You know a Marvel movie means business when there isn’t even a Stan Lee cameo to be found.
As I’ve made clear in the past, my relationship with Fox’s approach to the X-Men films has been…complicated, so to speak. And by that I mean, I’ve been largely disliked them, from their smug attitude toward the campy elements to the comics, to the repetition in stories to lackluster attempts at tackling relevant issues. I wasn’t even crazy about Deadpool, a film that some people thought should’ve been in consideration for Best Picture – a notion that I will in all likelihood never understand. However, there are elements within this admittedly groundbreaking franchise that are good; inspired even. One of them is their take on Logan, aka Wolverine, which has created a huge impression on our general pop culture awareness despite some changes from the comic counterpart, and the positive reception has largely been due to the sheer commitment from Hugh Jackman, an actor who was practically an unknown before the first X-Men film released back in 2000 (yes, it’s really been that long).
After getting a bad Wolverine solo outing, and that one with the big samurai robot (kind of underrated, if I’m honest), we’re now getting Logan, which is being touted as the swan song for the Wolverine character, or at the very least a send-off to Hugh Jackman’s rendition of the character – from returning director, James Mangold, who also co-wrote the film with Scott Frank, and Michael Green.
The year is 2029, mutants are seemingly extinct, and Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a limo driver in Texas, trying to save up enough money for a boat for himself, Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), who currently live in an abandoned smelting plant in Mexico. However, Logan is forced to take a little girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), to a safe haven in Canada, where she can be protected from the Reavers, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).
Logan, by which I mean the film, is a weird beast of a movie, with a lot to unpack. The film almost shouldn’t even work. It’s stylistically a major departure from the rest of the X-Men franchise, from the pace, the scope, the tone, and the full-hearted embrace of its R-rating. Although, the first few scenes were a bit rough, with a swear being uttered in what felt like every other sentence, and the film opening with a violent confrontation between Logan and some guys trying to steal his tires. It was a bit much, as if the film was distracted by the freedoms that the rating provides, so it just went loose. It takes a while for the film to fully settle, and find a groove, but once it does, it works wonders. It borrows from a lot of films, mostly slow-burn, hard boiled stuff. There’s a lot of Shane in the film, and I don’t just mean from a structural/thematic standpoint, I also mean that there is literally an extended sequence devoted to Xavier and Laura watching it on TV. An early montage with Logan driving various customers in his limo feels like it could’ve been ripped right out of Taxi Driver. The bloody bursts of violence feel right out of pulpy thrillers of the 70s and 80s. There are even splashes of inspiration from the likes of Children of Men, Terminator 2, and Léon: The Professional.
There are several things about the film I find fascinating to pick apart. One of them being the film’s metatextual undercurrent of telling a story that relies on your investment of the Wolverine character and knowledge of his journey through the X-Men films thus far, yet – at the same time – managing to creating its own history that it constantly hints at, but never fully explains to us, often using those incidents in the past to inform our characters as opposed to the events we’ve already seen in previous films. It’s a tricky move, but it ends up being effective simply because we are seeing these specific characters played by these specific actors finding some sort of conclusion after so many years of committing. It’s the exact same effect that comics The Dark Knight Returns (or even Old Man Logan, for that matter) used. They were alternate history titles that didn’t really conform to the canon of their respective characters, but at the same time, worked because the readers have been aware of the characters’ history through the years, and using that foundation to subvert everyone’s expectations with the story. And when it comes to Logan, this incarnation of Wolverine and Xavier have more or less been the definitive version of these characters for an entire generation of people who have been watching the films since they were kids.
Speaking of kids, another thing about Logan that I find very interesting is how it delves into iconography, especially it relates to and impacts people from a generational standpoint. I’m gonna get into some plot details here that weren’t given in the trailers, I wouldn’t call them spoilery, but this is your warning to skip to the next paragraph if you want avoid any new information. Laura is one of many children who were created to be weapons using mutant DNA, but they were later deemed unsatisfactory and extraneous, so they were getting put down, but many escaped due to sympathetic staff. Laura, as well as many of the other kids, are shown to like the X-Men. They collect figures and read comics that are (very) loosely based on old adventures (again, adventures that we know zilch about). This doesn’t just work as a way to inform the universe of the film, showing that the X-Men have become mythic figures in society, this film is essentially about the nature and evolution of fandom. We currently live in a culture where when it comes to gender/race swapping, introducing and encouraging diversity in media, there will usually be some form of backlash to varying degrees. It’s a symptom of a subset of fandom where the white male has been considered a default for most characters, and even in something like the X-Men film franchise, a series that has thematically been dealing with the idea of persecuted minorities, has been made up with mostly white characters, with people of color spending most of their time in the background. In Logan, every single one of these kids that love and admire the X-Men so much are mostly people of color, Laura included (there’s actually a very specific in-universe reason for this, but I won’t reveal it here). Yes, the film is mainly about Logan facing his demons, and coming to terms with confronting his fear of love and intimacy, the whole “sins of the father” thing, but it’s also about how his time has passed. He has to move on, so these kids can be safe and thrive, looking onto him and his stories as inspiration. They even use coordinates from an old X-Men comic to pinpoint a safehouse where they plan to meet after splitting apart from the lab. It’s a film about how an entire generation can be, at least partially, defined and informed by comic book heroes of the past. The idolization of superheroes isn’t necessarily a new thing in comic book movies, but I don’t think I have ever seen it tackled so directly in terms of it being actually about kids growing up and reading comic books, and having that fandom being a part of your identity. For a film that goes out of its way to show that it’s not for children, it perfectly captures the mindset of children who have grown up and looked up to superheroes and how they would want to be seen if they had the chance to be in on the adventures that they have been reading about for years. I’m not saying kids should go see Logan…but kids should totally go see Logan.
Oh, and did I mention that these (mostly brown) kids are being chased down by an evil white guy literally named Donald?
Like I said. Lots to unpack.
There are a few things in the film that doesn’t really work. Certain plot developments were a little hard to buy, mostly because it seemed they were placed there just to keep the pace going. A lot of it would require to get into spoilers, so I’ll avoid that for now. It’s no dealbreaker by any means, it just felt a bit half-baked. Despite the already long two hour and 17 minute runtime, I think it could’ve been afforded a few extra minutes to provide some more context to certain details. It’s not a consistent problem, but it creeps up every now and then within the second and third act. There’s also an encounter with a family in the second act that I felt wrapped up too neatly, and certain character explorations were set aside get the plot back on track. I’m probably making it sound worse than it actually is, it doesn’t detract too much from the overall experience, but the movies isn’t 100% solid, though it does come very close, all things considered.
With Logan, James Mangold and co have created something really special. I’d call it a game changer, but the movie is so reliant on the very specific circumstances that allowed it to happen within the context of the X-Men franchise (and the audience’s relation to it), that all the inevitable imitators will absolutely not earn it the same way emotionally and thematically speaking. It’s a near miracle the movie works as well as it does in the manner it does, and I don’t see the same effect being replicated in any other movie, but I’m sure some will try. For the most part, Logan earns everything it goes for, and it actually has something to say. It’s a uniquely melancholic and thoughtful take on the superhero, bringing a sense of not only visceral violence, but deep emotional vulnerability. It taps into an interesting exploration of the relation of fandom to superheroes, and the way iconography is passed on and recontextualized from generation to generation. Yes, it is satisfying to see Logan cut loose and stab faces left and right, but there is so much more to this. It’s not a particularly subtle film, but it’s about a dude with knives in his hands, so it’s alright. It’s just great to see that Hugh Jackman finally gets a film worthy of his talents, and Fox finally making a truly great superhero film. Only took them 17 years.