Logan | James Mangold | March 3, 2017
So often with the production of big studio comic book movies, a hot in-demand indie director is hired and soon stripped of any unique artistic vision, forcing him to play by their rules and churn out another competent film that takes no risks. By this method, they play it safe enough that they continue to keep everyone happy enough, while also setting new box office record after new box office record.
Well last year, Deadpool changed the comic book movie game, going with a hard R format that allowed the film to bring a new level of violence (as well as an expanded vocabulary of choice curse words) that gave it all a much welcome adult feel. Many naysayers would say comic books are just for kids, but eventually those kids do grow up, and who’s to say they don’t want a film for themselves? It proved that even with the restricted rating, people would come out to see something that was finally meant for them.
Well here comes Logan, a very R-rated Wolverine movie that truly feels like a standalone picture. For a good chunk of its first half, if you walked into the film blind, you wouldn’t be 100% sure that you’re watching the latest entry in the X-Men film series. It’s a rather dark, grim film, that feels like a meditative Western (with literal references to the 1953 western Shane), with a level of gloom and impending mortality that hasn’t quite been touched on in a comic book flick since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
Directed by James Mangold, who also directed The Wolverine (2013), he gets to really dig in and make the film that he really wanted to back then. He also worked on the script that was co-written with Michael Green and Scott Frank (who also co-wrote The Wolverine). This is very much Mangold’s vision, as it seems Fox gave him the key to this vehicle and let him run rampant.
In the near future, Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) are hiding out in the dusty Mexican border along with Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Professor X isn’t feeling well, and his illness could have grave consequences for the world if not properly tended to by Logan and Caliban. They’re not the only ones suffering, as there haven’t been any new mutants discovered for 25 years.
Things get even more complicated with the arrival of a mysterious young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) who brings in some unwanted attention from some dangerous reavers fronted by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant). Laura knows of a place called Eden which is supposed to be a safe haven for young mutants, but Logan is skeptical of its existence. He wants nothing to do with this, but he’s pushed by Professor X, who sees Logan has a connection to this young girl, whether he wants to admit it or not. It’s up to them to get Laura there, all while being hunted by Pierce, Rice, and their allied dangerous forces.
The first half of Logan has a dark gritty tone that really allows it to feel like its own thing. It’s equal parts Western (and looks the part thanks to cinematographer John Mathieson) and road trip movie immersed into the world of Wolverine and X-Men. Both Wolverine and Professor X aren’t doing too hot. Time hasn’t been kind to either of them, and they are worn down and beaten like never before. It’s the arrival of young Laura that injects some youthful life into them, giving them a well-needed sense of purpose that they had so clearly been lacking. For the first time in a long time, they have hope that there are more mutants out there for them to help.
Logan works so well because of its singular feel from the rest of the countless X-Men movies (and serves as redemption for last year’s very disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse). Mangold’s direction gives the film some actual real stakes and gravitas, something that is a lingering issue in so many comic book tentpoles. This is not a knock on the genre as a whole, but what makes Logan stand out is the fact that it doesn’t feel like a comic book movie. Sure, you have the necessary plot points that they have to hit on and the expected epic fight scenes, but for once they seem to have found a mostly happy balance between the two.
Logan isn’t a good movie strictly because of its R rating, but my god, it doesn’t hurt. Even casual fans of Wolverine will be giddy at seeing Jackman able to curse at free will and drive his claws violently into the skulls of bad guys. One scene in particular in a hotel will stand out as one of the finest in the whole X-Men series. The film doesn’t have to cater or coddle to any particular viewer, and we finally get the Wolverine movie we have wanted for so long now. The third time is indeed the charm.
After 17 years, Jackman is ready to finally put down the claws, making Logan his swan song for his take on the popular beloved character. If that’s truly the case, this is about as perfect of a farewell that I can imagine. The character has had many different arcs and experiences on the big screen throughout the years, but nothing in the emotional range of what he experiences in Logan. There’s a real sense of humanity and growth felt, one that separates it from being just another good comic book movie, elevating it into something pretty great. This ending gives it all a beautiful sense of finality and closure, to the point that it’s hard to imagine any X-Men film finding a way to follow what may become known as the finest X-Men film to date.