It’s All in the Title
Welcome to another nerd-centric movie review. Today, we are discussing the latest comic book-inspired movie, Logan, which was released March 3. Having been an X-Men fan since I was old enough to read a comic book and not mangle it in my childish hands, I have also been a patient and faithful fan of the film series from 20th Century Fox. My patience hasn’t always been rewarded and, honestly, I only actually like about 50% of these movies. The first two films are excellent, having stood the test of time and remained as the high benchmark of the pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe comic book movies. What sets them apart was that most comic book films, up until that point, could barely sustain a likeable story with one character, let alone the huge ensemble cast required of the X-Men franchise. And so movie-goers were shocked when they saw the over-the-top powers of this overwhelming cast of characters and actually liked what was going on. Much of the credit for that goes to the ludicrously perfect cast that made up those films, especially the break-through performance by a little-known Aussie named Hugh Jackman, an actor brought in at the last second because the first actor cast as Wolverine had to drop out. The unfortunate thing about the X-Men franchise is that this formula of huge casts with lots of special effects and powers became the go-to thing for the rest of the movies. We’ve been so busy focusing on the “X” all these years that we forgot about the “Men” part. Fortunately, Logan changes that.
The first hint the audience gets that this is a very different movie from the others is the title. Every entry in this franchise, except for 2013’s The Wolverine, has started with the title X-Men and therefore we expected to get (and received) a giant cast of characters and tons of SFX. What The Wolverine did well was narrow things down. This wasn’t about X-Men and it wasn’t filled with cameos of characters we’d already met in previous films. It was about Wolverine only and all the emotional baggage that comes with being him (but mostly Jean Grey). Until the end when it was just about a giant cast of (NINJAS!) characters and tons of SFX. Logan, as the title suggests, isn’t about any of those things. It is about Logan, the man behind the mask he never wore. No team. No uniform. No pining for Jean Grey (and it’s about freakin’ time!). This isn’t about a mutant super-hero who fights bad guys and saves the world. It is about a person who happens to be a mutant. Emphasis on the word PERSON.
And it works. This is a very personal film, for Logan and for us.
We begin by being treated to a series of scenes in which we see that Logan (Jackman in his swansong performance in the role) has adopted his James Howlett persona and is trying to just be a normal guy. Unfortunately this doesn’t work out for him as, periodically, someone interrupts each scene to remind him of who and what he is: an animal, a mutant, The Wolverine. He is shacked up along the Mexican border with Caliban (Stephen Merchant)and a very degenerated Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, in his swansong performance in the role). Charles is dying, and neither he nor Caliban will let Logan forget it. This is the first major theme we see in the film, death and dying, palliative care and the dignity of death. Logan is sick, that is established quickly, but is he dying? Can he die? He never thought so before, but now…?
The tenuous peace he has with this world is broken suddenly by the presence of a little girl, her Mexican nurse-maid, and a cyborg named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). The girl, Laura (or X-23 as comic fans know her) (played by newcomer Dafne Keen), is an escapee from a hospital where mutant children are being tortured and trained to kill. It doesn’t take a comic book expert to quickly see who her daddy is. Logan is roped by circumstances he cannot control (no matter how he tries) into helping her elude Pierce’s taskforce. Now for those of you who read X-Men comics, you know that this group is called The Reavers and they are a cybernetically-enhanced group of jerks who are somewhat ridiculous looking. The movie Reavers are anything but ridiculous looking, with their cyborg implants never the sum of their abilities. The casual way that their enhancements are treated in this film (ironically) adds to the humanistic feel of the piece by never making super-powers to be the primary focus of the story.
The second act of this film is a family drama, and like any well-written family drama, it is full of gut-punching truths that each character must face. For Charles, it is his degeneration and death, both of which mask some greater pain from his past that he must reconcile before his end. For Laura, it is the confusion of being socialized for the first time, being taught how to be a normal member of society by a man who has never figured that trick out himself. Guiding these characters through their troubles is Logan, facing his own possible mortality, his apparent fatherhood, and suddenly needing to be the role model and responsible person he was never able to be. Like Charles, Logan uses his present pain to hide from his responsibilities. But the Reavers keep catching up to them, a constant reminder to Logan of those responsibilities.
The final act of this film is predictably about facing those responsibilities and not hiding from the past. Charles must accept his physical and psychological pains (past and present), Laura her role as daughter and human rather than weapon, and Logan his daughter and his humanity. How they do this is a bloody (and I mean BUCKETS of blood) road straight out of hell that leaves a body count like you wouldn’t believe. This is the first theatrical R-rated X-Men film and it lives up to that rating every single minute of its 150 minutes. Normally, any X-Men movie exceeding 2 hours feels bloated (and, in the case of X-Men: Apocalypse it was) but this movie needs every minute it takes and uses them well. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it.
Jackman and Stewart are the perfect pair in this film, playing off of each other exactly the way old friends should. They’ve done a lot of these movies together and have each singularly spoiled the roles for any other actor who dares to touch them (sorry McAvoy, you are good but not Stewart-good). So it makes sense that they go out together. You can tell that they care about these roles and so each actor’s exit from the series is played out to perfection. If you have a soul, you’ll well up. I guarantee it. I’ve been watching these two actors in these movies for nearly 20 years and I never imagined that it could have such a satisfying end. I honestly hope they stop making X-Men movies for a long time after this. It would be a shame to spoil what this one has done.
I cannot recommend this movie enough. Wolverine fans will receive the Wolverine movie we’ve always wanted. X-Men fans will see a stunningly simple end to this bombastic franchise and the characters they loved. General audiences will be treated to a beautiful, humanistic piece about family and legacies that defies its genre. Yup, I said it. DEFIES ITS GENRE. Several other critics are saying it is transcendent in the same way that The Dark Knight was back in 2008. I could not agree more.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Written and Directed by James Mangold; Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Eriq La Salle, and Richard E. Grant.