I’ve always had a soft spot for the X-men franchise. I was drawn to the Martin Luther King/Malcom X personas of Professor X and Magneto. The pseudoscience of the possibilities of genetic mutations intrigued me. And I fell in love with the diverse cast of characters. It is with that background that the X-Men films are ones that I’ve been invested in since the beginning. Drawn in by the potential of the source material and the general strength of the casts, I have eagerly awaited each new installment in the seventeen year old series.
Unfortunately, the quality of the films in the franchise is all over the place, and with no real barometer of quality to go by, one goes into each new installment with a sense of hopeful anxiety. While directors and casts have changed, there has been one constant throughout: Wolverine. The popularity of the character (and the consistently great portrayal by Hugh Jackman) has made him the only character in the franchise to get his own spinoff films. The two preceding solo outings were, to put it kindly, not that great. As Jackman is reportedly finished with the role, Logan looks to atone for past sins and send the character out into the sunset the way he deserves.
Logan is the most adult super hero film I have ever seen. At its core it is a character driven drama, one where the superhero antics are in service to the characters and their personal motivations, rather than the typical “here is a big threat, let us use our powers to stop it” trope that is the central core to most other superhero films. The story here places the characters first: an old, weary Wolverine–who has been taking care of the aging Charles Xavier–is thrown into helping a young mutant get to a safe haven after he realizes she is being hunted. The film is an extended road trip, with the three protagonists traversing rural America, each discovering more about themselves along the way. Overused metaphor? Maybe. But it works. There are no fights atop monuments or giant robots to be found here, just an old man rediscovering what it means to be a hero.
Logan earns every bit of its R rating, which gives it the creative freedom to do things that its PG-13 brethren cannot. On a surface level, this means cursing and violence, but the rating also means it doesn’t have to pander to everyone. The film is free to be its own thing, and it relishes it. You can tell Patrick Stewart enjoys every utterance of the word fuck, a word a younger Xavier wouldn’t utter, but completely fits the character at this stage in his life. He is a joy to watch throughout, and his relationship with Logan is touching.
The portrayal of violence is explicit and gritty; it works as a stark contrast to the more introspective and toned down moments that dominate the rest of the film, but it also speaks to the character of Logan. Previous films have never been able to show the rage and raw power of Wolverine. Those elements are on full display here, with tense and gruesome fight scenes finally highlighting the complete capacity of Logan’s powers. For the first time on film, I felt as if we were witnessing the full character of Wolverine, with all of the brutality that has shaped his being. Not to be outdone, the young mutant Laura (Dafne Keen), who possesses Wolverine’s adamantium claws and healing abilities, more than holds her own. We can thank Deadpool for Logan’s unwillingness to shy away from violence, as if that film wasn’t a success, I sincerely doubt studios would have taken another chance on another R rated superhero film.
This film sticks with me as it is unlike every super hero movie I have ever seen. It pushes the mutant aspects to the side to deliver an introspective character driven journey, with the action sequences feeling natural and serving as the punctuation to the story, rather than the driving force behind it. We see Logan evolve more as a character in this film than we have in any of his previous on screen outings. Logan could be a turning point for the superhero genre, a film that could cause studios to take a long look at their properties and ask if these movies could strive to be more than just big budget action filled blockbusters. I’m not holding my breath, but Logan has the potential to change the genre into something much greater than it is. Doesn’t hurt that it’s a hell of a good flick to boot.