For those of you who are precious about movies staying true to the comic books, I’m here to tell you that you should stay away from Logan. More Western than superhero movie, Logan has no qualms about doing its own thing away from the established storyline of the comics. In doing away with those stories, co-writer and director James Mangold has free rein to do what he wants with these characters. We had hints of what Mangold could accomplish with his samurai riff on the character in The Wolverine. As much as I may enjoy that film, Mangold seems to have taken off the training wheels and in doing so, created the best send-off possible for the Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman.
Set in the year 2029, Logan, going by his original name James Howlett, spends his days as a chauffeur. Beaten down and looking worse for wear, Logan is attempting to save enough money to get himself and the fragile Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) a boat to live on the sea until their dying days. Time is running low with Xavier’s dangerous seizures and Logan’s adamantium bones poisoning him. Before long Logan is asked by a nurse named Gabriella to help take her and her daughter Laura to a place in North Dakota called Eden. Logan soon realizes he has no choice as the Transigen corporation comes searching for the nurse and little girl at their secret hideout in Mexico. Little does he know, Logan is about to find out that this little girl, also known as X-23 (Dafne Keen), is going to push them out into the open.
There is a breath of fresh air almost immediately once the film starts. As I’m sure you’ve heard, this film is violent. This film features severed heads and massive amounts of blood. Yeah, it’s that kind of violent. But it manages to do all of that without feeling gratuitous. Mangold and his screenwriters give that violence purpose. We aren’t just meant to be thrilled by the action. We’re also meant to be horrified. With the R-rating you don’t just get the swearing and minor glimpse of nudity. With the great creative team, you also get meaning behind it too. With the violence having meaning attached to it, the impact and emotional response is so much higher. I’ve never felt Wolverine’s emotional consequences as heavily as I did here. That’s not even the most transgressive thing in the film.
I’ve never found myself particularly impressed by the way Marvel handles their film franchises. That’s not to say X-Men has never been guilty of this, but the Marvel movies didn’t just feel overstuffed with useless information, they stopped feeling like movies. Never have I sat through one of their films and thought they made a cohesive and complete film. Last year’s Doctor Strange even felt the need to have scenes that had no purpose but to set-up future villains and plotlines. The Marvel movies aren’t cinema, they’re an over-budgeted character-less TV show projected onto the big screen. What Logan has done is say screw continuity, screw everything before it… we’re going to make a film that you could watch without seeing anything else and have it still feel complete and make perfect sense. This isn’t just a superhero movie. This is a character study. This is art. This is proper storytelling.
All of this praise isn’t complete without mentioning the tremendous cast. Mainstays Jackman and Stewart do career-best work as their iconic characters. The pain and disappointment in their faces during the opening act shares more than any line of dialogue throughout the film. Newcomer Dafne Keen is an absolute triumph as the child mutant. In such a physical role, Keen doesn’t just deliver a stunning performance but she does so with almost no dialogue. Villains played by Boyd Holbrook and Richard E Grant can be fairly one dimensional, but Holbrook’s portrayal as Transigen’s head of security is one of humor and anger. And I don’t want to forget about the surprising addition of Stephen Merchant as Caliban. Of course, Merchant’s sense of humor is not lost here, but he’s also able to mold into the dark tone that Mangold has created.
Tone is what really sells the whole picture. Mangold is quite familiar with the Western genre after directing his remake of 3:10 to Yuma, the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, and his other noir-western Cop Land. Mangold has a significant scene here where two characters sit down and watch the 1953 western Shane. All these characters understand they are on their way to a form of redemption. Whether or not any of them will make it to the end to experience it is up in the air throughout the film. But this is what Logan is about. It’s about telling a meaningful story. There’s a thematic through-line and message to it all. Jackman and company don’t want to go out with the biggest spectacle imaginable, they want to make sure all of their hard work meant something. Time will tell which movies are the important ones; the ones we continue to talk about years down the road. I can already tell you that we’ll be talking about Logan for quite a long time.
- Hugh Jackman is the best he's ever been in his last go-round as the iconic character
- Almost the entire cast is excellent with a special shout-out to the young Dafne Keen
- Action is appropriately brutal and bloody with actual purpose in the plot and never feels gratuitous
- Characters arcs are complete and concise
- Logan is James Mangold's best film and shows us what a superhero film can and should be doing
- Villains are fairly one-dimensional