The scene is set in a cage fight in Alberta. One of the combatants takes a quick beating before decimating his opponent in seconds. After another scuffle at the bar, during which the audience witnesses his indestructible claws shoot out of his knuckles for the first time, the first combatant agrees to give Rogue (Anna Paquin) a ride. It is only after this that 2000’s X-Men, the first modern superhero film, formally introduces us to the combatant, a man named Logan (Hugh Jackman), who many would come to know as the Wolverine. Jackman would go on to play the Marvel Comics hero for seventeen years with a perfect blend of palpable rage, touching heart, and perfectly dry humor. Now that his final film as the character, aptly titled Logan, has arrived, I would like to thank Mr. Jackman for his commitment and passion. These films are of great personal importance to me (2011’s X-Men: First Class was the first film who’s production I followed closely) as both a huge X-Men fan and general cinephile. Additionally, the early X-Men films rejuvenated the comic book and superhero genres after 1997’s disastrous Batman and Robin turned them into laughing stocks, and they have gone on to provide moviegoers with a plethora of delightful cinematic adventures many of which are some of the most successful films of the modern era, and this is due in no small part to Jackman’s iconic take on the role. Through this genre explosion the franchise that started it all has kept producing and Jackman has made appearances of various sizes in all X-Men related films, with the exception of last year’s Deadpool (in which he is still featured photographically, albeit not in character). But all good things must unfortunately come to an end. And what an end the appropriately-titled Logan is. Jackman’s swan song is a fantastically emotional, pulse-pounding, sci-fi action thriller, wrapped in the package of a Western. A more than fitting end for one of the truly special characters in cinematic history.
Logan is charged with feeling from the start. The first shot of the titular character has him lying, groggy and half-asleep in the back of the limo he currently drives for work. We can immediately see simply through Jackman’s body language that Logan is experiencing a kind of exhaustion that is hard to fathom. The emotional hook of the film is established in these first few seconds. Unlike many other comic book films, Logan is first and foremost a character study. Previous films have filled us in on Logan’s tragic backstory (due to his powers slowing his aging he has been alive since before the Civil War and fought in every major American war between that one and Vietnam, before joining a black-ops task force whose horrific impacts on him would send him on the path to finally meeting the X-Men) but Logan digs deeper into the psychological turmoil it has caused. Logan has lived a very long life in which he has very rarely been happy and his dark past has left him plagued with guilt. He tends to ailing psychic mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, who has also been with the X-franchise since the beginning and makes his final appearance here as well) but doesn’t really do much else. For reasons that are more tragic than selfish he barely cares about the imminent, unexplained, extinction of mutants, the race of superhumans to which he and Charles belong, whereas once he was one of mutantkind’s foremost protectors. He’s only living in the barest sense of the word and Jackman sells this pain with every move he makes and word he says.
But like the cowboys whose stories his so clearly echoes, Logan can’t escape trouble for long. Evil here is manifested mostly through Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a cybernetically enhanced redneck who is hunting a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), apparently the first new mutuant to manifest powers in years. Charles has offered Laura protection and aid but given his various medical problems, and the fact that he never was any sort of warrior in the first place (he’s been paralyzed for decades), those responsibilities of course fall to Logan, as much as he tries to avoid them. Soon the three are on the run, seeking to bring Laura to a supposed mutant promised land in Canada where she will be safe from Pierce and the even darker forces he represents (yes, there are other villains, but to describe them at all would be spoiling).
This road trip set up fully unlocks the films’ central emotional issues. Laura has been subjected to many of the same horrors as Logan, having both sinned and been sinned against, and facing essentially a child version of himself forces Logan to finally confront his most haunting demons. His reluctance to care for Laura as well as to accept the full scope of the task laid before him could be seen as cold-hearted but they are nothing more than the affects of lifetimes of tragedy. Logan has made surrogate families before, in both the X-Men and others, but things never end well. He doesn’t try to escape his heroic calling or feelings because he doesn’t care. He does so because he cares too much. While Laura forces Logan to face his fear of intimacy, it is Charles’ actions that force him to face his guilt. Charles treats protecting Laura mostly as a joyous adventure, one last hurrah as a hero before the problems of his aging become inescapable. For Logan it is a much more serious affair. He is the one who has to combat Pierce and his mercenaries after all, and the correct action is unclear to him. Logan is tired of fighting and is beating himself up over the many lives he has already taken (regardless of what evil lives they were) and yet the redemptive path offered him is one in which he faces enemies that must be utterly decimated. While protecting Laura seems the right path, will killing even more monsters save Logan’s soul or condemn it even further? These are the kinds of questions Logan is asking and they lead to some of the most complex, heartfelt emotion any film in recent memory has presented.
The film’s leading trio are more than up to the challenge posed to them by the script’s intense material. Keen makes a powerful impression in her feature film debut, managing to bring to life a very complex character while performing alongside two acting legends. Laura has seen and experienced far too many horrible things for someone so young and yet maintains an admirable internal strength and Keen displays all the necessary fear, rage, and occasional compassion that the role calls for. Any child actor would be forgiven for making Laura too stoic, to the point of being wooden, but Keen instead makes her both empathetic and fascinating. Stewart’s final outing as Professor X is a memorable one, with him deftly portraying a brilliant man who cannot deal with the fact that his mind is decaying. The relationship between Charles and Logan is one of the film’s greatest strengths, with Jackman and Stewart expertly depicting the strained dynamic of two men who are, in all but blood, father and son. Charles’ frustrations often get the best of him leading him to lash out at Logan, despite the latter being the person who cares most for him, and Stewart makes these verbal beatings venonomous before reminding us that at his core Charles is a kind soul. While his companions are deftly portrayed, the most enthralling character in the film is rightfully Logan himself. Jackman has always given his all whenever playing Wolverine, even in some of the X-franchise’s less strong outings, and it is blatantly obvious that he genuinely loves his character in a way not all blockbuster stars do. That all being said, in Logan he seems to have somehow found an even higher gear, as hard to believe as that may be. Jackman weaves his way through the maze of powerful emotions Logan is navigating spectaculary, offering among other things righteous fury, self-destructive guilt, and pure love. At one point Logan growls to Laura that he is “fucked up” and indeed that more than anything is what the film is about; whether or not he can fix himself. It’s a character arc of rare dramtic weight for an action blockbuster and one more genuine than even most other traditional dramas made today. Logan is angry at himself, angry at the world, but most of all yearning for a chance to be better, and finally find peace. The role is a dream come true for someone as in love with acting as Jackman is and his mesmerizing performance is one for the ages, worthy of an Academy Award.
While Logan‘s most important function is to serve as a fitting end to Jackman and Stewart’s tenures as their characters (which it does more than adequately) credit must be given to writer-director James Mangold for crafting one of the most enthralling, complete cinematic visions in recent memory. Taking advantage of the film’s R-rating Mangold crafts brutal, exquisitely choreographed action sequences. This is certainly the most violent mainstream superhero film of all time (young children should be brought to this film under no circumstances) but Mangold doesn’t just have blood spew for the sake of it. While comic book fans can rightly delight at finally seeing Jackman’s take on the character fully unleashed (the character has a wealth of dark and violent comic book storylines that haven’t been fully invoked tonally on screen before, due to the proceeding films’ PG-13 ratings) the extreme violence also serves an important thematic purpose. In a movie which studies so deeply the affect Logan’s multiple lifetimes of fighting and war have had on his psyche, displaying the violence in any other matter would seem like a cop-out. Lingering shots of severed limbs and impaled heads are not there for shock value but to fully present the viewer with the anguish Logan faces in choosing to take yet more lives, even for good purposes. Additionally, the bloodshed isn’t even the best thing about the film’s exhilarating action sequences. No, the best things about these fights (at least in my opinion) are their speed and impact. Perhaps the film’s action highlight is a long tracking shot in which Logan runs through a forest dispatching enemies left and right. The Wolverine moves with such velocity and such effective ferocity that Pierce’s thugs barely have time to raise their weapons after seeing the last of their comrades fall before they themselves meet the same fates. All of the film’s technical elements, from the crisp cinematography to the spartan score contribute to the same affect of immersing the viewer completely in Logan’s damaged perspective.
The script, authored by Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green is worthy of special attention. While Jackman is credited with developing the thematic thrust of the film, these three men have developed a complete story that is close to perfect. While the X-Men franchise has always had real world relevance, with the plights of mutants being a metaphor for the experience of all oppressed minorities, Logan has a particular timeliness and topicality that is admirable. The horrors caused by prejudice are on full display in the behavior of the film’s villains, not just towards mutants, but toward impoverished Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. Logan isn’t just combatting Pierce and company, but also their ideology, one in which a bunch of white men profit from the violent exploitation of minorities, including young children. Jackman, Mangold, and the rest of Logan‘s creators have managed to make the sendoff to a cinematic superhero a powerful statement against Trump and those who follow similar ideologies to his (one of the parties Logan drives in his limo is a bunch of drunk frat boys who chant USA while passing Mexican immigrants being deported at the border) while maintaining the film’s emotional focus. Logan also wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve and benefits from Mangold’s ability to synthesize a multitude of inspirations into a whole that is still completely original. Shane is both watched and quoted by characters in Logan and the latter is perhaps thematically linked most closely to the former as well as to Unforgiven. The film’s most basic plot elements and its tone both recall Children of Men while its pacing and style of action owe a debt to Mad Max: Fury Road.
Despite all its technical brilliance, the most appealing thing about Logan is its heart. Not since Christopher Nolan dropped Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne into a literal and figurative hell in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises has a comic book film offered the same amount of emotional complexity and psychological exploration on display in Logan, even if the two are completely different films. To make comparisons to classic films, if Nolan’s Batman trilogy is the comic book movie equivalent of The Godfather saga Logan is very much Taxi Driver. Both of the latter two films are extremely gritty and intimate, probing deeply into the psyches of two truly remarkable characters, brought to life through titanic performances by two of the world’s greatest actors, all while building to incredibly cathartic climaxes, of differing moral significances. Once more thank you to all who worked on Logan for producing what is sure to be an all-time classic movie, and thank you Hugh Jackman for seventeen years of wonderful entertainment, and for being instrumental in making me truly love movies.