Hugh Jackman’s final X-Men outing is a gripping character drama with a side dish of brutal action.
“Logan” is an artistic achievement and a breath of fresh air in a cinema drowning in comic book movies. It’s a gripping character drama with a side dish of brutal action. It delicately balances harrowing themes with moments of levity and humanity. In short, Logan represents some of the best of what modern sci-fi and superhero stories have to offer. Lighter, more family friendly fare certainly has its place, but Logan is a striking reminder that the fantastical can be grounded in something relatable and emotional. The film is not without its faults – a few of which slightly impeded my personal viewing experience – but I left the theater thoroughly respecting it.
This is the story of a broken man in a world without heroes. The days of being Wolverine are long past for our titular protagonist as he chauffeurs the mediocre masses in order to buy medication for a degenerating Charles Xavier. More closed off and brooding than ever, Logan just wants to escape to the sea and be left alone. Through a whirlwind of events however, Logan and Charles wind up on a dangerous road trip transporting a young mutant named Laura to a highly dubious safe haven. The film asks: “Is Logan broken beyond repair or does he still have time to open himself to human connection?”
From its opening moments, “Logan” distinguishes itself from its X-Men brethren. The film shares tenuous connections and references to what has come before, but part of what makes “Logan” work so well is how it stands on its own. It does not look or feel like any of the previous movies in the franchise. This isn’t setting up a sequel, which opens up the stakes in a wonderfully refreshing way. No one is trying to end the world, but the personal stakes have never been higher for our anti-hero. The danger and pain feels real – helped in part by the shiny new R rating. Despite the fresh coat of paint, “Logan” beautifully honors the legacy of the character Hugh Jackman has played for a staggering seventeen years. This is the film Jackman, Wolverine, and fans deserved.
This is a beautiful film. The cinematography has a character and style to it that stands out in a way few superhero films do. The dark themes are contrasted with bright skies and open environments. The film doesn’t need to be shadowy, grey tinted, or ominous to tell you that dramatic things are happening – they just are. This beautiful sense of contrast seeps into numerous aspects of the film.
Director James Mangold understands how to make a mature blockbuster that doesn’t feel dark for dark’s sake. His film is serious but it blends in humor and happier moments throughout to provide a more well rounded experience. Charles, Logan, and Laura share a familial bond and with that comes conflict, laughter, warmth, and tragedy. The humor doesn’t feel forced or quippy but rather natural and subtle which adds to the grounded tone.
The thematic contrast between dark and light is also evident within the characters themselves. Logan is an old man still struggling to find himself. He hasn’t come to terms with who he was or who he wants to be. The battle between his brutal, cold-hearted side and the more hopeful one that lies beneath, manifests itself in the villainous X-24 and Laura respectively. This idea is handled with subtlety as Laura is her own person and not merely a symbol of Logan’s goodness. That said, Logan is definitely faced with the best and worst he has to offer.
The action was enthralling, but what really made this film shine was the dialog, acting, and characterization. Jackman has never been better. This was Logan at his most broken state and Jackman infused him with pain, strength, selfishness, and love. Not to be outdone, Sir Patrick Stewart certainly gave him a run for his money. No longer simply a paragon of heroism, Stewart was able to add more nuance to Xavier than he ever has before. The kindness and intelligence are intact but there are new layers of cruelty, guilt, and vulnerability that really help to flesh out the character. Xavier and Logan’s conflict is expertly crafted throughout the movie. They are consistently at odds but Logan’s actions speak far louder than his words. There is quite literally nothing left in this world that he cares about more than Charles Xavier and that includes his own life. This undercurrent of love keeps you with Logan through his harsher actions and colder words as he is very much a capital “A” anti-hero.
Of course I can’t leave “The Good” section without talking more about Laura. Played by Dafne Keen, Laura adds life into this movie and plays incredibly well off of Logan. They are kindred spirits but Laura has a lot more time left than old man Logan. There’s still a chance for her in a way Logan can’t imagine for himself. While “Stranger Things” fans out there will certainly see shades of Eleven in Laura, Keen rises out of that shadow by the end of the film. There have been characters like her before, great ones, but Laura still stands out due to Keen’s intensity and heart.
Like so many superhero films that have come before it, “Logan” has a villain problem. It’s a real shame because it was so close to getting it right. Early in the film we’re introduced to Boyd Holbrook’s Donald Pierce, the enigmatic head of security for the mysterious Transigen organization. Pierce is an immediately engaging villain and Holbrook plays him with swagger and ferocity. One conversation is all it takes to convince the audience that Pierce is a formidable opponent. He’s smart, confident, dangerous, and disquietingly likable. Unfortunately he’s quickly sidelined in favor of his much less engaging boss, Zander Rice. Rice is as generic as they come – a narcissistic mad scientist without a shred of charisma, vulnerability, or dimension. He doesn’t feel dangerous. He barely feels like a character. He’s a plot point.
Sadly, the villain problems don’t quite end there. I’ve mentioned the positive more symbolic side of X-24 but he also comes with a lot of baggage. X-24 is a “soulless” mutated monster Dr. Rice cooked up in his lab. He’s a villain that not only exemplifies a tired trope for comic book movies in general, but, even worse, feels uncomfortably reminiscent of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” territory. We’ve been here and done this far too many times.
My other major complaint with the film sadly lies with the handling of Xavier’s degenerative illness. Simply stated, it was confusing. Perhaps I would have understood it better if I’d had the power to pause and rewind, but the symptoms he exhibits upon his introduction never seem to return. This could be explained away by his medication but that doesn’t quite make sense either. He acts the same with or without it after that initial scene. Medication aside, it feels like an odd move to return Charles to a nearly normal mental state for the majority of the film. Having moments of clarity would be one thing, but this quick fix felt jarring. His mental struggle was positioned as a core tenant of the film and then was, seizures aside, unceremoniously dropped.
Finally, the last item in my con column is admittedly a highly personal issue. This film reminded me of the hit video game “The Last of Us” to a distracting degree. There are A LOT of parallels between the two works. It got to the point where I felt I knew where certain beats of the movie would go based on what happened at that point in the game. More often than not, I was right. I don’t know if Mangold used it as inspiration but plot point for plot point these two follow a highly similar course until diverging at the end. There are contextual differences to be sure, but the quantity of the parallels definitely took me out of the film from time to time.
“Logan” is R-rated in the best way possible. Before you even step in the theater it sets the tone: this movie is for adults. That doesn’t just mean there are swears and guts. “Logan’s” characters and themes aren’t treated with kid gloves and the language and violence simply work to ground the picture further.
The violence is brutal, very brutal, but it isn’t gratuitous. Logan is a violent man and he does violent things. There are “Hell yeah!” moments for those that want them, but Mangold didn’t linger on violent imagery unnecessarily. The violence predominantly felt that it was there to serve the film, not simply look cool. Notice that I said “predominantly.” This is still part action movie at the end of the day. The action is peppered throughout however, and well-paced. It was refreshing to have a superhero movie that didn’t overly rely on epic drawn out set pieces. That said, the action does get a little repetitive. There’s only so many ways to show someone getting hacked up by claws or stabbed through the head. One sequence stands out however, as they found a really cool way to combine Logan and Xavier’s powers.
As for the swearing… it just felt right. At no point did it feel overused. Logan would swear. Not to a comical degree but in the way that a human being speaks. The real standout in this regard was Charles though. Hearing Patrick Stewart grumble “F*** off,” might feel like a small thing but it legitimately adds to his character. He’s not just a perfect symbol of virtue anymore. As a result, Stewart felt more connected to James McAvoy’s portrayal of the character than he ever has before. I don’t know how different this film would be if it had shot for a PG-13 rating, but I can say that the freedom of the R-rating only helped to enhance the film.
This section is exclusively for those who have seen the movie so if you don’t want to be spoiled, stop here. Go see the movie. You won’t regret it.
So, they killed Wolverine. Not a total shocker. We knew this was Jackman’s last outing and hey, from the get-go this film was dark as hell. At first, I was slightly let down by this ending. I’d been hoping they’d subvert my expectations. I’ve come around to accepting that it was the right way to end Logan’s story however. My girlfriend put it best: “the embodiment of Logan’s brutality was put down by Laura, but it was too late.” He’d lived too long, done too much. He ended on a moment of pure heroism and human connection though. He ended on top. So it’s an emotional and tragic ending but Laura is still there to give us hope. She saw his journey and can learn from it. Perhaps the next Wolverine will overcome her monstrous nature before it’s too late. Perhaps something better lies ahead for these kids in general.
I still have a few nitpicks about the ending. After Logan is impaled there are three debatably cheesy moments pretty back to back. Now I totally understand that many audience members were emotional during these moments and likely loved them, but they were hit-or-miss for me. Firstly, there was Laura calling Logan “Dad.” I knew she saw him as her father. That was clear and, in my opinion, better left unsaid. It lacked subtlety which was further exacerbated by Laura quoting “Shane,” the classic western she’d watched with Charles earlier in the film. Perhaps I’m a stick in the mud but it just felt too obvious a set-up earlier in the movie. The big ending of course was Laura turning Logan’s cross into an X. In retrospect, I like this moment. It’s sweet and adds a sense of family and legacy. It’s also a bit on the nose which was hard to swallow right after the previous two moments. So, I didn’t love the ending but I’m coming around to it and I certainly appear to be in the minority.
So many superhero films have come out since Hugh Jackman first donned the claws and tank top. The genre has changed and grown quite a bit. I’m glad to see that there’s still new stuff out there and that Logan was able to change with the times as well. This feels new and that’s hard to do at this point. As a comic book fan I’m glad to see that we haven’t done it all. There are more stories to tell.
As for “Logan,” it was a beautiful end to a character that has had his fair share of both good and bad films. Hugh Jackman has been a standout in even the lowest points of the franchise and it’s great to see him end out on top. This was a powerful film filled with violence, hardship, family, loss, and entertainment. Much like its protagonist, it had its faults, but when looked at as a whole, there’s a lot more good than bad.