In the insiderobbie school of film, which only has one student, visceral cinema can be defined in two ways. The first being pure visceral film-making, where you get a very aggressive feeling from the action on screen, and the second being where drama hits you like a brick falling onto an ant. Logan is both of those and is the perfect film in taking a look at what the insiderobbie school of film can get out of truly powerful cinema.
The X-Men universe holds a special place in my heart and despite how popcorn trash the films can get, I will always adore the characters. And I can’t explain why, there is just something about these characters that separates them from any other superhero cohort. The Wolverine sits nicely in the middle of it all, a character that is rarely present in a film that I would consider to be artful, but shines thanks to his conflicted nature and an actor that gives everything to him. An actor that needs no introduction, simply the actor that was born to play Wolverine; Hugh Jackman. He adds a weight and full character embodiment that often makes him the highlight of the X-men movies. Then Logan comes along, the film anticipated as Jackman’s last outing and a film that is allowed to flourish.
Allowed to flourish in a sense that the director James Mangold actually gets to make the film he wants to, and with the help of Jackman they crafted together an R rated Wolverine movie. The age certificate is the catalyst for this visceral cinema relation and the point where it all begins. This is because Logan has always been an angry character, he needs to severe heads. I mean, he doesn’t want to, but we have not seen the full character until this point. We need to see that blood for us to fully understand him. And so, before I start discussing the films correlation with visceral cinema in depth I’ll do a quick non-spoiler breakdown of the film… It’s thoroughly entertaining in its action and pacing whilst separating itself from the common superhero film by having slower moments that are interesting and full of drama. Hugh Jackman is of course the spearhead again and he quite literally at times drives this film. It is grounded in a sense of age and fragility with Logan himself, and the crumbling Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). To cut this part short, because I didn’t want to do a review review kind of review thing, its phenomenally executed as a final Jackman Wolverine appearance.
*SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT*
Where the film really got me was when it was shaking my sensibility and knocking me back figuratively and literally in my seat. This is where the term visceral cinema can be aligned with the film. There is a moment in Logan where the young character Laura, who can’t be any older than 10, gets harpooned through the heart. Now she has healing powers so it certainly wasn’t a fatal blow, yet it still shocked me. From there the violence escalates and when it comes, it really comes. It is explicit in its gore, and I am a massive fan of this when it is done right. This film nails it, because it is shot and made in a way where you feel every piece of violence. Not only this but in context with the film it is used poignantly, as the moments of violence are moments of pain for the characters. Yes, it is cool seeing Wolverine, or child wolverine tear a soldier to death, however it is the weight behind the punch that makes you feel it. This is where the film slides into that first definition of visceral cinema. It is a brushstroke take of brutality and survival instincts that create a real intensity scene by scene.
Now to the interesting stuff, and I think the brave stuff. About half way through this film Charles Xavier dies. It is of course an inevitable death, as the film sets him up from the start to be in the final stages of his life. That doesn’t make his death any less powerful when it happens. He is effectively stabbed through the heart by the Wolverine himself. I say this because when it happened I thought it was a dream sequence or a distorted reality that had come with Charles’ Alzheimer’s. For a few moments you are puzzled by the scene, and the ball really starts rolling when it is revealed that this is a classic X-men ex machina. It is a governmental weaponized version of the Wolverine that has killed Charles. A brainless killer that has also brutally murdered the family that our characters have bonded with for the last few hours. The whole sequence that follows is shot in almost horror fashion, beautifully orchestrating a tough and emotional fight scene. For me, this is real bravery by the people behind the film as it is a look into the darker sides of the superhero set up. This is just a small part that I have picked out, and the film offers far more on this subject. The fact that the plot is guided by a company that is enslaving children, and putting them to sleep when they become redundant is another talking point. Or that the major theme of the film is ageing and loss, two things that we often like to hide away from. You blend this is in with the explicit action and you get a piece of cinema that is shocking in nature, which then ultimately makes it incredibly moving.
Perhaps seeing a few moments of this film would help you understand what I’m getting at. It is cinema that grabs you by the throat and changes you. I guess some of the classic parallels would be the closing shootout of Taxi Driver, where you are put through a series of bloody wounds after a subtle character study. Or the rape scene from Irreversible, that totally shifts your point of view on human nature in the narrative. Logan moves you in that way, our beloved main character is killed off by a different version of himself. A different version of the Wolverine that buries a tree branch into his chest. The horror and brutality is used perfectly to compel the tale. It reminds us of the harshness of the world and the realities that cinema can portray. Powerful realities that move us or force us to feel something. Cinema where you feel something real is important and I’m glad a superhero movie has finally won me over in that way.
Side-note: I think I could write more about this film, and in particular the techniques that Mangold uses to portray this visceral feeling I’m talking about. One day I might attempt to break down, even though they are simple in concept, Charles’ seizures in the film, as they are possibly the most powerful sequences. For now I’m going to let this sit and see what I think of the film after I have seen it a second time.