The name gives it away:
No “X-Men Origins” umbrella title like in the first spin-off, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. No definite article “The” like in the second, The Wolverine. Just…Logan. Simple. Unadorned.
The surest, most direct signal by the filmmakers that this one is not going to be like the previous outings. That it will be about the man behind the name, the legend. That this will strip the character to the bones, down to his very core.
First be assured: The movie is very, very good. Hugh Jackman had announced that after seventeen years and nine movies (counting two cameos), this would be his final turn as the breakout character of both the X-Men comics and subsequent movie series (it may also be Patrick Stewart’s final turn as Professor X, depending on what mood you catch him).
Almost everything about the film feels like it was inspired by this fact. From its elegiac tone to its somber color palette to the score and especially the performances of its leads, there is an air of finality that hangs over the proceedings.
The plot is threadbare, and not especially original: Logan is tasked to bring a young, new mutant named Laura to a place of safety, since she is being hunted by, yet again, shadowy agents of a military-industrial organization. Just last year, Jeff Nichols’ lovely Midnight Special featured basically the same plot.
The details are the more interesting parts. Taking place in 2029, mutants are all but extinct, no new ones are being born. Logan is at his lowest: a rent-a-limo driver in Texas, caring for a nonagenarian Prof. X, who suffers seizures and is losing a battle with Alzheimer’s.
Something tragic happened in Westchester, home of the X-Men, though both Logan and Xavier seem to implicate themselves, the full story is never disclosed. Logan isn’t healing as well as he used to, and his claws aren’t their best, either. A former enemy, the mutant tracker Caliban, himself a mutant, is now helping them. Logan is saving up to get a boat so he and Xavier can get away, and the message is clear: America isn’t a safe place for them anymore.
Though written three years ago, Logan is especially timely in these early days of Trump’s administration. That they are effectively refugees fleeing a hostile territory towards a border for safe harbor will probably not be lost on those paying attention.
Despite this reference to the continuing Syrian refugee crisis, it also touches on immigration issues, the co-opting of government by corporate greed, fear-mongering of the media; it even goes out of its way to present an African-American family, exemplars of a vanishing middle class that is being devoured by another aspect of the aforementioned greed, where giant dinosaur-like computer-controlled machines are doing all the farming to provide Americans with more high fructose corn syrup. Though the X-Men stories have always had a political bent to them—it’s part of their DNA—it’s never felt as relevant as it does here.
Logan is several different things. It’s a road movie, a redemption story, a Western; as well as a treatise on violence, its costs and consequences. It shares the blood of its Western forebears: particularly George Stevens’ Shane, which the characters actually watch in the film (maybe they took notes) and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.
The dynamic of an older man of experience paired with a precocious young girl has been mined by other media, from Luc Besson’s Leon The Professional, Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men (with which it shares political relevance), Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley’s amazing video game The Last of Us (with which it shares not just a plot but entire plot points), to The Hound and Arya Stark on Game of Thrones.
In this, Jackman is ably matched with the wonderful Dafne Keen, who plays Laura with alternating feral wildness and the calm innocence you’d expect of a 12-year-old freshly escaped from a facility where she never saw the sun or grass or trees or animals.
Her Laura is a mostly non-verbal badass, a military experiment with extraordinary fighting skills that puts her among the ranks of Leeloo in The Fifth Element and River Tam from Firefly. The filmmakers take their time for the bond to form, so that it isn’t rushed and feels earned when they begin to regard each other differently in the second half.
Patrick Stewart and his Professor X’s relationship with Logan is the other half of the beating heart of the film. A relationship spanning 17 years in the audience’s eyes and longer in its characters’, there is a poignant, moving grace to scenes where Logan must carry Xavier from his wheelchair, give him his meds, and save him from his seizures. The grown-up adopted child caring for the only father figure he’s known, the only figure who saw something of value and worth where he himself saw none. Their rapport and chemistry is easy yet powerful.
Director James Mangold makes good use of the R-rating. Everyone talks like adults, even when they’re not. The violence is hard-hitting, and ferocious. It’s not grauitous, but it is brutal, and violent, and very satisfying, especially if you’ve been a comics fan who’s been waiting decades for this particular character to have the chance to, pun fully intended, cut loose. Laura gets in her licks too, and there’s no light touch as to the fact that this is a pre-teen murder machine.
But what makes this probably Mangold’s best film is the balance. Silent, emotional scenes have their weight, are given their due in pacing and silence (to the composer’s credit). Scenes of lightness and levity land better when contrasted with the darkness around.
Kudos to Fox for not blanching on the R-rating and trusting the team to deliver (Deadpool’s box office didn’t hurt). Mangold, Jackman, et al do the character and themselves proud with Logan, a fitting, brutal, yet graceful capstone to end Jackman’s time with the character.
Photos: Logan | IMDB
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