With Logan serving as a final X-Men film for the Wolverine we all know and enjoy, Hugh Jackman has to be feeling pretty good about going out on top. After having played the role for 17 years, the prospect of not getting into insane shape every couple of years allows Jackman some peace. Not that he has much to complain about to begin with, but it fits with the cinematic persona he’s portrayed, as this character also reaches a conclusion plenty fit for him. I’m getting ahead of myself, but just know that Logan is a fine accomplishment in many respects, as the Wolverine’s story comes to an exciting, violent and poignant close.
Similar to 2013’s The Wolverine, director James Mangold and writers Scott Frank and Michael Green have made the smart decision of moving the character away from the rest of the team and into his own adventure. Last time we had a samurai story, now we have a western. How Fox has not successfully made a variety of standalone X-Men films that take on various genres, given how they hold the rights to such an extensive universe, is beyond me. Regardless, the fan-favorite character is back for the final chapter in his own trilogy, which happens to be one of the best X-Men films in general.
The story is stripped down the basics, with an implied sense of history shared between the characters (and audience members that have kept up). Logan is now living in a future nearly free of new mutants. He scrapes by in an effort to take care of an aging Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose mind has become unstable. Things take a turn when Logan is tasked to transport a young mutant, Laura (Dafne Keen), across America in an attempt to keep her away from dark forces. A road trip unfolds, allowing for action, humor, introspection and possible redemption for the clawed man cursed to live for an eternity.
There is something to be said for how this film puts away all of the baggage that comes with Wolverine. Not only does Logan try to distance itself from the bigger picture of the X-Men franchise, it also holds back from dwelling on Logan’s various romantic entanglements. At its core, the X-Men comics have largely been fun and colorful melodramas, occasionally featuring action and backed by social themes. “Fun and colorful” is an aspect that has escaped some of the other films, but the melodrama has continually played a role. With Logan, the character is allowed to become interesting again thanks to shifting the focus towards what it is to feel broken and in need of solace.
In a series rich with characters, I’ve never been a huge fan of this fan-favorite character, but Jackman has continually made Wolverine a compelling figure to watch. Even in the weaker efforts, Jackman’s 100% commitment to the role shows you more than just a guy running around with claws. Having evolved as an actor, Logan provides Jackman with the opportunity to deliver his strongest performance of all in this franchise and perhaps in general. There is just enough emphasis put on watching Jackman’s face as opposed to him constantly speaking, which says so much. Allowing for an unfiltered experience, given the R-rating, further helps things along.
Yes, this is a hard R and for good reason. As opposed to the cartoony hijinks of Deadpool, Logan’s violence feels violent. Action is handled largely quite well, with plenty of emphasis on what kind of brutality comes from people being sliced by adamantium claws. This is also an adult story with heavy themes and the decision to place children in harm’s way quite frequently. For the young teens who saw X-Men back in 2000, there is a sort of logical progression that should make them understand where the character is now and accept this sort of content, given how they are now adults as well. The heavy dose of salty language further puts things into perspective, as Logan (and Professor X for that matter) is unleashed from what was expected of them and are now seen in a raw state.
This means having a film with these characters at their limits and grasping onto what they are still capable of. It means seeing the consequences of their actions play out. Xavier has a moment of crisis at one point in the film. His actions cost lives, but also serve a greater good. Stewart, also tremendous in this film, now has to have a discussion about this, because the film doesn’t hold these characters back. There are action scenes, but they don’t overwhelm the narrative. The film is long (too long) for the sake of breathing room and an exploration of who these past-their-prime folks really are.
Unfortunately, while the film is generally entertaining, it means diving into another dark future and sticking with a lot of grimness. Given the efforts in previous films to stave off an impending apocalypse, the X-Men films clearly have one thing in common with The Terminator franchise – Judgement Day is inevitable. It will apparently always be hard and increasingly dire for a mutant, no matter the progress that is made along the way. This means keeping things plenty bleak, no matter what visceral joy comes from seeing Wolverine’s signature Berserker Rage in its purest form.
That said, the film’s plotting has plenty in common with Children of Men (among many other films, some overtly referenced in Logan). Alfonso Cuaron’s dystopian sci-fi film presented one impossible situation after another, but also left audiences with a sense of hope. Logan is perhaps almost too indebted to committing itself so clearly to the ideas found in other films. It means the story can ride on the waves of what audiences are already familiar with a bit too cleanly, which in turn makes the film feel predictable. However, one can allow the impact of certain actions to hit a bit harder because of the familiarity with these characters and their history.
Aesthetically, Logan is a great piece of work. Aside from some strangeness with the digital photography towards the film’s beginning, the gritty approach works well for this film. Marco Beltrami’s score does enough to inform the audience without being overbearing. Again, the film is a touch too long, but it does allow for a heavier impact when the action breaks out and one finds themselves caught up in both the strong visual effects work to portray an aging mutant in battle and the associated emotions.
The major takeaway for Fox will hopefully be further trust in what they have. Jackman’s commitment and a filmmaker who’s willing to explore the character have proven to work well in delivering something unique and final. The X-Men franchise history may not have other characters with quite as much pull, but this means searching and properly working on how to create a film as effective and affecting as Logan. As for the film in question, it’s a strong success in many ways. It’s the Wolverine film many fans have always wanted and a solid piece of dramatic work. This film unleashes the animal for one last time and it delivers.