It has gotten to the point where our superhero films can be titled after the characters’ real names and everyone knows what it’s referring to. Then again, Wolverine isn’t just any superhero–with now eight film appearances, there isn’t a more filmed hero in live action cinema.
Logan is the type of film fans of the character (or the X-Men in general) will see no matter what, but onlookers who have dabbled with superhero films may want to check it out too. That’s not only because it’s a rare rated R superhero film (thanks in no small part to Deadpool’s success), but because according to star Hugh Jackman it offers a definitive end for the character he’s played so well. While Sony continues to reboot Spider-Man endlessly and Marvel has phases of films planned for a decade, it’s refreshing to know a superhero can get an ending they deserve. But is it the ending we deserve?
Babs Tarr’s awesome Logan poster.
So what’s it about? The synopsis reads:
In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.
Why does this movie matter?
Aside from it being the ending to an era for Hugh Jackman (because who doesn’t love this actor?) this is also the first time we get to see one of the most violent superheroes get the hard R rating. Those of you who love violent action films like Predator or Alien best bring the popcorn. Outside of that, this film adds a new layer to the X-Men universe from the future, which allows the creators to play around a bit and not get bogged down with continuity.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Much of this film is a road trip picture.
Director and co-writer James Mangold (with Scott Frank and Michael Greenhas contributing) managed to take one of the most superhero-centric properties and remove the costumes, flashy powers, and melodrama so as to leave a gritty and realistic core. Fantastic characters like Xavier (played excellently by Patrick Stewart here), are now old, disheveled, and very much not the sexy heroes from the comics. That includes Wolverine, as his age and powers are failing him and he’s losing any real reason to keep on going. You never fail to realize he’s a human being and every step is a labor at this stage of his life. There are powers in this film, but they never distract from the human condition of its characters. It makes this film exceptionally powerful because it is probably the easiest to relate to. Xavier is nearing his last days in his 90s, Logan hates his job and life, and even the one time villain Caliban wants a simpler life.
The film is smart enough to know fans of this character want the superhero stuff too. There’s a clever meta-connection to actual comics that ties quite well into the ending. Wolverine and his fellow X-Men were larger-than-life, and now because of comics they’re basically legends. The villain basically tells Logan he admires him, the young girl Logan helps named Laura (played by future star Dafne Keen) knows him from the comic books, but Logan tells her those weren’t real. Not really. Mangold has crafted a comic book world where Logan and Xavier are almost myths, much like with the old west tall tales–and Logan lives in the shadow of such adventures. You get the sense that the powers of mutants are on the way out and the world is already forgetting they exist.
The emotional core of this film–a little girl lost and needing protection–is reminiscent of Lone Wolf and Cub and other western adventures, which suits Wolverine’s narrative. He’s always been the reluctant hero–never more so here–and that plays well into the character dynamics. Xavier knows Logan is good at heart and drives him to do better (as he seems to have done in every film iteration of their relationship). The girl knows this too partly because they share a tight bond. The idea of family, of who we hold dear, is explored in this film, which is interesting from Logan, the ronin wanderer. This bond pays dividends by the end of the film and gives it a solid conclusion.
And yet this movie is wall-to-wall action as well! The action never seems to stop–a large portion of the violence-free non-action scenes only take place only to let Logan heal enough to ready for the next battle. Mangold has stuffed the film with brutal violence and fans of Wolverine should delight as the blades cut through heads and chests throughout the film. The girl is equally brutal with plenty of kills (I can’t wait to see a kill counter on this film) and the villains rack up the deaths too. It’s not all hand to hand combat (or is it hand to claw?) either, with an excellent car chase thrown in earlier in the film.
The music does a great job enhancing these action sequences, with a western type twang in the finale popping in, and some chaotic piano in the car chase. The music does its job well throughout the film and much like Marvel’s music as it isn’t distracting. It serves as a complement to the film.
Deep down the film has a strong message about immigration, which some might miss. Wait, hear me out. It opens on the Mexico border, we see Logan as a limo driver carting around people shouting at folks, “USA, USA” and it even has a scene where characters run for the border to save their lives. The film doesn’t necessarily have a solution to immigration, but it certainly questions the idea of forcing people out of their homes.
It can’t be perfect can it?
Technically the film is great, but some choices are made (or not made) that serve the plot rather than make a lot of sense. Two moments stand out, and both end up getting characters killed which make the heroes look bad. The plot progresses, and it seems the purpose is to make the viewer angry at the villains. One of these mistakes ends in some brutal violence, which certainly reminds the viewer the world is a grim and dark place, but given how much violence is in this film it almost seems gratuitous. Consequences for violence are important, but it sticks out and seems B-movie pointless.
There was an attempt to connect this film to the storied history of westerns and I’m not sure it achieves this goal. At one point, the little girl and Xavier watch a western on the TV, and it’s a somewhat heavy-handed way to foreshadow what’s to come for our characters. Later, a western twang is heard, but the actual events in the scene don’t imbue a sense of the western visually or thematically. I love the western genre, but the film attempts and fails to accomplish this.
The bad guys aren’t very interesting. There’s basically three villains, two of them being your standard jerk/megalomaniac types. The other a brainless killing machine. The film isn’t very interested in developing them beyond showing they want to capture Laura so they certainly serve a purpose, but don’t expect a fleshed out villain you’ll care about one way or another.
Logan once again attempts to find family.
Logan is an excellent action film and a fine ending to the hero we’ve come to love over the last 17 years, through ups and downs. The film delivers on showing Logan at his most feral and vulnerable, which keeps you emotionally invested all the way through. It reminds us that the reason we love this character, and love how Hugh Jackman played him, is because of his tenacity to never give up, because he can’t. This film makes it that much harder to forget that Jackman, and Logan, are heroes that belong with the greatest.