We know the modern world of film making tries to stay as current as it possibly can given the circumstances of a delayed release. We know that something ‘hot’ in times in January can be written about in February, if green lit immediately can be shot in June or July and if it wraps in September or October you can schedule a release date right after post-production ends…perhaps by the following summer. Outside the world of independent film, actually, it is hard to get a product from Page One to Premiere in 18 months. We know this. We know that Logan was approved in early 2015. We know that principal photography began after the enormous and unexpected success of Deadpool on St. Valentine’s Day 2016. We know it wrapped last summer and extra scenes as well as extra dialogue was shot as a result of Deadpool’s success as the highest grossing R-rated film of all time and the dramatic decision at the WB to create an extended R version of Batman V. Superman – not fast enough to get into theatres but could be found on the subsequent special edition Blu-Ray. We know therefore that the script James Mangold approved and then added to himself was mostly complete about the time Donald J. Trump, real estate mogul, reality TV star, and local New York doucebag was seen as a joke on the fringes of the Republican Party. We know that during principal photography both the unexpected primary season as well as his GOP nomination unfolded. We know that during post-production on Logan, the downward spiral of ‘The Donald’ could be seen on every smart phone as tough editing calls were being made on what was already in the can. We know that by inauguration time, the only items left to complete on Logan was the sound, sounding editing, music, and marketing. We know this. That Logan cannot be a commentary on Donald Trump. We know because though it was made during his meteoric rise the outcome could not be predicted…as we all failed to predict it…including me. Yet, when I re-watched Logan with my son, only his third R film after Alien and Hacksaw Ridge, I am reminded… constantly reminded through every scene… that Logan is though unintentional in most parts, the most anti-Trump movie yet.
There are the obvious parallels. The shots of the border, of business cowboys and elitist rich kids shouting at an ICE bust: “USA! USA!” as if they were cheering on an Aryan Olympian in the 1936 Berlin Games. The accents. The porous border where Logan simply says ‘hi’ and his limo can cross one of the most heavily fortified international gateways in the world. We can see how easy it is to score illegal prescriptions and smuggle them…south instead of north. A curious activity as in Mexico you can get a legal prescription for just about anything you need within minutes. This is not an anti-Trump movie without dissent. Mexican gangs go about at will taking everything they want without even bothering to speak English. Obviously these are not elements native to the US or that better our country by their illegal migration. But Logan has so much more than the simple Statue of Liberty hotel where immigrants go to hide hoping like in centuries past the US will accept them, the tired, the poor, yearning to be free. No, Logan is much deeper than this.
The uncomfortable truth about Stan Lee that people conveniently forget now and not one is keen to bring up is his earlier comic books, particularly Captain America and other short issued series were quite racist. It is easy to chock this up against the war – racism against Japan was in overdrive for decades after Pearl Harbor – and Spanish speakers weren’t particularly welcomed anywhere in the US after the Mexican War. But somewhere along the line, Stan Lee changed. I am not a biographer and I have not done any research so I can’t tell you if it was an epiphany he had as a middle aged man watching the fight for integration live on TV, or being a witness to Freedom Summer of ’64, the riots that tore apart this country for ten years. I’m not sure when he started to look at the world differently. Perhaps it was the Fantastic Four, his first brainchild that escalated to stardom. Clearly, though, the X-Men was more than just about mutants. It was about different people. And in the age of Blaxploitation we saw Black Panther and other minorities creep into the growing consolidated universes that came to be under the giant Marvel banner. This was not original to comics, DC was doing the same. This was not original to the entertainment industry. Film, TV, literature, all started to express the opinion that full integration was the future of America where we argued over the merits of the failed Equal Rights Amendment. Though culturally forward this seemed to be a financial no-go. Marvel came close to bankruptcy in the late 90’s and was forced to undergo a fire sale to movie right they can no longer get back. This is why Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men are at Fox and the rest of the Marvel Universe is at Marvel Studios (owned by Disney, of course).
I’m not sure how honest Stan Lee is being in current interviews when he claims the X-Men was really about the color barrier and the struggle of minorities. I don’t doubt that Stan Lee is sincere in his liberal multi-cultural views now. I just don’t attribute much in the Marvel films to that liberal attitude. I think that plays much better now particularly since the first three X-Men movies made this argument pretty solid – coming off the diverse democratic Bill Clinton era of the ‘90’s. But as the franchise went on past the initial three films, the strange tale of the Wolverine and his place as an archaic tool in a world that no longer needed him became profound. The Origins film did what it did, revealing the Wolverine as… a Canadian… and thus immune to most politics that consumes the world. The Wolverine fought because he was a fighter. The sequel, an out of place tale in Japan that unveiled more of Logan’s personality than all previous installments combined, we find the antiquated tool has walked away from the fight from injustice only to be involved in the petty disputes of the elites. In reality, Logan should have just given up and died in The Wolverine, sealing the fate he sought since he was forced to kill Jean Grey. But being incensed at injustice is not just limited to race… it is simply a method of determining what is right and what is wrong in any given situation regardless of the circumstances. In this way, Logan chose the hard road through the Days of Future Past because he became the ultimate judge. Schooled in the mind of Professor X, sharpened by the fight against Magneto, his durability tested by his constant evasion from the military-industrial complex, Logan at Winchester became that which he wanted nothing to do with: a man with a conscience. Not a perfect man, not a man with a mission like Professor X. Not a man with a chip on his shoulder like Magneto or someone trying to find himself like most X-Men like Quicksilver, Raven and even Mystique. And not a man who had the answer to everything. No. Logan had what most didn’t, probably the one thing Professor X failed at teaching most of his students: Logan had scruples. Logan knew who he was even if he didn’t remember his name. Cage fighters don’t join causes. And in a way, that didn’t change even in this film.
Scruples are hard to find these days when we’re confronted with political appointees who can make up ‘alternative facts;’ when the President of the United States and tweet whatever he wants off the top of his head to purposefully or not throw government, which craves stability, into chaos. Scruples are not held by people who look the nation in the eye and when caught with something unfeasible or illogical answer with the ubiquitous: “so?” Scruples lead people away from the illogical. They turn away from discussions that are no longer rational, much like millions turned away from voting booths last November. Scruples lead people to instead, defend their children, any children, any way they can, even if that means voting against the party they grew up in. They will vote against platforms that are mostly familiar and though they risk alienating their family, their friends, they cannot vote any other way or come to any other conclusion because they cannot compromise their moral values.
Every time Logan is faced with the fork in the road, he chooses the right thing to do over the wrong thing. He has scruples, and this son of Canada chooses to return to his homeland with kids who had no choice where they were born or who raised them but want to choose where they can go for safety. Not in the United States, because the United States is no longer safe. No longer a depository for the world’s tired and poor, the yearning masses to be free. If you want to go somewhere to make a life for yourself, according to a recent Freakonomics Podcast on opportunities in the world, you must go to Canada. This notion is new in American film. It is the rejection of American exceptionalism and though this is not a first in American film it is radical to suggest that the land of the free and the home of the brave is somewhere to flee from not to. Though the big bad corporation in the film is based in Mexico, there can be no doubt that it is an American company that is exploiting the resources of the third world for its’ own ends. Though this concept is not new Logan does deal with the concept of the hypocritical: it is okay to be different if we choose to be okay with it. It’s like a Nazi saying don’t worry if your grandmother was Jewish…we decide who is Jewish and who is not. And if you think I’m stretching the impossible check this out. Canadians are having a debate about immigration, to be sure. But they are having a debate, not a denial contest…because they have scruples.
After several lifetimes of running, Logan chose to try to help people like himself, children who were different on the outside but the same on the inside. He chose to help a dying man who needed a special kind of care that perhaps Logan could not provide…but he tried. He chose to help children fleeing a war they barely understood reach a land of safe opportunity and when he succeeded they honored him…not by burying him on American soil, which rejects people with scruples, but on Canadian soil, where the free of the future now live.