He will make you hurt…emotionally
The superhero genre has seen some ups and downs over the years, but none quite as extreme as the X-Men franchise. After the first film premiered in 2000, the franchise kicked off the genre’s surprise return to popular culture’s dominance after Batman & Robin almost ended their viability as profitable products, save for Blade as a last minute save from extinction. The 2000 film also launched the career of Hugh Jackman and forever transformed the public’s perception of his character, Wolverine. While the character had always been a fan favorite, “sexy” wasn’t often said in the same sentence as describing Wolverine until Jackman came along. But after one decent sequel, the X-Men film franchise went for a freaking loop.
After 17 years, you could really only say that First Class and Deadpool were truly great, the first two were decent, and the others were just plain crap. Finally, Jackman is ready to retire his role as the character that made him a household name and he’s chosen to star in honestly one of the most brutal, heavy interpretations of the character. Now, after my impression of Batman v. Superman, you might be thinking this is a route I would not prefer. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, and Logan aptly demonstrates why Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice failed while carrying itself off as one of the best damn films to interpret superheroes.
We’re in the not-so-far-off 2029, and mutant-kind is all but extinct. Mutants haven’t been born in years and the X-Men have all been killed save for Wolverine (Jackman) and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) for a reason that I’ll allow the film to reveal. Logan has been running around as a limousine chauffeur so that he can buy the pair a boat to live the rest of their days on account that Logan’s healing ability has been faltering in his advanced age and Xavier is an almost senile 90-year-old man with random bouts of psychic seizures that could level an entire city block. Keeping the elderly founder in Mexico, Logan tries to eek out a living in Texas when he gets approached by a nurse asking for safe passage to North Dakota for herself and a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen). The two have been pursued by cybernetically-enhanced mercenaries lead by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). When the nurse turns up dead, Xavier pleads with Logan to escort the young girl to her intended location as she’s an honest-to-God mutant, one of the first born in a very long time, and her powers are eerily similar to Logan’s.
First thing’s first, Hugh Jackman was always great in the role of Logan in seven out of his eight appearances (Apocalypse was kind of shit overall). So it’s no surprise that he’s good in his final appearance, but what is surprising is that the movie around him is actually damn great. Jackman has a script for him to convey actual pathos and meaning to his beloved character, and he rises to the occasion to give you a Wolverine who’s just exhausted from all the superheroics he completed in his life. Hell, he’s a bitter old man who scoffs at comic books that depicted his exploits as some grand affair rather than the cold trail of of dead allies he’s survived through.
This de-romanticizing of superheroes extends to the film overall, which shows all fight scenes in bloody, brutal intensity. For the first time ever in film, you get to see the full power of Wolverine…which is kind of strange when you realize this guy’s power is to cut people into ribbons. And we had to wait until Logan, 17 years after his on-screen debut, to see this brutality in all its messy glory. I’m not pointing this out as a positive because I’m a blood-hungry psychopath (I mean, I am), but because the intense fight scenes fit with a very weighty story that wouldn’t look out of place among modern Westerns like Hell or High Water. I don’t comparison lightly either, the lone cowboy wandering the wilderness searching for purpose fits Logan‘s story perfectly and it makes for a refreshingly dark film after the special-effects bukake that was Apocalypse.
Complimenting this dark story is Patrick Stewart giving a radically different interpretation of one his iconic characters from so many years ago. Charles Xavier is no longer the regal statesman that mentored and guided many a student, but is now a frail, old shell of his former self. His character constantly bickers with Logan as both are extremely frustrated by their current predicament. Aside from a great makeup job, Stewart gives a heartbreaking portrayal of a man who’s truly been broken. Not by some nefarious villain or some cosmic threat, but by the ravages of time itself. And he harbors a terrible tragic secret that isn’t revealed in some big way, but in a quiet, nonchalant manner. It felt extremely human to me compared to anything I had seen in any X-Men film, made all the more heavy because fans recognize the gentle headmaster who welcomed them to his institute all those years ago.
But the kindness breaks through Xavier ever so slightly when Dafne Keen’s Laura shows up, at which point the film immediately belongs to this young actress. This kid is a find and a natural talent, giving a performance that many adult actors can’t muster, one that’s on par with Jacob Tremblay’s turn in Room. Aside from delivering some raw emotion despite remaining mute for a large portion of the running time, she has amazing physicality when she demonstrates her mutant power: slicing shit apart just like Logan. Her fight choreography is intense, feeling both acrobatic and somehow not appearing staged the way most fist fights end up appearing. I can see younger audiences being captivated by this character…if there parents will let them into an R-rated production.
And make no mistake, the R rating is used to full effect. This is a bloody film, with cussing and a tiny bit of nudity to top it off. Yet the mature elements don’t feel tacked on or exploited the way the very cheap R-rated version of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was. And hey, that a great segue way to explain what I meant at the beginning of this review. One of the many reasons Zack Snyder’s opus didn’t work was his attempt to emulate one of the most famous comic book stories, The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, by copying its style and dark tone without any understanding of its history or its place in the larger comic consciousness. The Dark Knight Returns came at a time that people were still intimately familiar with the goofy, colorful Batman from the Adam West days, while also presenting a deconstructionist tale on the pointlessness of being a superhero. It was a true shock to the system on the business of superhero comics. But Batman v. Superman wanted to be both the deconstructionist take AND the poppy Avengers at the same time. These are two fundamentally different tones to approach action films, and trying to use both lead to highly uneven film that felt lost in what is was trying to say.
Logan doesn’t suffer from this problem at all; as a matter of fact, it demonstrates exactly how to approach a revisionist take in the mold of Miller’s classic tale in a way that Snyder could never make. For one, Logan isn’t obsessed with looking the part of a dark tale, it’s more concerned with how it feels. Secondly, the movie comes after years with audiences growing up with this interpretation of a popular character being portrayed by a particular actor who’s been inseparable from this role. And thirdly, the direction of James Mangold comes together to form a human tale of a man trying to make one more right at the end of his lifespan, whatever the cost. Best of all, Logan doesn’t even have a connection to some other film the way most superhero films are now obsessed with dropping teasers for future projects. It’s truly a perfectly self-contained story to be enjoyed all on its own.
I have very little to critique here. Hell, I didn’t even feel the lengthy running time of 136 minutes and thought I was in the theater for less than two hours. Ultimately, you need to check this film out if you’re a fan of this character and you definitely to see this film if you’re a fan of classic Westerns. This is a very enthusiastic…