Like 2016’s Deadpool before it, James Mangold’s Logan is destined to be this years R-rated comic book blockbuster. But aside from their shared comic book lineage and adult-centric rating, these two films could not be more different. In many ways Logan feels as much of a departure from the X-movies as Deadpool did, just for varying reasons. Logan is a heartbreaking and brutal movie. It works especially well as its own singular story, trying as hard as it can to raise and set itself apart from the preceding films. But that’s also where things get a little murky.
Logan is the rare film where context works against it. As a singular work it’s a very good film, perhaps even great in brief stretches. This is an X-Men movie with a distinct look and feel that’s more in line with The Way of the Gun than anything in proper series. To steal a term from the comics, Logan feels very much like a one-shot (the film itself is loosely adapted from Mark Millar’s eight issue Old Man Logan run). One-shots often explore popular characters from new angles or in different settings; Logan sets out to achieve both. It’s not hard to see why this appealed to the film’s star, Hugh Jackman, as the script wraps things up in a profound and affecting way and delivers a story that will stay with fans of the series for a long, long time.
Logan marks Jackman’s ninth appearance in the role. That’s astounding when looking at the greater landscape. In that span of 17 years we’ve seen three Spider-Men, two Supermen, two Batmen and multiple Jean Greys, Professor Xaviers, Hank McCoys and Scott Summers. That Jackman’s been able to hold court as Logan for so long is a huge achievement that cannot be overlooked. Seeing him put the character to bed here is both bittersweet and finite in an almost poetic way.
Let’s first discuss Logan as its own animal apart from the rest of the series. On these grounds Logan succeeds almost effortlessly. It turns out that a character with healing powers and anti-aging benefits is a great vessel for a meditation on the inevitability of death. It’s clear from the outset that Logan’s last days are in sight. Age has brought unforeseen consequences. His healing power is slower and diminished, his claws don’t always pop out like they should, and a subtle cough suggests more ugliness brimming just beneath the surface. In essence, this is a Wolverine that knows he’s going to die soon and has little investment in the world around him save for a dilapidated limo he drives seedy passengers around town in. His endgame is not equality for mutants. It’s saving up for a boat that he sail off into the sunset on.
Logan has always been a character whose prickly exterior hides a heart of gold. That’s evident here when we discover that he’s been hiding and treating a very old and possibly senile Professor Xavier (another returnee in Patrick Stewart). When a young girl with some familiar claws (Dafne Keen playing X-23) shows up in need of safe-passage, all the pieces are in place to explore Logan’s deep-rooted desire for a family. It’s heady, heart-tugging stuff; made all the direr amid the violence and brutality that permeates Logan’s 2+ hour runtime.
There’s a lot about Logan that just flat-out works. The action is top-notch and assisted mightily by an R rating that finally puts those claws to proper use. This movie earns its R in the first scene and just builds on the viscera from that moment. Still, I’d argue that the violence and gore never feels overindulgent.
The performances that matter are all above board as well. Jackman raises the bar here in a profound way, and his final turn in the role is one of the most fully-realized comic book characters ever witnessed on screen. The struggle and listlessness of James Howlett has never been more palpable. And as the mute X-23, Dafne Keen cements herself as a future player in this series and beyond. Still, the performance that really struck me comes from Patrick Stewart, who after umpteen appearances in the series finally has some meaty dialogue and character beats to work with. During the film I wasn’t always on board with the directions they take Professor X, in the past used as a pillar of hope amid the bleakness. It ends up being Stewart’s immensely affecting performance, not the writing, that renders that grievance moot as you’re watching the film.
Where Logan really drops the ball is with its rotating villains. This is a film that presents not one, not two, but three central villains. There’s a great scene early on that sets up Boyd Holbrook’s headhunter as a perfectly vile scumbag worthy of a claw to the head. That character gets diminished mid-movie to set up Zander Rice, the head of the program that created X-23. If that’s not enough, Rice himself is then pushed to the back to make way for another, mystery villain that feels lazy and unnecessary. This new villain mirrors Wolverine’s internal struggle (he’s really fighting himself, you see), in corny a way that thinks its more meta than it really is. If they were going to go this route, they might as well have just written Wolverine’s estranged son Daken into the film, thus enhancing the family drama without reminding me of Nuclear Man from Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. Any villain that reminds you of Nuclear Man is a bad villain. This is movie law.
Logan fails in one other aspect that I’m almost loath to mention, as the movie is decent enough that it might not matter to some. I’ve mentioned that Logan is pretty excellent when taken as a singular work. As an X-Men movie in larger context, Logan is as bleak and nihilistic as they come, and in a way that sort of diminishes the hopefulness of the earlier films. The X-Men have always been about hope in the face of overwhelming adversity. Logan presents a future where the good guys lost and the ones left are being dispatched in brutal fashion. The ending here does indeed provide a sliver of hope but it comes after some pretty significant sacrifices that left me deflated and emotionally exhausted.
Logan may be a double-edged sword for more hopeful fans (this guy, guilty), but the ambition that Mangold and Jackman bring to the table is worthy of high praise. This is an X-Men movie that tries and often succeeds in being more than its predecessors. What doesn’t make for an easy watch still succeeds as a highly effective one. I’m not convinced we’ve seen Jackman’s last turn as Wolverine. And in a way that doesn’t matter, because even if Jackman makes 1,000 more films as Wolverine (there’s plenty of timeline that Logan does not cover), he’s still managed to give the character a definitive ending not easily undone and even harder to forget.