Written by Daniel Simpson
I’ve long been a champion of the X-Men franchise, but if the filmmakers have had one consistent shortcoming it’s been their inability to make compelling Wolverine movies, despite trying twice. Wolverine and Hugh Jackman’s performance have been one of the best aspects of the series, but when it comes to making spin-off films, neither have really worked. Conventional wisdom suggests that Wolverine alone just isn’t very interesting and he needs the team to stand out, but I find that to be nonsense. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is just an embarrassment on all levels while The Wolverine struggled between being a grounded character study and goofy action schlock. Point being the core issues of each were not rooted in the character himself and I’ve maintained hope that a great Wolverine film could be made. That film has finally come. The simply titled Logan promises to be a farewell to everyone’s favourite Canadian mutant and the film pushes the X-Men franchise, a series which has often leaned more mature than most superhero contemporaries, into its most adult territory yet.
In 2029, Mutant kind is on its last legs. Most of the mutant population is gone and there hasn’t been a mutant birth in decades. One of the few remnants of the X-Men remaining is an ageing Logan (Hugh Jackman), formerly known as Wolverine, now working as a limo driver in Texas while helping an ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) south of the border. Both legendary mutants are in poor health, with Logan’s healing factor in decline while Xavier suffers from a neurodegenerative disease, which when coupled with his telepathic powers has led to violent seizures which hurt those around him. Along with the mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), the trio live a quiet, under the radar existence, one which is uprooted when a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) chased by mysterious agents enters their lives. Logan reluctantly agrees to help the girl find a believed sanctuary for mutants despite the dangerous forces which pursue them.
One of the most striking things about Logan is how desolate the future has become for the X-Men and mutants as a whole. It’s possible future X-Men films might alter the timeline again but for the moment I’m considering this to be cannon. It’s somewhat disheartening to think that the hard-fought victory in Days of Future Past eventually does lead to ruin and misery, but all the same I do think it feels appropriate. If history has taught us anything it’s that the oppression of marginalized groups doesn’t just go away and no matter how much progress has seemingly been made, things can always get worse. Furthermore, this specific story is highly appropriate for Logan, a violent character who has always contended with tragedy and loss. This is reflected in the film’s story, but also the film’s R-rating. As exhilarating as it is to see Wolverine hacking people up without restraint, there is also an incredibly harrowing quality to the violence on-screen.
The storyline of a gruff and haunted older man escorting a young person through a dystopic future to reach a vague promise is not necessarily the most original idea. We’ve seen similar plots in Children of Men, The Road, and the videogame The Last of Us, to name a few. Thematically, the film also owes a lot to Westerns like Shane (which is overtly referenced) and Unforgiven. Despite these similarities, the story still works here, in large part due to how attached we are to these characters. Seeing Logan and Charles in such a vulnerable place is engaging in its own right and those emotional connection makes all the difference. We want to see these characters perform heroically again while also finding some happiness and that makes the central journey incredibly gripping. Furthermore, the film does add some twists to the aforementioned plot structure and each story beat feels true.
The plot of Logan may seem similar to other works but it couldn’t feel more different from the state of comic-book movies today. This is a stripped down, restrained story and while it maybe could have used a few more glimpses into what this future society is like, its focus on characters and emotion does ultimately work a lot better than it doesn’t. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have been awesome in the respective roles from day one and they do some of their best work in Logan. There’s a greater emotional toll placed on both men this time around and their performances rise to that level. For Logan, world-weariness has really set in while the declining health of Xavier allows Stewart to be a little more unhinged and proper while still bringing the dignity and respect that Xavier has always had. Visually, the film also stands out. Gone are the CGI robots, quasi-futuristic sets, and elements on cityscapes, and instead we are given barren deserts and rural environments. The film isn’t technically set in the post-apocalypse, but its desolate environments could fool you. Huge credit is due to James Mangold, a director who has proven to be a pretty capable (if anonymous) craftsman over the years but has rarely been given the opportunity to make something this special.
Despite feeling very unconventional as a superhero movie, Logan still excels in this regard. The action sequences are a lot smaller scale than a lot of its contemporaries, the set-pieces are still impeccably crafted, creative, and varied. The fact that the film also tells a compelling story with compelling characters leads to a greater emotional investment. What’s more, despite the film’s darker and more adult tone, this is still a superhero movie, one about doing the right thing even though it’s hard. For all the violence and sorrow, Logan still has an inspiring streak.
All told, Logan is everything I’ve been hoping for not just from comic-book movies but blockbuster entertainment as a whole. It’s a movie that delivers on genre thrills but also takes its audience seriously, presenting well-drawn characters, an engaging story, and taking genuine risks. Much as I’m impressed with the film and the filmmakers, I’m also impressed with 20th Century Fox. Fox could have merely put out an R-rated Wolverine movie with lots of action, mayhem, and fan service, and that probably would have been pretty successful. Instead, the studio allowed James Mangold, Hugh Jackman, and everyone else involved to take chances and make something a lot more special. The film builds in-fact to a pitch-perfect ending which stays true to the character while also speaking to some of the greater themes of the X-Men. As a movie, Logan is great, and a must-see. As a farewell to the beloved titular character, it’s hard to imagine it being any better.