Monday, March 06, 2017

When the man comes around.....

Actually, the song used over the ending credits.  It fits here, too.

It turns out the buzz on Logan is settling around the weltanschaaung of the premise, more so than the plot itself.  (If you have no interest in such films, I'll try not to bore you with details; if you are interested in the movie, well, as they said at Vulture, don't continue reading if you don't want to be oriented.  I like that so much better than "spoiler alert!").

The movie is one of those ways movies can improve on comic books.  Not only do real human beings look ridiculous in yellow and blue stretch suits with huge projections off the head (Batman has enormous ears in the comics, virtually no ears in the movies and on TV; Captain America and Thor have helmets with wings projecting off of them, for pity's sake.  The former are canary wings compared to the latter's eagle sized appurtenances,  but neither has any such appendages in the movies), but actors get old (only Hugh Jackman has played "Wolverine" in the movies, and he started 13 years ago; there have been completely different actors for the same characters in several "X-Men" movies) and movies don't need a character to live forever (well, except for James Bond).  So where comic books have to do "alternative" stories (the idea dates back to my childhood) where things can happen that can't happen to a comic hero you want to keep making money from for decades (Superman died more than once before the infamous "Death of Superman" that made the headlines and the basis for the ending of "Batman v. Superman"), movies can simply wrap the whole thing up if they choose.

That's supposed to be the plot line of Logan;  it's 2029, and it's time for him to die.  Interestingly, that's not the most interesting part of the plot.  Let me steal a little here from Vulture; two different articles, but it will speed the pace of the analysis.  First, my thesis, nicely limned by David Edelstein:

My freak-out isn’t just about what happens to the characters. It’s the country in which they live and die that ushers in the nightmares. If this is the superhero movie that most accurately evokes how we live now, we’re in even more trouble than I thought.

Then, a concise summary of the context of the story:

Much like Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men — a movie to which Logan owes an enormous debt — this is a world that has entered a spiritual and economic slump a long time before the start of our story, leading people to more or less give up on inventing things and thinking about brighter futures. Everyone, including Logan, is drifting through life, their goals minor and their pleasures basic.

Like Children of Men, its vision of the future has political teeth. In passing, we see massive lines of Latino deportees at an intimidating border wall. The mutant minority has mostly died out, and a Limbaugh-esque radio host says he’s sick of talking about their extinction. We learn of an American biotech firm that’s exploiting the uneven relationship between the U.S. and Mexico by setting up a lab conducting horrific experiments south of the border. Their victims are overwhelmingly black and brown — but so are nearly all of the non-Wolverine heroes of the movie. As is true of most great X-Men stories, the film is a story about the forgotten, the desperate, and the marginalized finding strength in one another. Logan is a superpowered protest against Trumpism — and a chillingly effective one, at that.
That reference to the border is important.  The movie opens outside El Paso, from which Logan turns his car (he's a limo driver, don't think too hard about it) south to Mexico, where Professor Xavier is being held in some rusted industrial ruins (for his own good; again, we'll step lightly over plot details just because they aren't really relevant here).  Never did the idea of south as "down" and north as "up" (with all the negative and positive connotations those directions have) seem more important to a movie.  That abandoned industrial park, a haven because it is isolated and obscure, becomes a trap simply because it is isolated and obscure:  and because American power comes calling.

American power, in this case, is a fleet of black SUV's, some heavily armed, carrying very heavily armed and muscled men (who are, of course, quickly dispatched; like any movies divorced from reality, there is never a limit of mercenaries willing to die at the hands of our heroes, and never any doubt more will rise up to replace them.  Honestly, the kill rate these people suffer; how much money is enough for that?  Anyway.....), accompanied by Mexican police/soldiers/somebody.  What is clear is that the Mexican government takes orders from the white men, and the white men are not government employees.  They work for the corporation which is the villain in this movie.

Well, you expect battle scenes and fight scenes, and there are several review which will tell you how gory those scenes are, so let's move on.  The key point is location (Mexico, the northern, sparsely populated desert, somewhere outside Juarez) and the evil but immensely powerful corporation which employees an army of Navy SEALS, apparently.  They are almost all burly, crew-cut white guys, anyway.  That's not an accident, as we'll see.

So then the action moves north as our heroes flee the bad guys.  For reasons that don't quite make sense except that Logan is not heading for North Dakota yet (there are reasons for fleeing to North Dakota, but don't worry about them now), the next big set piece is in Oklahoma City, which now has a Harrah's Hotel/Casino (a sign of U.S. decadence?  It doesn't serve much more purpose in the film, except to give an otherwise sleepy town a building that would draw crowds of people in the middle of the day.).  You can get to North Dakota from El Paso, but Oklahoma City ain't exactly on the way there.  But don't think about it, it doesn't really matter.  It's the casino in OK City that's the point.  Because after that, it's off to Kansas and the cornfields being watched over by machines of loving grace.

We learn that because of a family that befriends our travelers, to their unfortunate demise (spoiler!).  Giant machines, seen in outline and lit by klieg lights, toil in the fields of corn being raised, the farmer/friend tells Logan, to make corn syrup (high fructose corn syrup!) to sugar drinks no one needs (Michael Bloomberg was right!).  These evil corn producers want the farmer/friend's land, you see, which makes them doubly evil.

It's alright, the minions of the corporation are rednecks who end up dead, ironically at the hands of the evil villain corporation (literally).  But clearly American has gone completely off the rails and is interested now only in sugary drinks and vacuous entertainment (gambling!  In the heartland!), and even salt of the earth Americans (the only blacks in the film, IIRC, save for one child "mutant"; I'll explain later), are slaughtered by....well, an evil mutant.

You knew there was one.

Eyes on the prize, though; it's the chase through America again which drives the story, as Logan tries to get to North Dakota.  He finally arrives, and there is another big fight, and the bad guys are all killed (no surprise there; how else was it gonna end?) and there is redemption.  And our heroes (new ones, by now) escape to the safety of Canada, where they are assured of asylum.  Because it was America, and the evil villain corporation (who was in cahoots with the American government) who killed all the mutants but Wolverine and Xavier.

The same evil corporation which used mutant genetic material to clone new mutants, deep in Mexico (where American money buys you anything you want, and governments don't interfere), who become our new heroes fleeing to the safety of rational, compassionate, humane, and non-xenophobic, or even mutant-phobic, Canada.  While there is a "big, beautiful" wall with Mexico, one assumes there is no such wall with Canada (a little surprising they haven't built one, to keep us out by then).

It's the settings that matter here, as Edelstein alluded.  Mexico is corrupt and essentially lawless, and American money buys whatever it wants there (including women to be wombs for mutant children, women who are then disposed of and no one the wiser, because, Mexico, ya know?), and Canada (which we never see) is the land of cool calm and rational humanity; and in between?  America, which has sold its birthright for a mess of corn syrup and one-armed bandits (no, not the villain who gets his from the kids in the end; slot machines).  American corporations may run fiefdoms in Mexico, but they have no reach into Canada.  Apparently.

Abraham Riesman writes: " The good guys aren’t just fighting to save the world, but to prove that it’s worth saving."  Ironically, the way to save the world in Logan is to head north; not north from Mexico, but north from North Dakota.   The way to save the world is north, and not north to Alaska. The way to save the world is to flee the land of the free and the home of the brave, because our heroes (the cloned mutants from Mexico) are not welcome there.  Which yeah, is sad, because in the end, they are only kids.

The children of men, you might even say.  And if that accurately invokes who we are now, as a nation, well......

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