Those who know me know I don’t usually review superhero films, because honestly what’s the point? Those films are going to make disgusting amounts of money regardless of whatever is written about them. They have become, for better or worse, critic-proof. People are going to pay to see them even if they suck. I’ve only reviewed three superhero films up to this point. I’ve only felt compelled to write about them when they are either vomitous affronts to cinema (Man of Steel and The Amazing Spider-Man 2) or if they really surprised me with just how great they were (The Wolverine – James Mangold’s other superhero film, hey!). I’m not trying to hate, I love plenty of these films, but I watch them and know that they don’t need my help to find an audience. Logan is a rare thing of beauty in a saturated genre, a character driven search for empathy and mortality. It’s a reminder that these X-Men films can really be incredible if given to creative filmmakers who actually care about the material – (Matthew Vaughn resurrected the franchise with his fantastic First Class, and Mangold resurrected the character of Logan with The Wolverine) – and also aren’t named Bryan Singer.
Logan finds our titular character in an alternate, near-dystopic 2029 where mutants have been eradicated from society either by natural causes or by governmental task forces. Logan ekes out a living driving a limo under an alias, and taking care of a quasi-senile, dying Charles Xavier south of the border in secret. Laura, a young mutant child ends up in their care, and the three embark on a cross-country mission to evade a shadowy government organization hunting Laura.
James Mangold has always been superb at hopping genres and making the best of them. Every musical biopic since 2005 has had to answer to Walk the Line, and like I said before, his The Wolverine is such a wonderful surprise. 3:10 to Yumaremains, a decade later, one of the finest modern westerns. Even though he’s had many successful films, there’s just something about him that makes me feel like we severely undervalue him. Perhaps it’s his workmanlike, egoless manner of filmmaking that allows him to fade in the crowd of directors – he just makes it look so easy. But regardless, let’s give the man some praise, he’s a filmmaker that knows what he’s doing. He takes a character that seemingly can’t die and injects mortality and humanity into him. He made the action sequences in The Wolverinereally gnarly for a PG-13 film, and earns the freedom of the R rating in Logan with how visceral and bloody he shoots his action scenes. There’s just something inherently great about watching Jackman slice through enemies, with Mangold framing in even and clean takes, but this film is just as repelled by its violence. There’s a lot of titillating decapitation done by our hero, but after each encounter Jackman and Mangold remind us how much all this death continues to erode Logan. This film draws a lot of inspiration, the most explicit reference being to the classic western Shane. At a certain point in the film I realized, “Oh my god, they’re remaking Children of Men with X-Men!” And you know what? It worked! Mangold achieves that feeling of a dour existence and the battle of trying to find hope in a world that can’t be fixed. Mangold cherry picks aspects from other films and comics, creating something wholly original – a rare feeling in a superhero film.
Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine is perhaps the greatest act of casting in a superhero film of all time. (J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson is the only other contender for the top spot) He just seems to understand the character and what makes him tick in a way nobody else theoretically could have. Even with the ensemble nature of many of the X-Men films, they all just seemed to gravitate towards him, he justifiably overtook each film. Let me put how great he is in the role this way – the only reason I’ve seen the awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine as many times as I have is because of how much I like watching Jackman in the role. He’s a different beast than we’ve seen before in Logan, a man who’s lived entire lifetimes ready to be done with it all. He wears the weight of all his killing in his limping walk. He’s a man out of reasons to live, done searching for hope in a world devoid of it. It’s magnificent work, and a terrific sendoff for a guy we’ve been watching play this character for 15 years.
Patrick Stewart definitely slides somewhere in the 3-5 spot in the superhero casting power rankings. He almost just felt born to play this character, it just seemed so natural for him, as if the amiability and humility of Charles Xavier was a mere extension of who Stewart is. Logan is not just a goodbye for Jackman, but for Stewart as well, and does his legacy justice. I’m of the opinion that child actors can make or break your film, and Dafne Keen definitely makes this one. Keen doesn’t talk for at least half the film, but she doesn’t have to to get you to gravitate towards her. She’s immediately a force of nature, having entire conversations with other characters with a single glare or fist clench. As much as this is Jackman’s film, it’s hers too. She more than holds her own against veterans like Jackman and Stewart.
There’s some great character actors to round out the cast. Boyd Holbrook is one of those actors I’m glad never became a leading man, because although he’s got the chops and the looks, he’s just so much better as a role player like he is here as Pierce, leader of the task force chasing them. There’s just something so slimy about him, yet he manages to make these villian traits authentic and immediate. Stephen Merchant takes a small role a long way. They actually take C-Level mutant character Caliban, who is typically only used as a plot device due to his ability to track mutants – and make him interesting! He’s gotten religious, trying to atone for all the mutants he helped the government track down and kill, and Merchant just sells you on his life of regret. Richard E. Grant always delivers, especially in slimy character like his, the doctor in charge of the experiments that created X-23/Laura.
Marco Beltrami is one of those composers that will do mediocre work for a good 3-5 years and then whip out something amazing to surprise you just because he can. His scores for 3:10 to Yuma and Snowpiercer are some of the most memorable of this century. Logan is his latest surprise, a violent, thrashing yet altogether somber work in how he dissects traditional western and superhero themes into something torn apart and incomplete.
Logan is a rare thing of beauty. In more ways than one it also works as an antithesis to the superhero film. The standard is to have all these young and hot people in the title roles, there’s always just a sexy sheen to it all. There’s not an ounce of that in Logan, and I’m so thankful for it. Logan is worn down, addicted to booze and pills. His skin doesn’t heal like it used to, he’s covered in scars and half-healed wounds, walking with a limp. Charles Xavier is losing his mind in old age, and having seizures that cause everyone in a football field radius to have a seizure too. Mangold takes his time with his film, allowing plenty of room for quiet character moments, not rushing to get to the next action scene. His film is about people, the fact that it’s titled Logan infers such. It’s about getting to the core humanity of this character, of seeing the ugly with the pretty. One of the great things about Logan is that it has a rare sense of finality flowing through it. This is the end, which is incredibly rare in a genre where each film’s purpose has become to only get you into the next film, a greedy revolving door. How refreshing is it, at this point, to not have a scene after the credits teasing the next film? Sometimes the only way forward is to say goodbye.