Hugh Jackman’s 17 year run as Wolverine has come to an end with Logan and, in my opinion, it is a game changer. There have been other comic book movies that have come along and felt fresh by showing us something new within the genre, but nothing that has completely changed the genre. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) took the genre to space and felt fresh with it’s playful characters and fun tone. Deadpool (2016) changed the genre by showing the studios they can make an R rated movie and still make tons of money (which was a huge accomplishment, if for no other reason than it allowed a movie like Logan to be made). I’ll give them credit, those movies took a fresh approach to making a comic book movie but, in the end, they fell into the same rut. They still followed the superhero movie formula and are really no different from any of the other countless superhero movies that came before them. Then Logan came along and (hopefully) changed the way superhero movies are made from this point on.
Logan separates itself from the superhero movie pack by being 100% not a superhero movie (Well. . . maybe not 100%. I mean it does have some superheroes in it still. So let’s go with 90%?). Every other superhero movie (with the exception of The Dark Knight (2008)) has taken their character, and the story and themes for that character, and plugged them into the already established (and well worn) formula. Their ideas for the story arc, themes, and any true character development are seriously hampered by the need to stick to the formula, play it safe, and rake in a ton of money. Nobody ever thought (or more accurately, was allowed by the studios) to throw the formula, the cliches, and the established norms for the genre out the window and make something truly unique and creative. Any time somebody attempted to create a unique vision for a superhero movie, they have either been forced out by a heavy handed studio (Edgar Wright, writer of Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007), who left Ant-Man (2015) due to restrictions from the studio) or they have had their work butchered by forced reshoots and studio editing (David Ayers’s Suicide Squad (2016)). Thankfully, Deadpool made R rated superhero movies a legitimate money making possibility. Sony took that one step further and allowed director James Mangold total creative freedom. Mangold had already showed a deep understanding of the character in 2013s The Wolverine, but that movie was also held back by a PG-13 rating and genre restrictions. This time around, Mangold is allowed to truly explore the character and build a story around his vision, instead of trying to cram his vision around the genre checkboxes that he was forced to use the first time. The result is a truly spectacular character study that just happens to be based on a comic book character.
The plot is fairly straightforward. Logan and Xavier are hiding out near the Mexican border. mutants no longer exist so they are alone in the world. The world they once knew is gone. Everything they worked to accomplish is gone. Logan’s life has been reduced to caring for an aging and ailing Xavier and working as a limo driver to raise enough money to buy a boat so they can live a life of solitude on the ocean. Then their life is disrupted when they meet Laura (Dafne Keen), a young mutant, who is being pursued by evil forces.
In my opinion, the first scene of Logan could not be better. It establishes the character perfectly by immediately showing us exactly who Logan is, or has become. We see him wake up from a drunken stupor in the back of a limousine as some gangbangers are trying to steal the tires. He stumbles out of the car and confronts them. Based on what we’ve seen of Wolverine for the past 17 years, we think we know how this confrontation is going to go. But this isn’t Wolverine. This is Logan. This is a man who, at one time, may have been The Wolverine, but is now a shell of his former self. He is shot with a shotgun and it affects him more than we’ve ever seen in the previous movies. Logan gets up from the shotgun blast, and extends his claws. . . except one of the claws doesn’t come out all the way. Then we see him get beat up by this gang of common criminals, the type of people who shouldn’t stand a chance against Wolverine. He is tossed to the ground and beaten, barely able to even defend himself. . . then it happens. The switch is flipped and we see there just might be some Wolverine left in this man. Anger overtakes him and we see the rage filled animal we have come to know. . . except this time there are no restraints, no PG-13 rating, no studio restrictions. The animal that Wolverine is, Logan’s true nature, is fully unleashed. Limbs are severed, claws are thrust through arms, heads, and necks. We get to see the full effect of what Logan is capable of, and we get to see the end result of his savagery.
As a whole, that first scenes is exactly what Logan is about. It borrows heavily from westerns like Shane and Unforgiven to present a theme about the consequences of violence and the effects of living the life of a gunfighter (or, in this case, a clawfighter?). We see how a life of violence has affected Logan both physically and mentally. How he has been forced to live a life of solitude due to the fact that his lifestyle tends to put anyone he gets close to in danger. At the same time, we see that a life of solitude is almost unattainable because of his reputation. People seek him out as both a weapon to be used and as a protector. The movie explores these themes and it does so with an actor who deeply understands and loves the character he is portraying.
Hugh Jackman is absolutely amazing in this movie. Jackman is a talented actor and has been able to show flashes of that greatness during his time as Wolverine, but, for the most part, he has been, as my brother describes it, “Completely wasted on stupid comic book movies”. Logan finally lets Jackman show his acting range and ability without wasting time on the typical comic book movie filler. Logan is his movie and he doesn’t waste the opportunity, giving a compelling and memorable performance. Logan is worth seeing for his performance alone, even if you have never heard of the character or don’t enjoy movies based on comic books.
Jackman isn’t the only actor that excels in his or her role. Patrick Stewart (who hasn’t exactly shown a whole lot of range as an actor before) is perfect as Charles Xavier. Like Jackman, Logan is Stewart’s final time in the role and he draws everything he can out of it. Much like Logan, this is not the same Charles Xavier fans of the series are used to seeing. We see glimpses of the leader and teacher that he used to be, but a degenerative brain disease causes him to drift in and out of lucidity. That, combined with his inability to completely control his powers, has made him a danger to pretty much the entire world (I mean, we’re talking about a guy who can literally kill anyone simply by thinking about it). As Xavier, Stewart portrays the pain and regret of past failures, while still showing the tenderness and hope for the future that has long been a staple of the character. It is that hope for the future that becomes the heart of the movie, and brings brightness to an otherwise bleak movie.
Lastly, Dafne Keen is great as Laura Kinney (comic fans will know her as X-23). I was a little worried about her character going into this movie because, . . . well because child actors are usually complete and utter trash. Keen was able to do everything that was asked of her, and she was not only 100% not annoying (a small miracle in itself), but she knocked it out of the park! It helped that she didn’t speak at all for about half of her screen time, but even when she did, she was great. She was able to effectively show the anger that drives the character as well as sadness, sorrow, and a childlike innocence, all without making it seem like she was acting. Everything felt natural. My standards for child actors aren’t high. Basically, all I ask is that they don’t completely ruin the movie (I’m looking at you Jake Lloyd in Star Wars Episode 1!). Keen far surpassed those expectations by giving a very solid performance.
The action in Logan isn’t necessarily amazing (by that I mean this movie won’t be remembered for its action scenes), but it is very effective, not to mention perfect for the movie. There are no over-the-top action set pieces like you see in most superhero movies. Instead, the action fits the tone of the rest of the movie perfectly. They are grounded in realism (as much as scenes involving a guy with metal claws coming out of his hands can be) which help to make the characters more real, and more relatable. Most action movies have a plot that only serves as a bridge between the action set pieces. Logan is the opposite. Logan is first and foremost a character study. Since that’s the case, the action is a result of the progression of the plot and the characters, making it feel natural and making it more effective.
The R rating is very evident in the action scenes. As I mentioned before, no limbs or extremities are safe. Arms, legs, heads, you name it, chances are some claws are driven through it or it is forcibly removed from someone’s body at some point in this movie. Logan is violent and bloody, but it isn’t violent for the sake of being violent. It doesn’t use it’s R rating to shove blood and gore in the face of the audience. It merely uses it to tell a story without restraints. Wolverine is a very violent character. Violence is a significant part of his life, and part of who he is as a person. Without the R rating, it would be hard to convey the themes and portray the character as effectively as they were able to do here.
I’ve been raving about how great Logan is, but I should be fair. Not everything is great. Most notably, the villains aren’t very good. Boyd Holbrook plays the leader of the group of Reavers that is after Laura. He isn’t terrible in the role, it just feels like the role isn’t that great. He talks a lot and orders people around a bunch but, ultimately, he really doesn’t do anything at all. There’s another surprise villain that comes along near the middle of the movie. I won’t spoil who it is, but I will say it works better as a metaphor (maybe a bit of an obvious metaphor), than an actual character. I won’t complain too much about it though, since it didn’t take away from the effectiveness of the movie. Also, that character was responsible for some of the better action scenes, and that definitely counts for something in my book.
There was one more thing that didn’t quite do it for me. Remember when I said child actors are garbage? Luckily, Dafne Keen was great. On the other hand, about 20 other kids come into the movie towards the last bit of the movie, and none of them are very good at all. Even if they were decent actors, their parts in the movie were admittedly eye-roll worthy. It felt a bit like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) when they had Max running around with all those little punk kids. It didn’t ruin the movie, but it did take away from it a little bit.
All in all, Logan is easily one of the best superhero movies ever made. Batman and Christopher Nolan fanboys will argue that The Dark Knight (2008) is better. I don’t know. I can’t really argue with that. I prefer Logan over The Dark Knight, but that’s really based on character preference more than anything else. Let’s just say they are both great and leave it at that. Logan is more than just a great superhero movie though, it is a great movie in general. It’s refreshing to see a comic book movie that is catered to adults. A movie with real themes and fleshed out characters. A movie that I don’t have to check my brain at the door to enjoy. I hope studios take note of Logan’s critical and financial success (that one is probably more important to them). I don’t need them to make these movies R rated just for the sake of it, but I do want more adult oriented comic book movies! And if the character’s story calls for an R rating, “make it so!” (Ya I just quoted Captain Picard in an article about a movie starring Patrick Stewart. I’m a nerd. What do you want from me?)
Logan has flaws, there’s no question about that, but it is a faithful portrayal of a deeply interesting character. If you like Wolverine, you’ll like it. If you like good character driven movies, you’ll like it. If you like fantastic acting, you’ll like it. What I’m saying is, I don’t see ANY way somebody could not like Logan. You may not enjoy it as much as I did, but you definitely won’t regret watching it (If you watch it and you regret it, feel free to curse me out in the comment section). It is a terrific send-off for two amazing actors, and it deserves to be seen. I will absolutely be revisiting this one many times in the future.