I feel that it is important to acknowledge that Logan might never have existed if it were not for the very specific circumstances surrounding it and the trends within the film industry. Dating all the way back to 1999, when original casting Dougray Scott (Deep Impact, Taken 3) was forced to abandon the role to focus in the production of Mission Impossible 2, Hugh Jackman’s (The Prestige, Prisoners) portrayal of the Wolverine character has been nothing short of iconic, in the vein of Sean Connery’s James Bond, Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and Indiana Jones, Tom Selleck’s Magnum, PI, Christopher Reeve’s Superman, and Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man.
An entire generation of fans, myself included, have grown up on Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the famous comic book character Wolverine. Jackman’s is THE definitive version of the character to us. For Jackman to have anything less than a proper swan song, a true final farewell paying tribute to the acting talent of Hugh and how he brought the Wolverine to life on screen, would be regarded as sacrilege.
Logan, is a dystopian road trip Western exploring the psychology of a tortured soul who has lost everyone he has ever known and loved over the course of about 200 years. This is a movie that exists in the same franchise and continuity as Deadpool, a hard-R-rated action comedy that pokes fun at its own existence and film franchise’s history and has no pretense of being serious about anything! These two movies could not be more polarly opposite to each other, and yet exist in the same franchise and continuity! Can we acknowledge how bizarre this is?!
In a screenplay written by Scott Frank (Minority Report, A Walk Among the Tombstones), Michael Green (Heroes, the upcoming Blade Runner 2049), and director James Mangold (Cop Land, 3:10 to Yuma), with input from advice from Jackman himself, we are introduced to Logan in the year 2029, a chauffeur operating near the Texas-Mexico border. We are immediately shown just how the movie plans to take advantage of its freedom with an R-rating, as the very first line of the film is “Argh Fuck”, as Logan wakes up to a Mexican gang trying to jack his limo in the middle of the night. Logan, clearly broken, weak, weary, a hollow shell of the rage-filled killing machine he once was, tries to talk the gang out of it, but they will not listen, simply shooting Logan. Logan unsheathes his claws, and proceeds to kill them, but not without a struggle that simply would not have happened years ago. Logan is slowly dying, poisoned by the adamantium fused to his skeleton, as his healing factor, previously keeping the pain at bay, has finally weakened with age. Logan still heals, but the scars are much more physically noticeable.
Mutants are on the brink of extinction, as no new mutants have been born in 25 years. The X-Men are finished. The world has resulted in perhaps the worst possible outcome for the team and the dream of Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Charles Xavier has a degenerative brain disease, often not remembering who Logan is and causing him to have seizures that cause his psychic powers to emit fatal waves of energy that can kill.
Logan, no longer the Wolverine, is now simply trying to make ends meet. Logan illegally acquires medicine needed to sedate Xavier and keep his unstable powers in check. Logan plans to make enough money to put himself and Charles on a boat and go out to sea, far enough away where Charles’ seizures cannot hurt anyone, as Logan is the only one capable of withstanding it thanks to his (now limited) healing powers and his adamantium-coated skull.
The plan is thrown in shambles however when a mysterious young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen) arrives and Logan becomes the reluctant protector of her from science corporation Transigen, which has been breeding young mutants, Laura included, for use as weapons. With Transigen’s robotically enhanced security forces known as the Reavers, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), chasing them, Logan begrudgingly embarks on a cross-country trip from just below the US-Mexico border to the US-Canadian border.
Logan, both the character and movie, is essentially a reversal of Christian Bale’s character Dan Evans from 3:10 to Yuma, also by Mangold. Evans is a one-legged rancher and Civil War veteran who wants to be a hero. Evans has told lies to his children about his wartime experiences, not having the heart to tell them the truth. Evans has struggles his whole life, wanting to be a hero, someone his children can look to and be proud to call him their father. This culminates in a scene where the movie presents this unmistakable message, “Don’t be a hero”.
Logan is the opposite of this. Logan the character actually was a hero. Logan has truly heroic tales to tell Laura, who grew up reading X-Men comics and idolizing Wolverine in particular. Unlike Evans however, who wants that, Logan wants nothing to do with his time as the Wolverine. Logan has forsaken his past as some fool’s errand. Logan wants nothing to do with this mission of helping Laura. Even the ending of 3:10 to Yuma is reversed in Logan.
The R-rated claw fights further drive this forward as they are appropriately brutal. “Heads will roll” is not merely a gimmick utilized for marketing this movie. As exciting as these claw fights are, the brutality is enhanced by the fact that Logan himself is in true danger in this movie. It was exciting to watch while also having to scream in my head “Get outta dodge!” as I was genuinely concerned for Logan’s safety. Combined with Laura’s own fights and unsubtitled Spanish dialogue, I felt more immersed into the world of this movie than I’ve felt in years for a movie based off a comic book character. (Some lines were easy to determine myself, thanks to what I remember from elementary to middle school Spanish lessons as well as Spanish practically being a cousin to my paternal grandparents Italian.)
By making the scales smaller than the end of the world as we know it, and focusing on more personal stakes, Logan serves as a refreshing break from the seemingly endless wave of superhero movies that present a CGI army with no personality or character for the main heroes to eliminate without any moral qualms. I have no issue with the latter type of films existing. My problem is that it appears that the consensus is every movie needs to be in that style now and there’s no room for the characters to be characters. Unlike films such as Iron Man or Guardians of the Galaxy, where it feels like it is someone’s vision being brought to life, the MCU has an annoying habit where every movie feels like the first priority is setting up the next one years later before actually developing a story. Meanwhile DC is desperate to catch up to the financial success of the MCU. Even films like Suicide Squad, which should have been a small-scale black ops movie, similar to the fantastic animated feature Assault on Arkham, became a mess of the end of the world and CGI armies.
Logan is refreshing because not only does the film keep the scales small, but the film is willing, but relishes, delights in the opportunity to disappoint its audience. If you were expecting some cameos from other cast members of the X-films fun banter or some heroic blaze of glory, you will not be happy. For the X-Men had no such fate. You will find out what happened, but it will be pathetic. That is what I love about this movie. Its willingness to disappoint in the good ways!
[The Following Paragraphs Contain Spoilers. Skip to the Next Bold Line to Avoid]
In spite of this, Logan does not go far enough to disappoint. In the movie Laura is trying to reach a place called Eden, located in North Dakota. Her friends are there, waiting for her before fleeing to Canada. Logan notices the coordinates of Eden are the same as a place called “Eden” in the X-Men comics she was carrying, to which he constantly screams “IT’S NOT REAL”, only to then not-so-shockingly discover it was real all along. I know what Mangold is doing, establishing that there is still hope for the future with these surviving children, but it has become so often that this happens in movies where a character keeps saying it will not happen, but then it does happen, that I was hoping Eden would be revealed to be false.
The villains of this movie are not very compelling either. Boyd Holbrook is “a fabulous actor” as Mangold himself has stated. Anyone who has watched Netflix’s Narcos series can attest to that. It appears that the constraints on Holbrook’s own character however prevent him from truly unleashing his menace. Holbrook does all he can, but he never rose above, “a guy with a robot arm”. Richard E Grant’s (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Game of Thrones) Zandar Rice is even worse however. Rice is essentially copied and pasted from the comics and he never rises above “evil British scientist”.
Logan also abuses its R-rating for one scene. During a montage of Hugh Jackman driving college students in Texas, he transports a group of bridesmaids to a wedding. One of the bridesmaids yells, “Hey driver,” and exposes her breasts. It doesn’t offend me to show nudity in a film. What’s offensive is that this served no purpose in developing Logan. At best it just reestablishes what was perfectly established before, that he’s annoyed with this life. At worst it is a case of the filmmakers saying “we have an R-rating and we’re gonna use it!” This isn’t a comedy film like Deadpool where it works because nothing is taken seriously.
The last few paragraphs perhaps gave the impression that I was harping on the movie but I assure you none of those are deal-breakers. They are all minor issues in an otherwise great movie that still works. Logan is everything fans of the Wolverine have been waiting for. This will definitely remain on many a moviegoer’s “Best of 2017” lists and I will gladly buy this movie on Blu-Ray, especially if there is an extended and/or unrated cut. Where the X-Men franchise continues from here I do not know nor can I conceive why you would want to.
*Image Source: wired.com