Hugh Jackman has made no secret of the fact that “Logan” is his last outing as the Wolverine, and why not? This is the peak, the pinnacle, the crowning joy. Not just the best Wolverine film we’re going to get, but almost certainly the best X-Men film, period.
Caution for the non-telepaths: spoilers ahead.
I want to watch this movie again. I just saw it the other day and already I’m itching to see what I missed the first time. I haven’t felt like this about an X-men movie since… Well, since before the timeline was fucked up. Watching “X-men: Apocalypse” once was one time too many.
So is “Logan” good? Well, it’s the best there is at what it does. But why is it so good?
For weeks and months before “Logan” came out the advance reviews were already telling us that this would be the best Wolverine film yet. The trailer – that stark, almost-monochrome, post-apocalyptic, Mad-Max, Johnny Cash-ish trailer – was a beacon of hope to superhero fans everywhere. Not just superhero fans, but movie fans. Finally, we thought, here is something to get excited about.
And we were excited. Maybe too excited. If “Logan” hadn’t lived up to the hype it could have crashed and burned. But we got lucky. It’s a damn good movie.
“Logan” is set twenty-odd years in the future, or thereabouts, in an America we don’t recognise. The mutants are almost all dead, hunted down and exterminated, and technology has shot forward like a self-driving truck. Like the other Wolverine solo films (for those of you who have blocked them out of your memory; yes, there were others), it focuses on the berserker with the adamantium claws and super-regenerative healing.
In this film he’s a driver trying to make a quick buck so that he can afford medication for the very old, very sick Professor X; not that Wolverine is in a much healthier position himself. The story begins when Wolverine is approached to take a woman and her daughter to a mutant haven called “Eden”, in the far North. The woman lasts just long enough to provide some exposition before she is killed, the girl runs away with Logan, and the road-trip begins.
It’s hard to fault the film. The costuming and makeup are great (Wolverine looking old and grey and tired as an angry bearded chauffeur), the music is immersive, the cinematography is as close to perfect as it can be. But that’s all secondary. Logan could have been shot in my spare bedroom with the radio on and it still would have been better than “X-men Origins: Wolverine” because the acting, and the story, and the tone are pitch-perfect, phenomenal throughout.
First, the acting. Patrick Stewart as a Professor X with Alzheimer’s (or some neuro-degenerative disease) is melancholic and terrifying. He hasn’t changed much since the first X-men, a wise-wizard figure who wants to save the world and knows a lot more than he tells. But in this film he’s got an unpredictable edge, because what’s happening in his mind can’t be trusted. He suffers seizures that shake entire neighbourhoods, and shouts at empty walls (you might too if you were trapped in an overturned water tower). But he’s Shakespearean in his delivery. I could listen to his voice all day. The first time he says “fuck” we sit back in the chair, smile, and think, “Hell yes, this is the X-men film I deserve”.
Hugh Jackman nails it as well. I wouldn’t say he’s phoned-it-in for the last ten years, but I am sorry we didn’t get to see this side of Wolverine sooner. It’s so much more real than the Parental Guidance version that barked his way through the original trilogy. We can finally see his two-or-three hundred years of life catching up with him.
And even he’s not the star of the show. The young girl, breakout star Dafne Keen, steals the spotlight. Her character X-23 and Logan play off so well against each other she might as well have been born for the role. At times angry, sad, or in pain, her raw emotion is incredible for someone who wasn’t even born when the franchise started. After watching Millie Bobby Brown and the boys of “Stranger Things” I’m starting to think there are a lot of adult actors who could learn from these pint-sized professionals.
The story is astounding as well. Unlike most (all) of the X-men films, we’re not directly dealing with a villain who’s trying to end or control the world. Admittedly, in the background, there is some plot about a scientist using mutant DNA to create weapons. But Wolverine doesn’t give a fuck, and that’s what makes this story so special. His only job is to look after the Prof and deliver X-23 to Eden. It’s a story so small and personal in scope, at least compared to most (all) superhero blockbusters, that it feels intimate from the beginning. More of a family drama than an action-packed extravaganza, although there’s still plenty of action.
The character of Wolverine is a perfect fit for a movie like this. Over the course of seventeen years we’ve seen him as a lone wolf, as a lover, as a friend, as a brother, as a part of a team… but I’m not sure we’ve ever really seen him in a family. Certainly not as a father. Because that’s what he is in this film – father to a girl who’s never met, a girl he relates to because she’s a young, vicious version of himself. He came close with Rogue, but not this close.
The joke is made several times that Logan is the Prof’s son, but it’s hardly a joke. You can feel the father-son dynamic on so many levels. It’s an inter-generational road-trip film as much as it is action. X-23 and Professor X are his pack, and once Wolverine lets someone join his pack he’d go to the end of the world and back for them.
Finally, the tone of the film. There are two major deaths in the film, Logan and the Prof. Both are dramatic but not drawn-out, and both have a sense of finality to them that has been sadly lacking in all X-men (all superhero) films for the last twenty years. It’s good to see characters die, and torches being passed on. It’s good to have closure and to look forward to a new beginning. Everyone’s sick of characters that are revived on the brink of death film after film. This isn’t even the Professor’s first death scene in the franchise! Trying to create drama with no pay-off cheapens the experience and makes us cynical.
It’s a testament to how good “Logan” is that it makes previous films look like the cheap rip-offs, rather than the other way around.
“Logan” is dark and gritty, but not in the bat-shit boring way of “Batman V Superman”. The action sequences are hard, fast, and feature plenty of claws stabbing through faces, slicing through limbs, and gallons of fake blood. This is the Wolverine we were promised. This is the animal come to brutal life, after a lifetime of waiting.
That’s not to say the other X-men films are bad because they didn’t show blood. “Logan” wouldn’t be what it is without the history that came before. But it’s worthwhile showing Wolverine on his own, as an adult, in a world that doesn’t play nice. No more pretending that he’s a puppy in wolf’s clothing. “Logan” pays homage to the history of the X-men without attaching itself, and that’s the way it should be in a solo film.
There are adult diseases, adult problems, and adult consequences in “Logan”. What happens when the world’s most powerful telepath gets a headache? What happens when the adamantium starts to kill Wolverine from the inside out? What happens when kids are experimented on and mutants are tortured? How does an immortal act when he’s ready to die? We haven’t seen those questions answered before, not like this.
For anyone who missed it, the Professor pretty much confesses to killing the rest of the X-men. The incident at Westchester he briefly mentions is referring to the X-mansion. His all-powerful seizure wiped out his team. It’s a grim reality he’s been stuck in, and there’s some poetry to the fact that Wolverine is the last one standing to care for the old man.
The movie isn’t perfect, of course. The bad guys are pretty weak. Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), the villain with the cybernetic arm, doesn’t do much except point his minions in the right direction, and apparently there’s a scientist somewhere? Who might be related to William Stryker of X-men lore? It feels like a reach.
The real antagonist is Terminator 2, aka clone Logan, a younger and angrier version of the Wolverine himself. Because if there’s one thing we haven’t seen before, it’s Wolverine fighting an evil shadow of himself (try to get Sabretooth and Lady Death strike out of your memory for a minute).
The pacing is a little off at times, but mostly good. Even when Logan pulls over to help a family with their horses, it could have become a “boring side-quest”, but it turned out to be one of the best sequences of the movie. They balanced the characters and action incredibly well throughout. I was never bored, but there were some scenes that went on a little too long. We either had too much exposition or not enough. I feel like I know everything about X-23 and her brothers and sisters, but not nearly enough about Caliban (Stephen Merchant’s albino mutant tracker) or what else has happened in the past two decades. I hate to say it, but the ending was fairly predictable as well. You don’t show a silver (adamantium) bullet in the second act and not fire it in the third.
The death of Logan himself was perfectly, emotionally executed. They made no more mention of the sickness inside him than they needed to. Wolverine might not have died the way he planned it, but his send-off was everything he, and Hugh Jackman, deserved.
All in all, a brilliant film. It stands on its own as a work of art in an ever-growing pile of X-men mediocrity. I don’t hate the series; the original trilogy is one of my favourite trilogies of all time. But there have been far too many spin-offs and prequels and tie-ins over the last decade, few of which have added to the narrative while still paying respect to where they came from. They’re bigger, flashier, and less interesting, which probably works as a metaphor for Hollywood itself.
We need more like “Logan”, and more like “Deadpool”. Films which know exactly what genre they are and exactly who their audience is.
It’s about time we saw a true reflection of the Wolverine character.
Check out the latest trailer for Deadpool 2 here: