PLOT: Forced to live in dreary reclusion while caring for his dying mentor, one-time X-Men member Logan has become a broken down shell of his former self. He’s spurred into action when confronted with a dangerous young mutant on the run from the sinister corporation that created her.
REVIEW: LOGAN is surely the best Wolverine/X-Men movie ever, there’s no contest at all. It is also perhaps the best superhero movie, period. But that all depends on if you’re willing to classify it as such. You can’t help it to a degree; it’s a movie focusing on mutants with super powers, after all, but because the film skews so much closer to a western and sheds all the colorful CGI chaos we associate with these films nowadays, it’s hard to even call it a superhero movie at all. It’s a great picture, no matter what genre you want to put it in, and a perfect last rodeo for its titular character and the magnetic star who has played him for 17 years. This is Hugh Jackman‘s most significant work; LOGAN is what he’s been working toward all this time.
Directed and co-written by James Mangold, LOGAN is many things: an action thriller, dysfunctional family drama, road movie and even a horror movie at certain points. The movie is so brutally straight-forward in its violence and intensity that there’s no doubt a large portion of the audience will be knocked back into their seats, unprepared for just how much this “superhero movie” has earned its R-rating. The film is not without sentimentality, however. If anything, LOGAN has more genuine emotion in it than most of the X-MEN movies combined, and the way it treats these characters can accurately be described as poignant.
The story is ripped from the pages of a dozen western screenplays – most notably, UNFORGIVEN. Logan has retired from the saving-the-world game, as there are barely any mutants left in the world at all. He lives, along with albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant in a surprisingly affecting turn) in an abandoned factory somewhere in the ass-end of New Mexico. Slumming it as a limo driver and drinking his days away, Logan still has something of a purpose: he’s in charge of taking care of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose once-mighty mind has degenerated to the point where he’s having seizures, deadly ones at that. (A particularly bad one can kill anyone in the surrounding area.) Both Logan and Charles are essentially waiting out the last of their days, barely holding on to a pipe dream of buying a boat and sailing off into the sunset. Logan, who of course has always been invincible, has found himself falling apart. His rage, however, has not dwindled; in the film’s stunning opening sequence we watch him savagely make mincemeat out of a pack of carjackers. He may be ready to die, but he’s still going to go out fighting
The old gunslinger must find a cause to believe in, however grudgingly, when he’s confronted with Laura (Dafne Keen, very good), a young girl with abilities similar to his own. Laura – or X-23 – was born in a lab by a scientist (Richard E. Grant) intent on creating an army of controllable mutants. A sympathetic nurse (Elizabeth Rodriguez) has saved Laura from certain doom and sought out Logan to bring the girl to a supposedly idyllic locale in Canada known as Eden, where young mutants are offered a safe zone from the forces of evil hunting and exterminating them. Logan doesn’t want the responsibility, but is willing to consider it for the right price. Charles is, naturally, far more intrigued by the girl, who is just as prone to startling violence as Logan. What forces Logan’s hand is the arrival of Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a heartless mercenary hired to find X-23 and bring her home. Logan, Charles and Laura must take the long drive north to this supposed Eden, despite the foolishness of the journey in Logan’s eyes.
When it’s not bringing to mind UNFORGIVEN (and in an even more pointed nod, the classic western SHANE), LOGAN has the road trip vibe of TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, as this unorthodox makeshift family travels toward an uncertain destination with a determined antagonist on their tail. I also thought MAD MAX: FURY ROAD a handful of times. Like T2, LOGAN is able to balance rousing action with surprisingly tender character moments. There is just as much time devoted to Logan and Charles butting heads and sharing memories than there is to Logan slicing up a constant onslaught of baddies. Not that Mangold makes us want for sequences of our protagonist going berserk: when LOGAN ramps up the violence, it does so with a vengeance. Decapitations, dismemberment, guttings, face-stabbings; LOGAN makes the audience cringe and clap in equal measure. (One particular sequence, however, is truly distressing. You’ll know it when you see it.)
The details given Logan, the character, are meticulous. He has to wear reading glasses (much to his dismay) and his growing heartache at his inability to heal the way he once did is palpable. The character, as drawn by the movie, essentially is ready to call it quits, but his somber frustration at the shell of the man he once was is present in Jackman’s face every step of the way. It’s a very excellent performance by the actor, who one can tell invested his heart and soul in the character’s final act. He’s always been good as the Wolverine, but much like the X-MEN movies themselves, the performances all eventually blended together. Dare I say, it started to feel quite one-note. But here, Jackman gives it his full-blooded all, and the badassery of Logan reaches the iconic heights he has always deserved.
Patrick Stewart‘s turn as Charles is just as effective. As has been the case with Jackman’s Wolverine, Stewart’s Prof. X has been a reliable piece of the X-Men world, but at a certain point the character seemed to be doing and saying same old things. in LOGAN, Charles is a spirited, but irreversibly damaged, soul; pitiable and helpless in the face of advanced age and lingering remorse. (We learn a shocker from Charles in one of the movie’s more emotionally-charged moments.) Stewart is eloquent and refined, as always, but Xavier has never been more human than he is in LOGAN, and it’s a credit to Mangold that he gives the actor plenty of scenes to shine. It’s the kind of role that gets actors Oscar nominations, and while I think the Academy will initially be hesitant to bestow such an honor in this movie’s case, it would be very nice if they really gave Stewart (and LOGAN in general) some serious consideration.
As it is true with so many Marvel movies (Fox or Disney), the villains are the least interesting aspect. Holbrook brings some punchable-face swagger to Pierce, but he’s never much more than a glorified henchman. Grant, as the nefarious scientist leading the hunt for Laura, barely has enough screen-time to make an impression. The loads of mercenaries consistently dispatched by Logan and Laura are nothing if not disposable. There is a surprise bad guy unleashed in the middle of the movie, but I shan’t spoil anything about him. (Although I’m sure the secret is already out there.) He’s a fearsome foe, but still far from the most memorable thing about the film.
By the time it’s over, LOGAN has put you through the wringer. It’s as exhausting in the same exciting/harrowing way MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is, where the action was not only phenomenally, breathlessly staged but it contained stakes for characters we genuinely care about. There has never been a “superhero movie” like it, although my guess is there will be plenty of imitators right up the road. Good luck to them, because LOGAN is going to be pretty tough to top.