It’s hard to accept that Logan is Hugh Jackman’s final portrayal of Wolverine. X-Men was released in theaters when I was four years old, and I’ve stuck with the franchise ever since. In a series marked by incredible highs (X2) and crushing lows (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), some degree of concern was warranted when this new installment was announced. And considering that Jackman and Patrick Stewart have made it clear that they’re done with X-Men, the pressure for Logan to deliver was particularly high. Thankfully, it did.
Logan’s opening scene does a superb job of establishing the main character’s physical and mental state. Our first encounter with the mutant, a man of charisma and heroism, exhibits neither of these qualities that he was known for in the past. He awakes in the back of his car to the sound of men stealing his hubcaps. When he exits the vehicle to confront them, it becomes evident just how much Logan has changed. He’s haggard, drunk and aged. The man, who was once an inspiration to young mutant students, limps along, not even able to fully extend all of his adamantium claws. After pleading with the thieves, and suffering a beating as a result, the Wolverine we know finally comes out, brutally slaying his attackers. This is a hero whose best days have long since passed, and the fate of mutantkind is in a similar state of fragility.
In 2029, despite previous attempts by the X-Men to save the species, mutants are dying out. Logan and Charles Xavier live in an abandoned plant across the Mexico-United States border. Spending most of his time working as a chauffeur, Logan tries to make enough money to buy meds for Xavier. Like Logan, time has not been kind to Charles. He has begun to display Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, causing him to sometimes lose control of his powerful telepathic abilities. In time, a young mutant named Laura shows up on their doorstep, voraciously pursued by an organization known as Transigen. Xavier convinces Logan to escort the girl to a place in North Dakota called Eden, and the three embark on their journey.
Let’s get this out of the way. This film is brutal. X-Men is a series that, for 17 years, has flirted with the idea of a hard R-Rating. X2 was originally rated R and subsequently edited down to a PG-13. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was written with an R-Rating in mind but was later toned down. And The Wolverine received an “Unleashed Extended Edition” that included bloodier violence and a couple more uses of “fuck” for good measure. However, most people still considered it to be in the light R-Rating territory. 2017’s Logan finally delivered – hard R.
It is important to note that while the film’s graphic violence is a series first, it does not seem forced and instead feels appropriate to the story director James Mangold wanted to tell. Logan’s action scenes also benefit from competent direction and editing. The use of tired techniques like shaky cam and quick cuts are, thankfully, kept to a minimum. With this release, and the release of John Wick: Chapter Two a few weeks ago, I’m starting to think we may be witnessing an American R-Rated action film renaissance.
While the action scenes are series-best material, their occurrence is fairly minimal. Logan has more in common with Children of Men and 3:10 to Yuma, quiet dramas with periods of intense action, as opposed to its costume-donning, city-destroying superhero contemporaries. Primarily concerned with effectively realizing the trio’s bond, the film is far more intimate in scope than one might expect. That sense of intimacy is achieved largely because of the excellent performances at the heart of the film. This final outing sees Logan and Charles at their most vulnerable, and Jackman and Stewart rise to the occasion, easily maintaining viewer interest. The actors have such a strong rapport off-screen that their father-son relationship in Logan feels exceedingly natural. Dafne Keen, the young girl playing Laura, holds her own in scenes with the series’ veterans. (She had the additional challenge of taking on a character who doesn’t speak for the majority of the film.) The 11-year old actress conveys so much with mere facial expressions that moments where she speaks feel like a bonus.
Logan does not, however, reach the credits unscathed. The film has problems similar to the films in Marvel and DC’s cinematic universes, namely, boring antagonists. Three villains appear throughout the course of the narrative: Transigen project head Xander Rice, Transigen head of security, Donald Pierce, and a character whose identity I won’t spoil. All three, while well-acted, fail to leave a lasting impression. (It’s been nearly a decade since Heath Ledger raised the bar with his genre-defining performance as the Joker. How much longer will we have to wait to see a superhero film villain of the same caliber?) There’s also a group of characters, appearing toward the end of the film, whose inclusion felt unnecessary. I’ll discuss this in more detail under the “Spoiler Talk” section of this review.
X-Men is one of the longest running American film franchises and it shows no signs of slowing down. But what’s more impressive is that Logan, the tenth entry, is arguably one of the series’ best offerings. It doesn’t quite reach the dramatic heights to which it aspires, but it’s still a damn good film, breathing life into a genre suffering from overexposure.
Rating: ★★★★ out of ★★★★★
One of my problems with Logan occurs when Logan and Laura reach Eden. At this point in the film, they meet up with a group of young mutants who, along with Laura, had escaped the Transigen facility where they were subjected to experimentation. Logan ends up having to lead the young mutants across the Canadian border in one last heroic act. My problem with this sequence is that it feels a like a betrayal of the film’s small-scale structure. The focus had been on Logan and Laura’s relationship, but at this point in the film, some kids get tossed in and I just didn’t care about them. The emotional impact would have been stronger had the film kept its focus solely on the characters we’ve been watching for two hours.
Over the past few months, there have been an endless amount of comparisons made between Logan and The Last of Us. Since this is the case, let me use The Last of Us as an example. What if Naughty Dog had decided that Joel wouldn’t just save Ellie at the Firefly lab, but a dozen other kids who were also immune to the infection? Would such a twist and hasty introduction to new characters have been as impactful as the original conclusion? No. It would have diminished the importance of Joel and Ellie’s father-daughter relationship. The final action scene in Logan is brutally satisfying, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have been even better had Laura been the only mutant Logan needed to save.