This article contains major Logan spoilers.
They flee into the woods like lambs breaking out of a slaughterhouse. To be sure these children, these “failed” mutant experiments, are not helpless. It’s a fact that Boyd Holbrook’s grotesque Donald Pierce discovers the hard way. But they are still children, innocent in almost all matters save for that they have been classified as “others” by authorities at large. Seen as nothing more than subhuman, the youngsters are thus being rounded up by big men with even bigger guns.
There is no way that director James Mangold and his fellow co-writers could anticipate Logan was going to open in the shadow of President Donald Trump’s sanctioned raids—er, excuse me, “targeted enforcement actions”—but the juxtaposition should be obvious for any American moviegoer. And it’s also chilling. A dozen kids, all with various skin tones and born from Mexican mothers, are being fired upon and handcuffed because of where they were born. Only now it is somewhere more distinct than south of the border; it’s a Mexico City hospital. So like the law abiding undocumented immigrants who got swept up in February’s raids on illegal immigrants who have committed crimes (including now misdemeanors in a new Trumpian wrinkle), their innocence or even their youth matters less than their classification by a bunch of white men high on the intoxication of righteous authority.
In other words, Logan, whether inadvertently or not, is the perfect X-Men movie for the Age of Donald Trump—a time period increasingly looking grimmer than anything Oscar Isaac threatened in last summer’s ostensible Apocalypse film.
While few, including perhaps the new 45th President of the United States, could have anticipated the outcome of the U.S. election in November, Logan is still knowingly embracing a tradition that began in X-Men comics and has persisted throughout its cinematic descendants. The new movie is taking stories of modern day persecution and hysterical scapegoating, and adding a technicolor superhero affectation to the fearmongering. In early comics, that meant indirect allusions to the Civil Rights movement, as well as the still potent fears of another Holocaust as represented by Magneto’s tortured background. And on film, it meant highlighting the parallels between a mutant’s adolescence with those of the LGBTQ community in the early 2000s.
Famously, 2003’s X2 featured a scene in which Bobby Drake (Shawn Ashmore), aka Iceman, had to “come out of the closet” to his parents. Born as a mutant, Bobby hid his ability of freezing liquid from his family his whole life, even convincing them that Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters was just a fancy prep academy. However, as soon as he reveals he has superpowers, his parents blame themselves, incredulously ask if he’s tried “not being a mutant,” and see their other son call the cops on his brother.
While all of this would run the risk of being maudlin in 2017, X2 came out in 2003, the year before President George W. Bush and Karl Rove ran a winning campaign that was, in part, based on prejudices against members of the LGBTQ community, with phony promises of drafting a Constitutional amendment that would put in our founding document a rule prohibiting same sex marriage.
Now in 2017, Mangold and company have updated that paranoia around the latest scapegoats for a Republican president: immigrants and refugees.
Whether Trump had become president or not and attempted to ban immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, his shadow clearly fell across the screenwriting process of Logan. He entered the presidential race by suggesting that many Mexican immigrants were rapists in 2015, and ended that same year by encouraging a complete (and unconstitutional) Muslim ban.
When I spoke with Mangold in February about this very issue, he was aware that the stirring of dark forces in American culture had splashed over into Logan.
“We’re just trying to reflect our world,” Mangold told me. “This movie, we finished writing the last full script was just about a year ago… and the politics of both what was happening in Europe and in USA were all around us while making the movie.”
It’s visible during the opening scenes when a retired Wolverine is chauffeuring in his limo some frat boys headed either to a party or sorority social. Their intended destination is not important, even to them, since they have Logan drive his car past the Mexican border so they can chant at legal immigrants and Mexican travelers, “USA! USA! USA!” Failing to distinguish between legal and illegal entry, they likely can’t tell much of a difference between desperate families and “rapists” either.
Logan, though, is no more of a bleeding heart. The film begins with him decimating a gang of Spanish speakers whom President Trump could accurately describe as “bad hombres,” hellbent on stealing Logan’s limo. And he is just as cold to Mexican nurse Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) when she tries to get Logan to hear her sob story of genuine woe.
However, Logan and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) do eventually hear, and they meet a young girl who is more than just a child who’s been smuggled across the border; she’s a mutant and thus a refugee in this world. As one of the first mutants born in decades, Laura Kinney (Dafne Keen) is an anomaly. One grown in a lab in Mexico City. Hence the company that created her, the Alkali Corporation, deems her as immune to the same rights as others.
And as seen when the U.S. government meets with Alkali official Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), the feds tacitly agree. They will treat these children who have fled into the U.S. as undeserving of basic human rights.
While that is extreme even for our world, how far off could it be from President Trump’s America? In Logan’s 2029, the Mexican border has at least a partial wall, and there is a subtle dystopian undertone to the future. Charles Xavier is hiding south of the border, because the government has diagnosed his decaying mind to be a WMD. And for Laura and Gabriella, America is not freedom… it is a bridge to Canada. Their goal is for Logan to take them both to North Dakota where they’ll rendezvous with other mutant Mexican children to crossover into the safety of the Great White North. Again, this is uncomfortably prescient since after Trump’s draconian (and currently overruled as unconstitutional) executive order that banned Muslims and offered preferential treatment to Christian refugees was implemented, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Syrian refugees just fleeing to live are still welcome in Canada.
Laura and her fellow children are also fleeing Mexico and the U.S. to simply live, and the film’s U.S. government is making it harder by allowing Donald Pierce and his gang to swoop. Thus by the end of the film, Logan is giving his life so the kids will not lose theirs.
When I spoke with James Mangold last month about the film, he told me the ending was in part inspired by the little seen John Wayne Western, The Cowboys (1972). In that picture, Wayne’s Wil Andersen also dies on a cattle drive while he’s protecting the lives of nearly a dozen young boys who he’s recruited to help drive the herd. You can see the influence in how the children, as well as an immaculate Roscoe Lee Browne, bury the Duke’s body in a lonely slice of prairie and then seek their revenge. They even gang up on Bruce Dern at the end, just as the mutant kids wreak a terrible vengeance on Pierce before Logan is over.
But the way the conflict is construed is more than just a riff on an old Oater. Nay, this is a mirror of America’s uglier underbelly circa 2017. The choices were deliberate. In the comics, Laura/X-23 is not born from a poor Mexican mother, nor is she a refugee trying to cross two borders. These are deliberate choices made by the filmmakers to shine a light on an immigrant experience that they know better about than the actual privileged men currently running the government. It’s why Laura doesn’t speak for over half the movie, but when she does, it’s in Spanish. It’s also endearing as she punches some common sense into Logan’s self-pitying depression.
At the end of the film, Zander and Pierce make their excuses for why Logan should allow them to take Laura and her friends hostage again. Pierce starts to sneer to Logan, “These are dangerous times….” So begins any rationalization for systematic abuse. Logan and the film give an appropriately succinct counterargument.
It’s comic book violence and catharsis, but the real world cannot solve problems in such a way. And yet, once again, an X-Men movie is ahead of the curve of a culture giving into its darkest impulses. Like the Wolverine’s grave, we should put an “X” on these self-inflicted cruelties too.
Logan is on Blu-ray now.
*** This article was first published on March 6, 2017.