Release Date: March 3rd, 2017
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, and Dafne Keen
The X-Men films are the only superhero properties that could even begin to challenge the Marvel Cinematic Universe's dominance. While the mutants still lag far behind the Disney-run MCU in both quality and quantity, Fox continues to wield its intellectual property to produce more X-Men films (and now TV shows), bringing us a range of movies that differ in quality, tone, and critical success. X-Men and its direct sequel X2 are arguably some of the best superhero films to date (X2 being a personal favorite of mine), but for every X-Men, X2, and Days of Future Past, we're also given X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine: Origins, and The Wolverine. It's a shame that Wolverine in particular, being possibly one of the most popular Marvel characters of all time and represented by one of the most talented and charismatic actors of our age, has such a backlog of bad films. But Wolverine sells, and Fox knows it.* If they previously wanted to make a movie like Logan, 20th Century Fox would have had no obligation to make it good, or even decent.
Of course, several things have changed. For one, superhero films have become increasingly competitive. Fox likely saw what happened with Sony's botched Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four outings, as well as the constant criticisms being leveled at Warner Bros.' problematic DC adaptations. Second, Disney has consistently raised the bar on the quality of their Marvel films. Finally, Fox's successful Deadpool experiment gave the Logan creators a lot more leeway into a world previously untouched by the X-Men and many other modern heroes: R-rated content.
Logan and Deadpool share this rating honor amongst a very small pool of superhero films. Like Deadpool, Logan uses the "R" to its fullest extent and as graphically as possible. But while the Merc with the Mouth used it to accentuate his more comedic elements, Logan's brutality is close, personal, and unsettling. That's my way of saying that this movie is violent. Viciously, awesomely, and upsettingly violent. It's a big departure from the bloodless PG-13 world where most superhero films roost, where massive fight scenes amongst aliens, robots, and faceless ninjas are played off as entertaining segments suitable for most ages. There's none of that here. For the first time ever, mainstream audiences get to see what comic fans have known for a long time: that Wolverine is the best there is at what he does, and what he does isn't very nice™.
Logan takes place in 2029, in a world where no new mutants have been born in 25 years. Wolverine is gone, instead going by his birth name James "Logan" Howlett and working as a limo chauffeur in El Paso. He lives with the albino mutant Caliban and the nonagenarian Charles Xavier in an abandoned plant in Mexico. Xavier is suffering from degenerative brain diseases and seizures that can cause dangerous effects on the people around him, forcing Logan to isolate him and illegally purchase medication to further his treatment and sedation. At this point in his life, Logan's healing factor has become compromised by something within him. He still heals more rapidly than natural, and he can still shrug off injuries that would kill others, but he has also finally started to age. The movie opens with him nearly losing a fight to some car jackers, and the evidence of that fight as well as previous ones follow him throughout the film: he sports scars, aches under sore muscles, cleans pus and blood from his hands, and at one point he has to physically pull on a claw that won't properly extend.
His plans change however when a nurse named Gabriela comes begging him to help her and her "daughter" escape to North Dakota. The young girl, named Laura. is on the run from a company called Transigen, whose security detail has been hunting her and Gabriela. These thugs, known as the Reavers and headed by cybernetically enhanced Donald Pierce (both long-time X-Men villains), are trying to round up mutant children that were developed by Transigen's project head Zander Rice. After being promised a significant amount of money, Logan is able to escape with Laura and Xavier, but are constantly dogged by Pierce and his men.
There's actually a story behind the lack of mutant births and Zander Rice's involvement with the lack of mutations in the wolrd, but they're only hinted at during the film and given a brief exposition near the end. Even then, it feels like it's given almost no weight, and that's intentional. The movie isn't about some threat against mankind that only mutants can stop, or evil men trying to wipe out mutants, or any of a million large-scale plots that we've previously seen in superhero and X-Men films. Logan is a story about Logan. He is man of rage and violence now left with no battles to fight and nothing but regret and death ahead of him. He has become depressed and suicidal. Logan is a character study of a man who cannot come to grips with his own pain, and whose past only brings him grief. When he is finally given a chance to be something better than he was, and to at least try to live a better life, he balks and turns away, he pushes it away because the pain of past losses and failures are too much for him.
It is for these reasons that Logan has done what no other superhero film has done before: it surpasses its own genre. Deadpool parodied the concepts, and Disney/Marvel incorporated other genres into its films, but this is the first time a superhero movie has truly transcended its origins to tell a deeper, richer, and more personal story.
Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewarts are stand-outs of course, and both actors thoroughly disappear into their parts (it's sad to think that they've both recently announced their retirements from these iconic roles). Jackman's treatment of the ailing Stewart is reminiscent of an adult son begrudgingly taking care of his sick father, along with all of the callous treatment and bitterness that comes with forcing health onto another. Their curmudgeonly behavior is smartly opposed by Dafne Keen's sullen Laura, whose quiet performance is reminiscent of child actress Millie Bobby Brown's role as Eleven in Stranger Things. Like Eleven, Laura's life up to this point has been mistreatment and terror, and her desire for normalcy and any semblance of a family pushes against Logan's lone-wolf complex. Laura does more damage to Logan than any other character could, by exposing him for the weak and fearful coward he has become.
I had previously mentioned in my review last week that Logan takes some inspiration from the Wolverine: Old Man Logan story by Millar and McNiven. In the end, there's no overlap between the two other than some aesthetic choices, but I did lament in that review that we'd never get a true live-action adaptation of the story. However, after leaving the theater, my opinion had changed. Logan is exactly what it should be, and is more effective than any comic storyline could be. I have no doubt that this will be one of those superhero films that will be talked about for years to come.
Also, it comes with a teaser for the eventual Deadpool sequel.
*One of my favorite podcasts about comic books once joked about Marvel calling Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk "everyone's three favorite Marvel characters." One contributor retorted that Marvel's three most popular characters were "Wolverine, Spider-Man, and Wolverine again."