Without a doubt, Logan aka The Wolverine is one of the most iconic and celebrated characters in all of comic book history. And, since the original X-Men film released in 2000, he has also been an iconic screen presence. This is thanks mostly to Hugh Jackman, who has played the adamantium-clawed mutant in one form or another across nine films. Now, the actor is hanging up the muttonchops, closing the book on a character he has embodied for 17 years.
With Jackman’s final outing, Logan, he returns with The Wolverine director James Mangold for a much darker, more brutal take on Wolverine’s legacy, one that is filled with complex emotions, shocking violence, and more than its fair share of homages to classic cinema (particularly the western). Does the film live up to the character’s storied cinematic legacy? Absolutely. A few quibbles keep me from declaring Logan the best comic-based film since The Dark Knight. But, it’s pretty damn close.
The film jumps forward in time, bringing us to the year 2029, where Logan is working as a limousine driver near the Texas border. From the start, this is a different Logan that what we’re used to seeing; greying and weary, he would rather mind his own business than pick a fight. But, the film spares no time showing us what happens when the claws are forced to come out; within the first few minutes we see the bloody results when Wolverine’s famous rage is forced to come out and play.
At this point in the story, Logan has been alive for hundreds of years; thanks to his miraculous healing abilities, he ages much more slowly than the average human (or mutant). This is a future where mutant kind has been all but wiped out, and the X-Men we know and love are long gone. The man who once fought in the Civil War is tired, and beyond ready to die. In fact, he keeps an adamantium-laced bullet on hand to force his passing, if necessary. But Logan still has a mission—taking care of the ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is being kept in a silo across the Mexican border. The most powerful mind in the world has been prone to seizures, of the earth-shattering, potential to destroy the world type. The silo keeps Xavier’s mind trapped, as does a series of medications administered by his caretaker, the mysterious albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant).
But, Logan and Xavier are soon forced to go on the run after a mysterious man named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) comes asking about a little girl with strange powers. It’s obvious this man means the girl harm. As it turns out, a woman has been following Logan, asking if he can escort said girl, Laura (Dafne Keen) to a mutant safe-haven known as Eden, which may or may not actually exist. Logan is understandably reluctant—why chase after a fairy tale? And how can this girl be a mutant, when one hasn’t been born in decades?
As events draw them together, what follows is essentially a chase film mixed with a classic road trip, as Logan, Laura and Xavier make their way to North Dakota, all the way pursued by Pierce and his men, backed by the genetic research organization Transigen. What could they possibly want with this girl? And how powerful is she, exactly?
From the get go, the film exudes a quiet, soulful mood, so far removed from the flashiness of X-Men films past. The script heavily references the classic western Shane, and, in many ways, the film feels like a Western. The lonely wanderer, forced to defend someone from violent attackers who slowly comes to learn more about himself through the process is an ancient tale. But nothing like this has ever been attempted in a Marvel film before, and that helps to freshen the approach.
The tone and pacing of Logan are absolute home runs. Like Marvel’s recent Netflix shows such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the film feels as though it takes place in the real world, where people die and forgiveness is not easily earned. Take, for example, the moment where Logan spies one of Laura’s X-Men comics and proclaims that the vast majority of those stories are made up. Such a technique can easily come off as cheekily self-referential, but here it manages to ground the story in real space and time.
The effect can be jarring, especially when the characters reference the events of previous films, so wildly different in tone and setting. But there’s still plenty of splashy action amidst the more contemplative mood. A sequence that takes place at a casino is one of the best in the X-Men franchise, and we get plenty of chances to see Wolverine go full-beast mode, particularly in a jaw-dropping battle set in a forest.
But, the emotional core of the story is the character relationships, and it is here that Logan transforms into something special. These are characters fans care deeply about, and seeing them fully wrestle with their lives and legacies is deeply moving. The emotion is driven in by the soulful performances. Take a look at Jackman and Stewart and tell me if they’ve ever been better. Keen is also a revelation. As Laura, she is asked to carry the weight of the film, acting as the catalyst for Logan’s journey. She is incredible both in her ferocity and her subtlety, and her relationship with Logan is beautifully rendered and achingly poignant.
Perhaps one of the film’s great strengths, and also its greatest weakness, is its air of mystery. We’re asked to piece together what exactly happened to the rest of the mutants in the missing years, as well as how Logan and Xavier ended up where they did. Sometimes, a clue can be a single line of dialogue. This works well for some revelations, but others fall flat. Caliban, for example, is an intriguing character that we don’t really get to know. Most of his purpose was served in the past, but, since he was first introduced in this film, we’re not able to form the same kind of connection with him as we can with the other characters. I suppose you could say that the villains are fairly weak, but, since this the film is much more about Logan’s inner journey, this is much less of a complaint as it can be in other Marvel fare. There are also a few plot points that could have been fleshed out more—explanations and motivations are sometimes interrupted by shocking violence, never to be picked up again.
Speaking of violence, Logan is a ridiculously bloody movie. Those who have read the Old Man Logan source material should not be shocked by this. While people have been clamoring for an R-rated Wolverine flick for some time, there is something to say about a tad bit of restraint, and, when it comes to violence, the film has none. The deft, subtle hand shown in so much of the rest of the film is absent from the action and violence, which is relentless and graphic. Expect tons of sliced torsos, decapitated heads and gushing limb removal.
Whether you like Logan or not may ultimately depend on what you think the comic-based superhero film is supposed to be. Logan is thought-provoking, emotional and painfully intimate. It is not, however, a very “enjoyable” flick, and not one I recommend munching popcorn while watching. I see room for this kind of film alongside stuff like Guardians of the Galaxy. They may not have the same audience, and that’s okay. For those looking to be “entertained” by a Wolverine movie rather than challenged, I recommend one of the character’s previous outings.
When thinking of Logan, I pause less on the brutal violence than the brutal emotions, the painful intimacy and raw emotion of the whole affair. This is a gorgeous, moody, wonderful film for those ready to submit themselves to the experience. It asks us to ponder what it means to have a legacy, what it means to have a family and how one can wrestle successfully with the sins of the past. Best of all, it takes risks. They may not all completely pay off, but when was the last time you associated “risk” with a Marvel movie?