“At some point, we need to stop glorifying the deaths of saintly, self-sacrificial minorities and women, and instead offer them better roles and agency over their own lives.”
Title: Logan (2017)
Director: James Mangold 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: James Mangold 👨🏼🇺🇸, Scott Frank 👨🏼🇺🇸, and Michael Green 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
I’m no Marvel aficionado, so I’ll let other reviewers compare this entry against other X-Men films and comic books. But for a newcomer watching with fresh eyes, my main takeaways were the beautiful cinematography and world-building, incredible action scenes, and genuine soul as Logan weaves together themes of guilt, depression, and hope into a story that starts a bit slow but catches up quickly and kept my attention until the end of its nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES, but barely. (A mother asks Laura if she wants dessert. That’s the only instance I saw.)
Logan is incredibly male-centric. We could argue that the young mutant Laura, played with incredible virtuosity by Dafne Keen, is one of the main characters and should garner this film a better score in Gender. However, the real hero is Logan (Hugh Jackman), and Logan alone. The film is an intimate dissection of Wolverine’s psyche, leaving no room for other complex characters. Even Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is pigeonholed as the mentor while Laura is Logan’s chance for redemption.
Beyond her, female roles are few and far in between. When they do appear, women are portrayed primarily as victims who die in order to protect their children (this happens twice), or as young Mexican women artificially inseminated with mutant babies, then killed (not depicted, but spoken of). Or as a gaggle of young women, one of whom flashes Logan (and the audience). #MaleGaze.
On the plus side, we also see a scattering of young, female mutants who have little to no lines, but who are the only group of females with any sort of control over their own lives. Better than nothing.
I appreciate the significant Hispanic representation in Logan. However, the film falls into a few traps. While it could be argued that plenty of white people get ruthlessly killed, it remains poor optics that the opening scene is Logan murdering a small group of Mexican gang-bangers and that later on, a well-meaning black family is slaughtered because of him. The black father sacrifices himself so that Logan and Laura can get away—the ultimate, subconscious conditioning that white lives matter more than black lives. This trope of saintly, self-sacrificial minorities (or saintly, self-sacrificial women) is overused in media and dangerously internalized by viewers. At some point, we need to stop glorifying their deaths and give them complex roles and agency instead, so that they are no longer subject to the whims of white men.
That being said, I loved the group of Mexican children, in all their various shades of skin colors, showing how diverse the Hispanic population is. Laura herself is played by a half-British, half-Spanish actress—and while I couldn’t help but wish casting had looked for someone who wasn’t European and half-white to play a Mexican girl, she was ferocious in the role and by far my favorite part of the entire film. All of the kids were, in fact; they had great scenes full of self-determination, especially considering the constraints of a film whose sole focus was that of one man’s personal journey and romanticized death.
Bonus for Disability: +0.00
Charles Xavier’s nuanced characterization and use of a wheelchair would have earned this film half a bonus point, but their portrayal of Caliban, a character with albinism, as freakish and who gets repeatedly tortured (as played by Stephen Merchant, caked in white face powder) seemed offensive. Sure, some viewers will moan that this is just how Caliban is portrayed in the comics. But I don’t have a ton of sympathy for problematic source material; each new show or film can rectify past mistakes, and it would have been easy enough for director James Mangold to hire an actor who actually has albinism or to craft Caliban’s character with less grotesqueness. Or to create a grotesque character that doesn't rely on real-life afflictions for visual thrills. So, this category cancels out.
Bonus for Age: +0.50
Similar to the above, Charles Xavier’s nuanced portrayal of a nonagenarian who is neither perfectly healthy nor shown as a helpless geriatric gives Logan a small boost.
Mediaversity Grade: B- 3.67/5
Wonderful film that’s beautiful, angsty, and exciting to watch. Unfortunately, women are nearly all portrayed as victims, save for Laura who is an incredible force to be reckoned with. On Race, Logan has the numbers with a robust showing of Hispanic representation, but falls short when it comes to the quality of those roles.
Overall, Logan makes a decent entry as a modern Marvel film, but at its heart, it remains the psychological story of a white man who gets to be both savior and martyr despite the vast amounts of blood on his hands, much of it innocent. Throw in the commentary on international borders, and Logan looks to be an apt allegory for real life, indeed.