Hugh Jackman’s incarnation of Wolverine has been with us for nearly twenty years. What was once a last-minute recasting decision in 1999 has become one of the all-time fan favorite and definitive on-screen superhero realizations in 2017. The character has become the unofficial center of the X-Men film series, managing to maintain his own solo run of films in the process. Jackman returns as the cynical, weathered hero one last time for the definitive Wolverine movie, the best entry in the X-Men universe, and one of the few superhero movies that transcends the genre and rises to consideration among the year’s best overall films.
Director James Mangold redeemed the concept of the solo Wolverine movie after the messy “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” with his adaptation of Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s work in 2013’s “The Wolverine”. That movie at its core was about Wolverine’s immortality, and how that relates to the people he cares for. “Logan” is more about what defines the character and what his purpose is.
Taking place years after saving the future from ruin in “Days of Future Past”, the world has gone on but something has happened to the mutant population in the world. The X-Men are gone. Logan, Professor Xavier and a scant few others are trying to survive in the American southwest. Very few plot details are given, but the backdrop is one of social contention, worn desperation and a lost sense of purpose. It is within this bleak landscape that Logan will endure his hardest trials to date. But in the process he will discover more about himself than he ever knew, and we will know this character at his purest and most vulnerable before the credits roll.
Everything about the movie is stripped down. The cast is small, the plot is focused with occasional clues as to how the world ended up this way. The characters have a simple mission, and they interact at a raw level without fluffy banter. The tropes of superhero cinema are also laid to bare, as the characters reflect on how their reality compares to the comic book fantasy people attach to them. The story strips everything away to get to the core of the character of Logan, and it does so dramatically and effectively through superb direction, great scripting, and marvelous performances from our cast, particularly Hugh Jackman in the title role.
Many other performances deserve mention as well. Patrick Stewart gives a heartbreaking sendoff to a man very different from the one we’ve known in previous movies, and his relationship with Logan has become tragic and complicated but remains extremely endearing. The main villains of the film, Donald Pierce (played by Boyd Holbrook) and Zander Rice (played by Richard E. Grant) are a solid presence, with Pierce coming off as particularly compelling and menacing. The motives for the antagonists become revealed little-by-little. Sometimes the way this is done can be a touch too expository, and in the end these characters don’t leave as much of an impression as they could have had they been given more development. However that may have been a deliberate way to not detract from the film’s focus on the heroes, as Mangold has said that’s why they cut out minor appearances from other characters like Sabretooth.
Also Stephen Merchant plays Caliban much more memorably than in the brief appearance he had with another actor playing him in “X-Men: Apocalypse”, but the other major performance to note is Dafne Keen as Laura. The only other actor to give Jackman’s performance a run for its money, Keen gives enormous gravity, feral intensity and struggling innocence to a character whose dynamic with Charles and Logan is crucial to the movie working as it does. The film is about Logan, but he is defined by his relationship with Laura. Her performance, and the evolution of her relationship with the other characters, is remarkable and made special partially by the work of this fantastic young new actress.
Another way “Logan” is made excellent is by the unique tone and spirit it creates. Part of how this is done is by channeling classic Westerns through its style, cinematography and archetypes. Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” is an obvious template, as is “The Cowboys” with John Wayne, and most notably the classic “Shane”.
But “Logan” also crafts its own identity by its looks and sounds tying in perfectly with the mood of the overall piece. The way it’s shot reflects the feel of the story, offering a unique aesthetic that works with the spirit of the film. Also the music, while simple and minimalist, is incredibly affecting and integrated perfectly with the visuals, rising to match the events on the screen only when it’s truly necessary.
This film also forges its tone through violence and profanity, something unusual for a superhero flick. Not unlike great directors like Martin Scorsese, Mangold uses swearing and brutality to inform the world and speak to the harsh reality these characters exist in, as opposed to those elements being used in a gratuitous way.
Another interesting note about that reality is that it has some coincidental parallels with our current world. Although the film was written years ago, it accidentally resonates in our current political and social climate following the 2016 American election. The first act of the movie takes place by the Mexican border, and the core mission of the heroes is to escape dangers they’re faced with in this country. The best X-Men media have strong allegories to real world issues like these, but it’s amazing how relevant this film ends up being right now despite those connections being largely unintentional.
Regardless, Mangold, Jackman and company have crafted something very special with “Logan”. I honestly consider it to be the closest thing to a perfect superhero movie since “Spider-Man 2” and “The Dark Knight”. And like those all-time greats, it is the definitive cinematic work for its central character.
“Logan” is what can happen when a studio like Fox trusts a tremendous director like James Mangold to craft a movie that fulfills a vision they have for what a character should be. Making this film R-rated was a great choice, since the film seeks to realize a brutal world rather than shock through gratuitous bloodshed.
And lastly, I’d like to say that this movie deserves to be recognized come awards season, including at the Oscars. “Logan” truly shines as a great dramatic work, not solely good in terms of comic book movies. I don’t know what caliber all of 2017’s movies will end up being, but at this point I can imagine justified Oscar nominations for Dafne Keen, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman and James Mangold for Best Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Leading Actor and Director, respectively. And now that this category is opened to a maximum of 10 selections, the film itself should receive a nomination for Best Picture. Come on, Academy; you screwed up with not nominating “The Dark Knight”, so don’t repeat your mistake and overlook this gem.
A beautiful but bittersweet sendoff for Wolverine and the old guard, as well as a launching pad for a hopeful future. “Logan” is a near masterpiece that cuts through superhero movie conventions to the heart of who these characters are, the price they pay, and what defines them. A superhero has never received a better on-screen sendoff than this, it joins the ranks of the genre’s all-time best, and is the perfect ending to Logan’s saga.
+ Outstanding performances from the entire cast, in particular our trio of protagonists
+ Violent and impressive action that feels necessary and gives weight to conflict
+ A simple story that allows drama to breathe and characters to organically connect
+ Paced and edited together in a way that gives the story a great flow
+ Minimal but viscerally-effective music
+ Full of beautiful and tragic allegories that give struggles a deeper meaning
– Villains are strong but less developed than heroes, and are sometimes tools for exposition
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Seth Zielinski is a content and video producer for The Geekiverse, who became a fan of “Shane” because of this movie. He also enjoys gruff old men in movies but not in real life.
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