By Hubert Ta
It’s very clear early on that “Logan” isn’t your standard superhero film. Waking up in a drunken haze in his Chrysler limousine, Logan (Hugh Jackman), with a weathered grey beard and in a wrinkled suit, confronts Mexican gangsters who are stealing the rims off his limo in the very first scene. He tries to convince them to just go and leave the car alone, which prompts them to blast him with a shotgun. Logan slowly gets up, gives them another chance, and then unsheathes his adamantium claws and eviscerates the gangsters. Bloodlust takes over, and Logan soon stands in the midst of several dead corpses, before getting back in his limo and driving off.
“Logan” is Hugh Jackman’s final film as James “Logan” Howlett/Wolverine, a career-defining role that started 17 years ago in “X-Men” and helped to redefine and launch a resurgence in superhero films. For those unfamiliar with Wolverine, he is a mutant whose powers include the famous adamantium retractable claws, rapid healing, and an extended lifespan. Directed by James Mangold (“The Wolverine,” “Walk the Line,” “3:10 to Yuma”), “Logan” focuses on an older Wolverine, whose healing factor has been drastically reduced by age, and who now lives in Mexico in 2029 when mutants are nearing extinction. Taking care of an ailing Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Logan works as a limousine driver, until a nurse asks him to protect a girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) from a sinister mutant breeding program led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Laura, revealed to have a similar mutation to Logan, flees with Logan and Charles towards North Dakota, where a mutant sanctuary resides.
As the only R-rated film of the X-Men franchise aside from “Deadpool,” “Logan” fully takes advantage of this liberty, and outshines its predecessors with a level of violence and gore that is never gratuitous, never tame and never gimmicky. Wolverine slashes and kills dozens with renewed efficiency and lethargic disdain. Laura doesn’t refrain from violence either, as she slashes and claws her way through her enemies with brutal acrobatic efficiency. The action alone is a high selling point for “Logan,” as its penchant for realism prioritizes practical effects over special effects. Skilled choreography and stunt work lends further weight to its characters and heightens the focus on the titular character’s human fragility.
This is a superhero film that doesn’t quite feel like one; there’s no “save the world” mission, no copious CGI explosions and alien invasions, no moralist debates and the need to protect innocents and levy justice. “Logan” is about a veteran who no longer fits in the world he lives in, an outcast. The superhero element is just a side note to the realistic character study of a man who is cynical about the world and his place in it, and constantly curses about it.
The strongest part of any character drama is its actors, and Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen pose a triple threat to accentuate the film’s themes of family, alienation and hope. Jackman shines as Wolverine, a mix of the indestructible mutant and a more damaged and detached man resigned to his fate, serving up a performance that may be his best ever for the silver screen. Stewart lends gravitas and sorrow to Charles Xavier, the once-powerful mutant telepath and psychic Professor X who now suffers “a degenerative brain disease in the world’s most powerful brain.” Stewart gracefully portrays a man who sadly understands his condition, all the while trying to guide Logan through one more journey. Finally, “Logan” serves as a great introduction for Keen, who as Laura/X-23, exudes childhood innocence and animalistic rage, a mixture of a longing for family and a ruthless defense of her life. Keen’s blunt yet mysterious poise vividly expresses Laura’s emotions and thoughts with very little dialogue.
“Logan” also blends several film genres: predominantly superhero films, westerns, noir and action thrillers. These all combine into a character drama that sets nihilism, cynicism and melancholy against hope and a yearning for peace with a sole hero searching for purpose in an unfamiliar world. In addition, “Logan” is a franchise film that doesn’t require viewing its predecessors, able to stand out by itself and showcase the abilities of its actors, beautiful cinematography and clear and complex writing backed up by visceral action and a rich score.
Most precisely, “Logan” proves that R-rated comic book films can and should be done if they appropriately adhere to their source material and strive to adapt a story that focuses on being an artistic interpretation rather than a blockbuster. Comparable to “The Dark Knight” and “Blade,” “Logan” perfectly matches the tone of the Wolverine character and captures a vision of the X-Men that is a welcome swan song for Hugh Jackman as the titular character, surpassing all expectations and then some. Why didn’t we get something like this sooner?