They say that Wolverine is the best at what he does, but what he does best isn’t very nice. And Logan is the first movie in the X-Men franchise that never lets you forget that.
Make no mistake, Logan is longer than it needs to be, and it’s a brutal experience — from the ferocity of its violence to its emotional punches — but it’s still probably the best movie in the X-Men franchise.
But even that feels like a strange comparison. At a sweet 17 years of age, the X-Men film franchise is the oldest in our modern history of comic book-based action blockbusters (and it hasn’t even been rebooted). But aside from a notable outlier, you generally know what you’re getting when you walk into the theater — snappy action, well-delivered quips and sci-fi nonsense. Top the whole thing off with a meditation on allegorical marginalization somewhere on a spectrum between “because we shouldn’t have to” and “please god stop saying ‘mutant and proud’” — and you’ve got an X-Men movie.
Logan has very different goals, and it has emphatically telegraphed that from the beginning of its production (but perhaps loudest in its first trailer, set to Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”). The closest parallel I’ve come up with in the 20-odd hours since my screening began is that it is to the X-Men franchise as The Dark Knight Returns was to superhero comics in the mid-’80s. It’s a story where the world has moved on from our heroes, our heroes have moved on from heroism, and hope for the future begins only when we break down the aging systems of the past.
If you have the stomach for a lot of bloody, screaming violence (and one entirely gratuitous appearance of a pair of breasts), you should go see Logan. Do not bring a kid, and brace yourself for a wave of thinkpieces about Logan, people who are hated and feared by society because of their race and genetic origin, and illegal border crossing.
Logan takes place in the year 2029, and no new mutants have been born in 25 years. In keeping with its blue-collar, underclass characters and its classic Western cinema references, the only signs that we are in the future are autonomous machines performing hard labor: Driverless trucks and combine harvesters the size of buildings are ubiquitous. James “Wolverine” “Logan” Howlett (Hugh Jackman) is eking out an existence as a chauffeur with a rented limo, supporting an invalid Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart) and saving toward the purchase of a small yacht — a traveling home where he and Xavier can live a relatively undisturbed life away from anyone who might be harmed by the Professor’s condition.
Logan’s money is continually sapped by purchasing the illegal prescription drugs that keep Charles from succumbing to seizures that paralyze every living thing in a thousand-yard radius for their duration. Logan has his own health problems as well: He coughs continuously, he bleeds and bruises; the mutant with the world’s most famous healing factor is covered in scars.
That starting point should give you some idea of precisely how different Logan is, as an experience, than, say, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Our status quo is disrupted when a Mexican nurse (Elizabeth Rodriguez) discovers that Logan is (or was) the Wolverine, and begs him to accept a hefty chunk of money to deliver her and her daughter Laura (Dafne Keen) to Canada. But evil government men intervene — don’t act surprised — and Logan winds up hitting the road with Charles and the girl, who turns out to be his mad-science-laboratory-raised daughter.
Why aren’t there mutants? What happened to the other X-Men? Why is Wolverine sick all the time? Why is he keeping Professor X in a water tower? Logan answers those questions, in due time, but is not primarily concerned with them even in the slightest. Instead, Logan is about ... well, to paraphrase what Logan says when he puts another quarter into a coin-operated pony for Laura: “This is the last ride.”
In the title role, Jackman does some of the best groaning-in-intense-pain of his career. But seriously, his and Stewart’s interactions are — not unexpectedly — the best of the movie. Sir Patrick Stewart’s idea of Charles Xavier’s atrocious Spanish accent was a particular highlight for me. Boyd Holbrook is all smarm and charm and menace as Donald Pierce, leader of the Ravagers, and I’ve saved the best for last: Dafne Keen is electrifying as Laura, a character inspired by Marvel Comics’ X-23.
You might think it’d be hard to find a 4-foot swipe of a little girl who you could look at and think “that is definitely the offspring of the goddamn Wolverine.” But whether she’s eating a bowl of cereal, screaming in rage, or — and this is absolutely a thing that absolutely happens in Logan — biting a bullet out of her own arm and spitting it casually across the backseat of a car, Laura is obviously Logan’s.
So I just wish that the movie had given us more time with her as a character, rather than the spitting, scratching, admittedly very cool MacGuffin that she is for the first half of the film. Logan and Laura’s relationship isn’t completely underdeveloped, but it doesn’t feel like quite enough to earn some of the movie’s final moments — some of which also rest on a callback that was obvious the moment I saw the much earlier scene it called back to.
Logan earns its R rating and deftly establishes our new status quo of Logan’s physical decline in its first scene, but unfortunately, this is about as deft as the movie gets. Director James Mangold really needed someone to tell him to be more efficient in his storytelling. The first act puts its major players together leisurely, swimming lazily in its tone and texture, and then there’s a whole middle chunk of Logan that is so obviously going to end poorly that what was perhaps supposed to be a relaxing interlude is pregnant with tension at every turn.
These are things that I wish Logan had done better, but that in itself says something. I wish it had done these things better precisely because it is a very good movie, and a very, very good Wolverine story.