It has been nearly 20 years since X-Men shook up the film industry and primed audiences for a steady diet of superhero movies. This affinity arguably reached critical mass last year with the release of X-Men: Apocalypse, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, all of which were bloated and bad. Among the few constants throughout these past two decades have been Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, who originated their respective roles of Wolverine and Charles Xavier in Bryan Singer’s original film. Therefore, it feels appropriate that Logan, an excellent swan song for the X-Men series, rests upon their venerable shoulders. If you’ve avoided the marketing and news around Logan, good for you. Simply know that you should see the movie, regardless of your affinity for superhero movies. This is one of the best.
It’s 2029 and Logan (Jackman) is tired. The adamantium that lines his skeleton has begun to poison and weaken him, flagging his regenerative powers to flag and causing him to age. He has absconded with a 90 year old Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart) south of the Mexican border to care for the old man in his degenerative neurological state, and to sock away money so they can end their lives peacefully on the ocean together. He’s assisted by Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a sun-averse mutant who acts as attendant to Xavier and can track the presence of other mutants while Logan is away, working as a chauffeur.
One day, a desperate woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez, Orange Is the New Black) accosts Logan and begs him to help her escort a seemingly mute, pre-teen girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) across the Canadian border to safety. Logan has no intention of doing so, but when a cybernetically enhanced soldier named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, Narcos) shows up to intimidate Logan into finding the girl, he reluctantly agrees to accompany Laura north. Pierce and his thugs arrive at Logan’s safe haven to take Laura away, and find out that she’s far from defenseless. Logan, Xavier, and Laura escape, while Caliban is kidnapped by Pierce, who intends to use the mutant to follow the other three. On their journey, Laura’s exact nature reveals itself and Logan begins to find a new purpose in life.
I am being deliberately coy in my description of the premise of Logan because much of the pleasure of this film is in discovering the relationship between Logan and Laura, and how it is deepened by the equally important interplay between Logan and Xavier. It is not often that you find yourself discussing character dynamics when talking about a superhero movie, but writer-director James Mangold – who also worked on 2013’s The Wolverine – has set out less to make yet another rock-em-sock-em action flick, but rather a more moody, weary Western in the vein of Unforgiven or Shane, which the film explicitly name-checks multiple times. This doesn’t mean we’re deprived of the pleasure of the still-musclebound Jackman literally tearing into his enemies. The difference is that you can feel the toll each new encounter takes on Logan, both physically and emotionally. Jackman has appeared as this character in nine different films, and this is easily his finest portrayal, if not his best film performance, period. When there is endless money to be made from continually milking this mythology, it is extremely refreshing to see a film that is so decidedly about death and endings.
Mangold also explores the concept of family, with Laura, Logan, and Xavier representing three separate generations (yes, Logan’s pushing 200 years old, but let’s not split hairs). One of the worst symptoms of Xavier’s illness is that he experiences earth-shaking seizures, which thrust his mind-controlling powers into overdrive and paralyze anyone nearby, save for Logan, who is still significantly debilitated. Mangold uses this to great effect in one sequence that explains why it’s so important to keep Xavier in seclusion, but you can also interpret the large-scale mayhem caused by Xavier’s episodes as a metaphor for the panic induced by an ailing (grand)parent. Logan has made the difficult decision to keep Xavier in a constant medical haze for the greater good, but also at the cost of Xavier’s lucidity, leaving Logan lonelier than ever. Conversely, Logan’s sudden responsibility for Laura stirs up long-dormant feelings of parenthood that may remind him of his early days caring for Rogue.
If last year is any indication, upping the ante (and budget) with special effects does not make a better film. Like Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight before it, Logan proves that the best superhero movies can raise the stakes stratospherically high by presenting characters you care about making difficult decisions without sacrificing the intense action we’ve come to expect from the last 20 years of action cinema. If 20th Century Fox were to discontinue any future plans for X-Men films right now, I can’t imagine there being a better way to end the era than with Logan.
Action | 20th Century Fox