It’s 2029 and there are no more new mutants. No more colorful leather, no more skintight body suits, no cool airplanes and no more “what-powers-does-he-have” mutants. There’s no more hope and no more fun. What’s left is an old, sad and uncanilly sick Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) looking after an even older, sadder and sicker Professor X (Patrick Stewart). With them is Caliban (Stephen Merchant) who possesses the ability to track and find mutants like themselves.
Set in a small town along the Mexican border, Logan is hustling hard as a limo driver to get enough cash for the maintenance drugs that Charles Xavier needs to manage his mutant-grade telekinetic seizures. The professor, who is borderline senile, can no longer function as the “superhero” he once was and regularly goes in and out of sobriety. He obssesses and ruminates on a certain “new mutant” that he insists Logan needs to find and protect. This young mutant is Laura (Dafne Keen) who has strikingly similar abilities and powers as Logan and is in hot pursuit by the anti-mutant fanatic Reavers led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Logan reluctantly takes Laura under his care in an attempt to reunite her with her friends in “Eden”- a haven for new mutants like her who have gone into hiding. This unlikely relationship finds Logan discovering more about Laura and himself.
Director James Mangold doesn’t waste anytime. In the first scene alone, he raises a middle-finger to all of us expecting the colorful, happy, and hopeful family fun normally associated with Marvel movies. Instead, he exposes his fangs (and claws) early. A gritty and gory fight sequence with blood, guts and limbs flying around an underlit redlight district set the precedent for what’s to come. This isn’t your usual X-Men movie–thank god.
The film’s silent and subtle burn draws out quite slowly, blanketed under a deep melancholy that you almost forget this is a comic-book character–and a favorite one at that. I’ll probably get into trouble saying this, but Logan is probably to Marvel what Batman is to DC. He has an extremely fleshed-out history and a deep source of anger and angst that he almost becomes real and ironically, too human.
Unfortunately, not since Bryan Singer’s first salvo of the X-Men did we get a proper glimpse of who Logan really was. The fans, including myself, were just more than overjoyed to have such a perfect actor in Hugh Jackman fill in the boots of arguably the most important mutant in the X-Men universe, that we overlooked the atrocities and failings of X2, The Last Stand, Origins: Wolverine and yes, even The Wolverine. While the individual films have their merits, it seemed every new release with Jackman headlining it as our beloved Weapon X was a feeble attempt to correct the mistakes on the character of the film that came before it. Even the modest appearances of the character in Days of Future Past felt underwhelming.
Not until Logan. Mangold flexed the same muscle that got him his Oscar nod for Walk The Line in this one. Mangold went back to the basics: the character himself. A tortured, beaten, unwanted, exploited, tired, angry but loved monster who always identified himself as an outsider, and an “other.” One who never thought himself a hero; one who was intrinsically good.
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The film delves more into deep dramatic arcs, relationships, and personal stakes than it does the apocalyptic circumstances surrounding them. So more than the special effects and heavy CGI, what seemed to matter to the filmmakers here were the performances… and boy, were they great.
Patrick Stewart is a master. He plays a multi-layered Charles Xavier who holds on to the altruistic nature, but cannot help be consumed by the death and despair that he has seen and lived through. This of course has taken its toll on his heart and his uncanny mind. Stewart exposed a frailty to Charles that we haven’t seen before outside of his relationship with Erik. Stewart turned Charles Xavier into a messiah who has had to live through the effects of his failure.
Dafne Keen is a treat to watch. Her Laura a.k.a. X-23 is exciting, impish, terrifying, mysterious, freaky and loveable all at the same time. She speaks for only around 10% of the film but her nuances and range is rather admirable.
It is quite unfortunate that this is the last announced installment of the Wolverine franchise since this is the one that finally got it right. There must be an award for actors who have originated a character in film and have nurtured them through time. Hugh Jackman has owned and pissed all over Logan marking his territory for a good couple of generations. Jackman’s Logan is rounded, aged, tired and extremely human. We witness how this man has prevented himself from loving precisely because everyone he has loved has ended up hurt or dead. That’s a lot to swallow. He allowed this comic book character to be vulnerable, broken and uncomfortably organic. Jackman made sure that if we were to forget all the other X-Men films, were never to forget his Logan.
Sans the bleak honesty, partial nudity, foul language, violence and gore; Mangold still reminds us through sparse and partial nuggets that we are indeed watching a Marvel film. He throws in some self-aware jokes, and it is this kind of intelligent self reflexivity that makes this particular X-Men film accomplished and lasting.
The director took a beloved comic-book character and turned him into the Western that he always was and he deserved to be. With Mangold paying homage to all of the tropes, he has turned a comic-book film into a modern film classic, and a comic book character a true modern hero. It is the perfect salute to Jackman, who has carefully and dutifully loved this character in a way only a fan like us could love.