Dark and gritty and a proper sendoff for Jackman and Stewart.
Logan will be Hugh Jackman’s ninth (and final) appearance as the comic hero, Wolverine. Nine. Films. <<pause for effect>> In. Seventeen. Years. That’s two more movies than either Sean Connery or Roger Moore played James Bond. That’s two more than there are live action Star Wars movies, and one more than in the Fast and the Furious franchise. You know which movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2000 when Jackman first starred as Wolverine in X-Men? American Beauty won! Feel old yet? Yeah, me too. First, let’s give Mr. Jackman a round of applause. <<applause>> Next, let’s begin to consider Jackman for a potential Best Actor nomination come next Oscar season, as his performance in Logan transcends the casual superhero action movie performance — it is staggering, transformative, emotional and tragic. Finally, let’s admire Logan for the amazing piece of storytelling, acting, and cinema that it is. Logan is not only the darkest and grittiest X-Men movie to date, it’s also one of the most dramatic and near-perfect superhero movies, ever.
In the not-too-distant future (2029), mutants have almost vanished due to unexplained evolutionary factors and military targeting. The few mutants left are in hiding or in exile, including Logan (Jackman), who is working under a pseudonym as a driver-for-hire, and Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is bedridden and experiencing dangerous seizures. They are quietly trying to live out of sight near the Mexican border, aided by an albino mutant tracker, Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Their attempts to maintain a peaceful passage of time, minus Logan’s constant drinking and occasional violent skirmishes, is interrupted when a mysterious woman tries to employ Logan to take her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), far away to safety. Logan and Professor X soon discover the girl’s true identity and importance, and partake on a violent and trying adventure to escape the pursuit of government/military forces, led by smooth-talking enforcer, Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).
Logan is rated R, and it sure as hell earns it. It’s as if the franchise had been bottling up so many curse words and bloody dismemberments, that the result had to be a gusher. I’m fairly certain the first few words of the film, or at least a good percentage of Logan’s mutterings, are f-bombs. Needless to say, careful, parents, as this X-Men movie ain’t for the usual PG-13 crowd or any kiddies whatsoever. What’s incredibly impressive about the violence, however, is that it’s impactful to the story. Logan, aged and grizzled, looks the part of a man who has seen too much in his multiple lifetimes, and has done too much, as well. With each burst of violence, we feel for the man who has been forced to engage in such violent actions, and commiserate in his plight for it to stop. Though don’t be fooled, since Logan isn’t an action movie. Far from it. Logan is more a drama, or even a western, than an action movie, yet when the bullets fly and the claws come out, it makes those moments count with pronounced fury.
So much credit must be given to director James Mangold (Walk the Line, The Wolverine), who has an affinity for a classic John Ford western aesthetic and story structure and imbues his films with it. Logan is no exception. Strip away the mutant abilities and give them all rifles and six-shooters and we may have been calling Logan one of the great neo-westerns of our time. It’s this western style, which Mangold also influenced as Logan’s story writer, that gives it such authentic grit and brutality, something that the expanded DC universe hasn’t yet managed to efficiently capture, though they try and try again. Marvel basically beat them at their own game, though DC’s been playing at it since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series.
Equal credit, of course, must go to the actors who bring Mangold’s excellent story and direction to life. Jackman’s performance is pristine despite playing up the “aging” and experiential process convincingly (he’s only 48 but seems a lot older). He’s the classic sheriff beyond his prime taking one last stand. Jackman wears the war-torn scars in his movements, in his grumbling voice, and in his eyes. And then there’s Sir Patrick Stewart, who brings his work as Professor X/Charles Xavier to a fitting conclusion by capturing the legendary character within his most vulnerable and troubled state. It’s a tremendous supporting performance. Dafne Keen is impressive as Laura, and rest assured, despite her newcomer status (a Spanish tv series is her only other credit), her work here is mature and focused and doesn’t come close to the lackluster child performances we expect from past experiences.
Let’s hope that Logan doesn’t spell out a new chapter for Marvel movies. Logan only works because it understands its central character in ways that most superhero movies don’t. The film surrounds Wolverine with the world he’s created for himself, and that’s why it works so well as a whole. It’s simplistic and powerful, and claws its way into your gut with its visceral action and touching emotional core. Make the effort to go see it — we owe that much to Jackman.
Logan comes out in Bay Area theaters today, March 3rd.