The X-Men movie franchise has been something of a roller coaster ride. When the original X-Men movie came out in 2000, it helped kickstart what eventually would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe domination. I didn’t know very much about the X-Men; up until that point my familiarity with superheroes was limited to the major players: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man. X-Men was the first movie that introduced me to the wide and diverse world of superheroes and I was instantly fascinated. It helped that X-Men was a decent movie; sadly, as the franchise continued, its track record got a little shakier. Perhaps my wonder at this new world simply wore off, but the rest of the X-Men related movies were something of a mixed bag. I think I was disappointed in X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand and I certainly thought that X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not good. When the franchise rebooted itself with X-Men: First Class, I thought that they may have righted the ship, but X-Men: Apocalypse proved that they were still plenty capable of terrible franchise installments even with the new cast.
Through it all, one constant of the greater X-men universe has been Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Even when the movie he appeared in was crappy – including his first solo outing – Jackman was always a solid guardian for the character. While most of the main X-men were portrayed by different actors during the long run of the franchise, no one else has donned the claws other than Jackman, which has led to some much needed reliability in a series of movies that has jumped around in time. But 17 years is a long time to play a character, so I wasn’t totally surprised when word came down that Logan would likely be Jackman’s last outing as Wolverine. All good things must come to an end eventually. I would have gone to see Logan simply to see Jackman’s sideburns one last time regardless, but when the news came down that Logan would not only be based on the popular comic book story Old Man Logan, but that it would also be rated R, my interest was definitely piqued. Though I haven’t read Old Man Logan, I’ve been anecdotally hearing about this story for years and how it is really dark and gritty it is – and y’all know that I love dark and gritty. Deadpool’s runaway success last year made studios a little more comfortable with the idea of an R-rated superhero movie and while a lot of the R-Rating in Deadpool goes to raunchy and delightful jokes, the idea of a superhero movie will real violence and real consequences only served to potentially heighten the stakes of Logan and increase the world wariness of Wolverine. Despite the bad aftertaste that X-Men: Apocalypse left in my mouth, I was willing to let my expectation for Logan rise ever so slightly. I was cautiously optimistic, but still prepared for Hugh Jackman’s final performance as Wolverine be a letdown.
Thankfully, Logan was really great and took full advantage of its rating to make a definitively adult superhero movie. It isn’t just a lot more violent (though it definitely is), but it is able to explore a lot of ideas and topics that don’t really fit into a PG-13 movie: carrying the burden of killing a lot of people, loss of family, and questioning your purpose. There aren’t a lot of quips in Logan and there aren’t man attempts to make this a lighter movie. Logan is also freed from the burden of setting up the next X-Men or Marvel movie and it takes full advantage of that luxury by focusing on telling this one particular story without having to remind us how it fits in the larger MCU. No characters are forcefully shoehorned in and references are made to actions that have happened off-screen prior to the film that Logan doesn’t feel that it has to explain or fully explore. It trusts that a grown-up audience can make inferences and doesn’t need everything spelled out for them. For me, it was a refreshing change of pace.
Logan takes place in 2029 and Wolverine/Logan is one of the last surviving mutants. No new mutants have been born in last 25 years and Wolverine’s best days are behind him – he is visibly older and he no longer heals like he used to. He’s earning money as a chauffeur while he and mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) secretly harbor and care for Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who suffers from senility and an inability to control his telepathic abilities (which isn’t good for anybody). Logan is approached by a Gabriela Lopez (Elizabeth Rodriguez) to transport a young girl Laura (Dafne Keen). She and Laura are running from Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Zander Rice (Ricard E. Grant), who have a keen interest in Laura. This assignment pulls Logan out of retirement and puts him on a collision course with not only some “bad hombres” but with his own destiny and legacy.
As usual, Hugh Jackman is solid as Wolverine and finally has a movie around him that allows him to play a much more nuanced version of the character. Jackman is definitely going out on a high note, as Logan is easily one of my favorite installments in the X-Men franchise. I’m always going to like the old weary version of a character to the young version, so Logan is right up my alley. It’s not a perfect film – these movies have always struggled with creating well-rounded female characters – but the singularity of its focus and its relatively small cast allows the film the space to breathe and tell a well-crafted story with a focus on the people as well as the action sequences, which benefit greatly from minimal use of CGI. The fight scenes feel realer and fresher because the viewer is closer to the action and now that people actually die (sometimes gruesomely) on screen, there is a real urgency to every time that Logan unsheathes his claws. The viewer is also very aware of the toll that each battle takes out of Logan; with the specter of invincibility removed, there is more investment in the outcome. It all felt realer and rawer; there is an urgency to the film as it feels like most of the characters are on borrowed time – and they know it.
In between all the mayhem, there are also some quieter moments that permit the film to explore the emotional connection between the characters. Patrick Stewart is always great, but as deteriorating and feeble Professor X he has found a new note to his character that allows him to flex different acting muscles. He and Wolverine have always had a special relationship and Logan allows that bond to be examined. As potentially the last of their kind, that bond is only intensified and both actors have some very powerful scenes together. Adding Laura to the mix creates a family dynamic that is fun to watch.
Even though I was pretty sure that I knew how Logan was going to end, it was still an enjoyable ride to be on. By keeping it simple and with the freedom afforded by a R-rating, I think that Logan is not only a great superhero movie, but a great movie full stop. Personally I’d like to see superhero movies continue to follow this pattern, though that is unlikely given the larger picture of Marvel movies and the box office receipts that rely on the younger set being able to see these films in the theater. But even if it is unrealistic for all superhero movies to fit the mold of Logan, I hope it’s a direction that they don’t abandon. With the right actors, story, and the shackles of servicing a multiverse removed, superhero films can certainly elevate their game and explore some more interesting terrain. If Hugh Jackman does indeed ride off into the sunset, never to play Wolverine again, he picked a stellar jumping off point. He’s done that character right for 17years and finally the character has done Jackman right as well.
Logan is currently in wide release.