There is a beautiful moment amount the midpoint of this movie that has all our titular characters sitting down and eating dinner. Logan, Professor X, and newcomers X-23 all have dinner with a regular working class family. There is a calm to this scene, a beauty and also a sense of heartbreak. We’ve come so far with these characters to arrive at this point. To see them at this point, and in this state, crushes you a bit but at the same time gives you such joy to see. It’s a complex whirlwind of emotions that director James Mangold and his team of filmmakers manage to pull from me. Most of us that are seeing this movie have spent 17 years with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart in these roles (as Wolverine and Professor X). But even if you haven’t there is already such great context given to viewers who are “newbies” to this world.
It was at this point in the movie did I truly realize how much I was enjoying it. It had a small simplicity to the story and the slower pacing felt rather refreshing. “Logan” (as we expected) is a superhero movie that manages to transcend its genre into something else entirely. “The Dark Knight” (and the trilogy as a whole) function as crime dramas rather than a standard superhero epic (which is great in its own right). Marvel Studios plays around with genre a bit here and there with “Captain America: Winter Solider” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” but “Logan” functions as a film that could easily work without its source material. “Logan” is a great western drama with the best elements of sci-fi mixed in. This is a stripped down, raw, violent and character driven film that has only the smallest of minor quibbles.
“Logan” takes place as a standalone entry in the series. Is it part of the “X-Men” continuity? Yes, and no. It’s clear that some of the adventures they had in past entries happened but as far as future films leading up to this moment is unclear. Not that it matters. “Logan” does not require you to view any of the previous movies nor does it require other filmmakers to lead up to this. It is simply a story that a few people wanted to tell. Which in the current state of cinematic universes and long forms of storytelling are quite admirable. “Logan” takes place in the near future (in the year 2029) in a world where almost all mutants are extinct. Logan is working in hiding as a limo driver and hides an ailing Professor X. Without going into much more plot detail they come across a young girl with an extraordinary ability that takes them onto the road and on the run from a group of people who desperately want her.
The story is pretty simple. While there are more plot revelations than the ones I’ve currently listed (some kind of get side stepped) Mangold and Hugh Jackman understand to keep the plot rather simple like of the best westerns. Mangold is no stranger to the western genre after directing the 2007 remake of “3:10 to Yuma” and is also familiar with rural America after his work on “Walk the Line”. Both of which comes into play to the feeling of this movie. There are some Sci-Fi elements in this movie but it never betrays the more grounded take on the Wolverine character. Some of the Sci-Fi elements actually ground the characters even further.
James Mangold previously directed the last Wolverine flick (simply titled “The Wolverine”). It’s clear from that film that he had a great grip on the character. It was also clear that he couldn’t quite do exactly what he wanted either. He didn’t get full reign. The plot falls apart in its third act with too much comic book madness that didn’t fit his vision. In that movie, he made allusions to other Japanese cinema and Samurai films (as it took place in Japan). Here he makes a lot of allusions to Westerns of old. The most obvious of course is the movie “Shane”. That type of grip on the genre that he is working on permeates and elevates the film.
Mangold directs both the action and the actors extremely well. The action is clearly seen (even when he utilizes more close up angles) and is extremely entertaining. The violence is brutal. This movie earns that highly coveted R Rating. But what Mangold manages to accomplish is to not make it feel excessive nor in your face. The brutal and bloody violence feels natural to the storyline and is very impactful. There is a consequence and an impact. It’s not there for the sake of being violent or being edgy.
This is also Hugh Jackman’s and Patrick Stewart’s best performances as their respective characters. I think Jackman’s best performances in the “X-Men” cannon has come from Mangold’s films. This is a fitting and poignant sendoff performance by the pair of them. Hugh Jackman brings Logan/Wolverine down to a level of vulnerability (not just in the physical sense) that we haven’t seen before from him. Stewart is given levels to work with Charles Xavier that he just has never had in previous films. He is a sick crippled old man. A shell of his former self that struggles to hold onto what made him the caring and thoughtful teacher he has always been. The pair together has always had great chemistry but the relationship between the two that was explored here is emotionally tugging and meaningful. There is some resentment on some sides of the relationship and a little more push and pull. The pair brings these characters to an emotional stimulus that was needed for their last on-screen outing.
Dafne Keen plays newcomer Laura (or referred to as X-23). Her past and how she factors into the plot is very interesting. Keen though for a child actor plays a really tough role. She doesn’t talk for at least half of this movie. Not only does she have to act against Jackman and Stewart, and be physically threatening, and perform in these complicated action scenes but she has to be expressive and emotive without dialogue. Keen owns every scene she is in. She has a great level of talent beyond her years. She pulls off everything I listed above that and pulls (once again) emotion out of us the audience in a heartfelt way.
I have two quibbles with this film, though. The villain(s) are just functional. The performers are good and do their job well; they serve the plot but I never felt imposed by them or felt a big presence from them (with one exception that I won’t spoil). But I thought this movie did need a bit more of an imposing hateful villain to really tie this whole package together. The other minor thing is there is a small plot point that I felt was a retread of something from “Deadpool” and gets a little thrown to the side. However, that’s a minor quibble.
There are many more comic book movies coming out later this year but it’ll be hard to imagine any of them topping what “Logan” managed to do. It is yet another example of why it’s sometimes good to have different Marvel properties at different studios. We would never have gotten this movie with Marvel Studios. “Logan” is one of those films that you can show to someone that isn’t a comic book movie fan (or someone that claims they are all the same) and they will enjoy it. It’ll be hard to imagine this movie, not in my top ten of the year. This is a thoughtful, poignant end to Hugh Jackman’s run as Wolverine. One that does not disappoint and stands up high and mightily amongst the rest of the series.