I’ve mentioned before on the site a few times that I’m not really the world’s biggest X-Men fan. And that kind of goes across the board. Some comic stories written by Chris Claremont have hit me the right way, but otherwise most of the comics are a bore to me, and by and large I haven’t been a big fan of the movies that Fox has produced. Honestly, most of them have been at best ‘fine.’ They’re just really weak movies that take no advantage of the subject material or the possibilities of superheroes. So I’m never overly excited to see another X-Men movie, but I do it because I have some sort of obsessive personality disorder. And that apathy towards the films tends to increase tenfold when I know they’re specifically focused on Wolverine. Now, I know that this is incredibly blasphemous to most geeks, but I am not a Wolverine fan. I find the character pretty dull, especially when on his own. When he’s part of a team at least he serves the function as the eternal pessimist who is always butting heads with the other members. But when he’s on his own, I almost instantly lose interest. And that has thoroughly followed over to the movies. Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine is typically rather enjoyable, and usually a highlight of those movies, but he doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to solo adventures. Origins is legitimately one of the worst mainstream movies I’ve ever seen, and the Wolverine took some interesting ideas and a solid first act and just completely imploded in on itself with nonsense and terrible decisions. So the idea of another Wolverine solo movie wasn’t incredibly appealing to me, especially when it started looking like it would be at least in part based on the Old Man Logan comic, which…has issues. And then came the news that they were going for a hard-R rating, and wanted to make the most bleak and depressing Wolverine movie possible. That’s a lot of red flags for me when it comes to a superhero movie. But then reviews started rolling in, and people pretty consistently loved the film, often saying that it was their favorite X-Men film yet, and some going so far as to say it had become one of their favorite superhero films period. So, I figured I’d go in and give Logan a fair shake. And while I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s one of my favorite superhero movies, it’s certainly the best thing the X-Men franchise has produced.
The film takes place in the year 2029, and things are very different from what we’re used to. Apparently no new mutant has been born in years, most known mutants are dead, and the X-Men have been destroyed. Logan’s healing factor is failing and is now working as a limo driver in Southern Texas while providing for a dementia-ridden Professor Xavier who lives over the border in Mexico, hiding out with Caliban, the mutant who can track other mutants. Logan is just living his depressing life, trying to keep Professor Xavier from having more deadly seizures that hurt everyone in his vicinity while also contemplating killing himself with the adamantium bullet he carried around. But his life if thrown upside down when a woman named Gabriella shows up with a little girl named Laura, and tries to convince Logan to help them drive to Canada. Logan tries to ignore her, not wanted to be caught up in any drama, but things start moving beyond his control when a man named Donald Pierce comes into his life. Pierce is the leader of the Ravagers, a group of mercenaries with cybernetic prosthetic who work for shady company tracking down mutants, while also creating lab-grown mutant children to become soldiers. And it turns out that Laura is one of those children, and Gabriella is trying to get her to a mutant safe-house. And matters are made more complicated when Gabriella is killed by Pierce, and Laura smuggles aboard Logan’s limo. She makes it to Logan and Xavier’s base, when Pierce catches them. Which is when it’s revealed that Laura’s mutation comes from genetic material of Logan. She has a healing factor, claws, and has been given adamantium. She helps Logan fight off some Ravagers, and they end up fleeing with Professor Xavier, leaving Caliban behind to get captured.
Logan, Xavier, and Laura then begin travelling North to Canada, while awkwardly bonding and getting to know each other. Logan continues to remain aloof while Xavier keeps trying to convince him that he needs to let his guard down and try to mentor Laura, since she’s so much like him. But no matter where the trio goes, the Ravagers aren’t far behind, because they’re torturing Caliban into helping track them down. There are several close calls, including Professor Xavier almost killing everyone inside a casino/hotel after having a seizure, but things really fall apart when the three travelers end up having a meal with a family of farmers. They’re invited to stay the night, and while their guards are down the Ravagers show up with a new weapon. Another clone of Logan, who is fully grown and feral. He gets inside, kills Professor Xavier, and almost manages to kill Logan and take Laura. But Logan and Laura barely escape, and continue heading North. But Logan isn’t doing well, because he sustained a lot of damage from his fight with his clone, and his healing factor just isn’t doing enough. Laura does what she cans to help him, and continues pushing him to get her to the rendezvous point, despite his growing concerns that this is a wild goose chase and worthless. But, after a lot of travelling they finally get to the place in North Dakota that they were supposed to go to, and find the rest of the children that were experimented on. They’re planning on banding together and escaping to Canada, where they’ll be moderately more safe, and they even help Wolverine heal from his injuries by giving him a serum that enhances his powers. At which point Logan remains stubborn, and claims that he doesn’t want to accompany Laura. But when he wakes up one morning and finds the kids gone, and the Ravagers closing in on them, he decides to do the right them. He overdoses on the serum, and chases after the kids, taking out as many Ravagers as he can. The mutant kids combine their powers to kill Pierce in like, ten discrete ways, but it all comes down to Logan and his clone. He gives it everything he can, but the clone manages to impale Logan with a tree branch, ending the fight. But right before the clone can succeed, Laura gets Logan’s adamantium bullet and kills the clone. She then has a tearful goodbye with Logan, whose healing factor can’t keep up with his wounds. Logan finally dies, and is buried under an X as the children head north to try and forge a better life.
This was a fascinating movie that was unlike anything the X-Men franchise has thrown at us. The Wolverine attempted to take Logan’s story and create a samurai story, which is something that has been tried numerous times in the comics, but this film took a different path. This film honestly felt like the closest we’ve come to a superhero western, specifically something like Unforgiven. We see a Logan who is at the end of his rope, who has watched everyone he loved die, and who no longer sees any point in living. Until he finds a new purpose, and a new person to love. He finds redemption by saving a girl who is poised to go down a similar path as he did, and it gives him the smallest bit of solace that his life had worth. We see a Logan who feels he’s done more bad in his life than good, and this one act of heroism is enough to let him die happy, knowing that maybe that ratio wasn’t as bad as he thought it was. It’s an interesting way to examine a character that I usually find too shallow for such plots, and I think it worked out great. This is without a doubt the best X-Men movie that’s ever been made, which seems odd since it’s so unlike X-Men stories. Hugh Jackman puts in a hell of a performance, and gives himself a fitting farewell as the character that has come to define him. Likewise, Patrick Stewart was delightful as Professor Xavier, like usual, and if this does prove to be his last portrayal of the character he ended on a high note too. But the real revelation of the film was Dafne Keen, who was perfect as the stoic and damaged Laura, putting in a performance shockingly well-rounded for someone of her age. And it all came together with James Mangold’s direction, becoming a film with more craft and style than any other X-Men movie, and further proves that he should be making more Westerns.
And yet, despite all of that, I’m still kind of conflicted on Logan. I liked it quite a bit, and it’s the best that the X-Men franchise has offered, but there’s still a major problem with it that keeps me from loving it and considering it one of my favorite superhero films. And that’s it’s tone. Now, I know that people really like superhero stories that are gritty and dark. The Dark Knight trilogy really proved that there’s a massive market for that, and that people want to see their heroes in “mature” contexts. But I’m not one of them. I find the idea of a dark and gritty superhero to be patently ridiculous. The X-Men franchise has always been ashamed of its comic book roots, taking every chance to mock the costumes and melodrama, so it should come as no surprise that this film continued that tradition. This felt like a film meant for people who call them ‘graphic novels’ instead of comic books, because they’re too ashamed to like something “juvenile.” I think the themes of this movie are tremendous, and the idea of Logan finding redemption in the protection of a more innocent version of himself is brilliant, and made for a wonderful movie. But I think it would have been just as effective, if not more, if it had been PG-13 and the film had carried itself of its themes and not its tone. This film reveled in being rated R, having gratuitous violence and a frankly juvenile amount of profanity, that felt like they were just trying to hammer in that this wasn’t for kids. This was a mature comic book movie. Which frankly seems sillier to me than if they were all wearing tights. At its heart this is a film about heroism and doing the right thing, which is something I love, but it’s wrapped in this cynical shell of grit that I found a little unpalatable. I’ll say again, I quite liked this movie, but it’s insistence on being dark and “serious” kept me from loving it.
Logan was written by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green, directed by James Mangold, and released by 20th Century Fox, 2017.