REVIEW – Logan
Directed by: James Mangold
Produced by: Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner
Screenplay by: Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Story by: James Mangold
Edited by: Michael McCusker, Dirk Westervelt
Cinematography by: John Mathieson
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Jayson Genao
Released in 2000, about 3 years after the abomination known as Batman & Robin seemingly killed off the superhero film genre, the first X-Men, even more so than its 1998 predecessor Blade, proved that comic book superhero movies really could find new life in cinemas, provided that the filmmakers took their subjects seriously. While Fox’s X-Men films have had more than their fair share of stumbles, particularly last year’s massively disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse as well as more egregious works like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Last Stand, they have also proven that the studio is willing to take some bold chances, too, rebooting and reorienting timelines with period films, or greenlighting a breakout R-rated comedy action film that proved that risks sometimes pay off with Deadpool. By far, however, the breakout element out of any of these films has been Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, who has been a constant presence throughout all these films from the very beginning, appearing in films even when his presence wasn’t necessarily needed because the studio knew he was just that good in the role. Hugh Jackman’s a talented guy, no doubt, but we’re all curious about whether or not it would have been as good as it has been had it not been for his casting in the first X-Men film – something that both nearly didn’t happen and was once a controversial decision at the time due to Jackman’s height betraying the comic character’s usually small stature. That was over 17 years ago, however, and now we’re facing the end of an era, with Jackman declaring Logan will be his final film as the iconic berserker. And thank God for that, as I think we’d all be disappointed if his cameo in Apocalypse was the end and not the phenomenal Logan – a film that may very well be the best superhero adaptation since The Dark Knight.
Logan takes place in an undisclosed timeline, in a future where the X-Men are no more, their exploits having become little more than embellished stories from the past now retold in comic books aimed at kids. Now working as a limo driver, the man once known as the Wolverine has noticeably aged after all these years – shocking, given his usual regenerative abilities, now hampered by the iconic adamantium that’s poisoning his body. In his care is the one last connection to a formerly hopeful past, Charles Xavier, the former head of a school for mutant children as well as the X-Men themselves. Now in his 90s, Xavier suffers from cataclysmic seizures, his once legendary brain deteriorating and becoming violently unstable in his old age. There’s no one to carry on his legacy, with Logan having never really embraced his brand of idealism, and seemingly no purpose in doing so, either, as no mutants have been discovered in over two decades. Given in to the inevitable and resigned to witnessing mutantkind’s extinction, Logan’s less than thrilled when his past once again comes back to haunt him in the form of a little girl in need named Laura, whose reason for being bears more than an uncanny resemblance to his own.
Logan is as much about the character’s own reflection on his legacy as it is a reflection on the relationship between the character and fans who have latched onto him since Jackman took on the role. As fans have always wanted, we also finally get to see Wolverine at his most primal, more so than even the unrated cut of James Mangold’s own The Wolverine, which reinstated the more graphic violence not seen in the PG-13 theatrical cut, yet it still seems tame compared to Logan. There’s very little chance of editing without the film losing its identity and the impact of seeing Wolverine at his most raw. The violence is graphic, but it’s that shocking nature which is important to understanding what is weighing down on Logan.
Born in the 1800s, he’s seen and done some bad shit, and he’s been attempting to run from that past, even trying to atone for those sins. None of this ever came easy for him, however. His penchant for blind rage and general aversion to being a team player often put him at odds with even the saintly Xavier, sometimes even more so than Xavier’s more obvious opposite, Magneto, who at least sought out the company of other mutants. Wolverine could not have been any more unsuited to carry on the legacy of the generally peaceful and kind man who brought him in and, until only recently, never showed signs of giving up on him. With the arrival of Laura, Logan is now faced with what may end up being his last chance to solidify what his legacy could be – that of a powerful man who ran from most the problems that came to define his life, or that of a troubled man who bravely faced his issues head on and inspired others to do the same.
This freedom to cut the Wolverine loose has also seemingly resulted in the actors in the roles getting to sink their teeth into the material, as well. Jackman ably balances Logan’s fury with his anguish over things that happen both in the present and are gravely hinted at in the recent past, and he even gets to go deeper to locate the caring side of a man who, despite being near invulnerable for most of his life, has rarely ever let his guard down. Patrick Stewart also returns, also possibly for the last time, as Xavier, retaining the man’s dignity, even though he’s no longer really in charge of even his own body these days. Stewart has always been capable of making even crap scripts sound immaculate (something he’s probably going to literally prove by playing the freaking poop emoji in The Emoji Movie), but the broken, stubborn, and frustrated portrayal of a fading Xavier really contributes to the audience feeling the stakes of what’s taking place. Stewart and Jackman switch between hostility and genuine affection and admiration for one another throughout the movie, never once feeling like anything and everything in between is forced for the mere sake of the script telling them this – their history together feels authentic because these two are both skilled actors who have, indeed, been working together on this franchise for years and are now giving their finale their all.
It’s a wonder, then, that newcomer Dafne Keen manages to still hold her own between the two as Laura, despite most of her performance consisting of pensive stares and snarling. It never once feels like you’re watching a comedic situation (unless the film is actually giving you a rare and welcome moment of humor or happiness) or some kind of strange idea of how to play a feral kid. Laura stands in as the personification of Logan’s legacy. Those of you know are familiar with her comic book or TV counterpart (the character got her start on X-Men: Evolution, an animated series that was commissioned after the success of the very films in which she now features) know already the gravity of her existence, but the film does a very fine job of conveying her extraordinary and tragic origin – perhaps even better than any other film has depicted Logan’s own – and Keen was undoubtedly the right choice for the character. She’s a fantastic mirror of Wolverine and, in much the same way as Jackman did 17 years ago, is immediately endearing. It also helps that the movie is adept at making her action scenes feel somehow realistic, editing and using the right amount of special effects to sell the idea that this snarling child is capable of taking down grown men three times her size.
I really don’t have anything bad to say about this film. Even at 2 hours 21 minutes, Logan feels like it’s properly using its time, never feeling sluggish or padded out. Everything has its purpose, and even though the villains aren’t nearly as theatrical as Magneto nor as potentially catastrophic as Apocalypse, they serve their purpose without distracting from the main focus of Logan and his tiny family of outcasts. The film is action-packed and yet it finds the time for contemplation and heartfelt conversations. It’s gritty without being grim. It’s hopeful without being cloying. It’s dark without denying that light exists. Sure, much of its power comes from knowing about all the films that came before it, but I doubt anyone is also going to feel shortchanged by having not seen, say, The Last Stand or X-Men Origins. The film manages to fill in those gaps enough to know who these characters are while not becoming redundant for those who have followed the characters in any medium. This is honestly just a fantastic film, overall, no “for an X-Men” or “for a superhero film” qualifiers necessary.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 5 / 5