine, only to find another pseudo-family in Japan and be inspired by them to be in the world again. This eventually culminates in X-Men: Days of Future Past, where he finds that family again thanks to time travel shenanigans. Hell, it’s even something reflected on in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where a woman he lives with is supposedly slain by his brother.

Logan rejects any connection now, going straight into his survival mode after what happened in the Mansion with Xavier, who essentially acts as his father figure and conscience in this movie (ironically, in canon he’s younger than Logan). And Charles is still trying to teach him something important; to find that connection Logan craves, but won’t let himself have because of how people who get close to him end up (including, inevitably, Xavier himself). In case they were being too subtle about Logan’s unspoken desires, the happiest moment we see in this story is when the family take in Logan, Charles and Laura for dinner. Xavier even exposits this: “This is what life looks like. A house, people who love each other. A safe place. Take a moment and feel it.”

What ruins this, easily the most idyllic and peaceful moment in the film? Well…essentially fanboys, right? I mean think about it. Donald Pierce makes reference to looking up to the X-Men, in his own snide way. Zander Rice is a fan in the way that he wants to control and perfect them to his own image. Ultimately letting his obsession get to the point where he kills most of the mutants in America in a bid to not have his vision tainted. His ultimate killing machine is a mindless clone of Wolverine. Violent, relentless, vicious-it’s what the fans wanted! All the cool violence and fight scenes, yet none of the heart and humanity.

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ULTIMATE WOLVERINE BADASS MOMENT COMPILATION #384

It’s superficial, and I don’t think fans actually connect to the character because he’s a mindless murderous bad-ass. But it stands in metaphor to what’s really holding Logan back; it’s us. I mean that’s obvious. The guy’s life has to be a misery because watching Hugh Jackman on a school run or popping his claws ‘cause he doesn’t have a saw handy is just a boring fucking movie. And this isn’t about judgement, and X-24 means a lot more than just a fanboy’s blind interpretation of a character. I don’t think James Mangold would be that intentionally mean-spirited. But there is this metatextual throughline that Logan is truly doomed to go in this cycle as long as we keep wanting him to, and it’s time for him to go the way of the Western. Ride on into that sunset. Hugh Jackman’s version of the character, anyway. And, as we’ve watched this version of this character go through what he has for 17 years, as long as this recent superhero boom has occurred, this feels like an appropriate send-off.

Hell, a lot of this movie is almost an antithesis to the superhero genre, isn’t it? There’s that awesome shot that introduces Caliban in his sunblock gear, like we’re gonna get some cool semi-dystopian imagery. And nope! Most of the film is set in crappy backwash towns or the most boring parts of Vegas. It’s set in the near-future where not much has changed and the main character is a fucking Uber driver. Our two recognisable mutants are old and dying, their powers literally killing them so they use them sparingly if at all. The violence is more intense and hard to watch than action packed. The reasons for the X-Men not being around and mutants dying is kind of lame. A lot of the more sci-fi stuff is downplayed, it could be why the New Mutant kids feel so jarring when they appear.

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The Good, the Bad and the Underused

But the younger mutants are important, and here’s why; the meta-narrative is not just wallowing in the character’s misery. It’s not just how we ruined this fictional character’s life because that ignores the significance of Laura. The crux of the emotional conclusion Logan comes to is that he’s passing his legacy onto his ‘daughter’ essentially. The ultimate tragedy is that he finds that connection, that family, that life he affected positively, and he barely knows her. It’s bittersweet, and let’s us know the importance of growing up with this character; his stories have made an impact on us, now it’s time for new stories to have new impacts.

With the ending, we’re being told to pass on our stories to the new generation, allow them to create stories of their own. And the ultimate thing Logan, both the movie and the character, can leave us is hope that these happy, wonderful memories (and X-Men Origins: Wolverine) can forge the path for new ones to take the mantle. There’s no living with the killing, but maybe we can make sure others don’t need to live it. Because these stories matter, and they matter to us just as they matter to future generations and those creating great, new tales. That’s the ultimate beauty about letting go.

Logan is wrong to dismiss Charles and Laura’s hold on the past because we should not reject it completely. But we do not try to preserve it in this precious jar as if it can live forever. And we leave Logan, his grave marked with an ‘X’, bittersweet with how his story ends. Because we may miss how Hugh Jackman’s amazing longlasting portrait of the character, but it’s better to memorialise it than to try to force it to continue, or react hostilely when they inevitably recast him.  Our parasocial relationship with Logan, in a metatextual sense, is why he was so miserable. But it’s also what gives him purpose, what makes him strong, obviously as he wouldn’t be around if we didn’t get something out of his adventures. It allows him rest with that knowledge that we no longer need him for a sequel.

So this is what it feels like to say goodbye to a friend who was as real as we have made him.

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