Logan is not like other comic book films. It is brutal and bleak. It has a small cast that it spends more time with. It’s also about one of the most pressing social issues of our day: absent fathers.
The Wolverine fought at the statue of liberty. He stopped the Age of the Sentinels. He saved the world from destruction at the hands of the Phoenix Force. But in 2049, a world all but empty of mutants, and one that is violent, brutal, and cruel, there is no Wolverine. There is only Logan.
And Logan is bitter. Resentful. Tired. His healing factor has slowed. He’s sick, aging even. Only one thing keeps him going: the need to protect Charles Xavier. But to do that, he needs money. And the way to get money, it turns out, is to transport a girl who has his powers to a safe haven in North Dakota.
But of course, she isn’t just any girl. She’s Logan’s daughter – or partially his daughter, anyway. She was cloned from his genetic material. He didn’t consent to her creation. That means he’s not her father, he says. He uses every excuse in the book, from “I didn’t ask for this,” to “Not only mine (genetic material),” to “I suck at this,” and “you’re better off without me.” Make no mistake about it. Logan is about father absenteeism.
Adding to Logan’s case is the fact that he’s right – he really does suck at fatherhood. He’s short-tempered, unaffectionate, nearly suicidal, and swears enough to get the R rating all on his own. He’s also right when he says “people I care about get hurt.” And, to be fair, it is true that he didn’t ask for this.
But there’s more than just what he says. This film, more than any previous X-Men film, shows just how messed up Logan is. Hugh Jackman handles this with expert gravitas, in a world that isn’t exactly dystopic in general, but is very dystopic for him. In that way, this is a very character-centered story. And said character has more issues than the combined clientele of a dozen therapists.
And yet, the ultimate message of the film is not that he has adequate excuse to opt out of fatherhood. Much to the contrary, it is that this girl is his daughter and, whether he likes or not, his responsibility. The connections between this and the especially rampant problem of absent fathers in the current culture are seemingly endless. A particularly potent scene in the film comes when he is insisting that the safe haven is all she needs, she does not need him. And yet, she wants that relationship. Kids don’t just need child support checks. They need fathers. But the ultimate takeaway is pretty plain: if a guy as messed up as Logan still has the responsibility to be a father, certainly I do, too.
In small moments, we see this part of Logan peek through. Laura is in deep need of guidance, having grown up in a lab to be a killing machine. Logan stops her from killing a gas station attendant over a few seconds, chides her for stealing a car, and even tolerates hand holding for a short time in one of the film’s most emotional scenes. There’s much more bad in him as a father than good, but he has good intentions, even if he does truly suck as a father figure – a story element that’s important for that main theme to be as potent as it is.
However, this is set against a backdrop that is very bloody, brutal, and bleak. Mangold pulls no punches when it comes to the fight scenes. Claws go not just in chests of bad guys, but foreheads, eyes, and limbs. Arms get cut off, blood splatters, and death is dealt in droves. This is addressed in some degree – Logan says he has nightmares because of the people he’s killed, and one important line from the film says “killing is a brand.” And yet, the mounting of bodies by the film’s end still seems excessive, even for an R-rated comic book film.
There are other aspects of the content that come off a lot like flaunting the R-rating. There are dozens of f-words, along with other profanities. That makes some sense when it comes to Logan – he is a very rough person – but coming from Xavier’s mouth, it seems very out of character. There’s also a short scene in which a drunk girl in a limo flashes her breasts. This is extremely short (less than two seconds), but has no purpose at all in the story.
All of this does mitigate the positive worldview of the film to some degree. It is a very adult film, and sometimes of the adult content is excessive. At the same time, I can’t completely throw it away, because it is addressing an important issue, and it does so in a way that is moving and compelling. So exercise caution. Certainly do not treat it as a family-friendly film. But do know that there are ideas here that are worth engaging.