Logan is the first great film of 2017.
It’s also one of the darkest. The specter of death hangs over almost every scene and, when death does come, it doesn’t discriminate. Good and likable people are just as likely to die as the film’s villains and, when they do die, it’s never a merciful passing. There is some humor but it’s the type of humor that’s generated by being trapped in a hopeless situation. This is one of those movies where, when you do laugh, it’s because the only other alternative is just to give up.
What’s the common complaint about comic book films? That they only exist to sell more comic books and that they are often fatally compromised by the need to appeal to as many viewers as possible? Well, that’s not a problem with Logan. Logan is a film for grown ups. During the film, when Logan (played, of course, by Hugh Jackman) comes across an X-Men comic book, he dismisses it as a fairy tale. “In the real world,” he snaps, “people die!”
That’s not to say that Logan’s a hopeless film. There is an optimistic streak to the film but it’s a cautious optimism. Much like Mad Max: Fury Road, Logan suggests that the best thing that the world has left to offer is a chance for redemption.
Now, I should point out that, while I enjoyed some of the previous films (particularly X-Men: First Class), I’m hardly an expert on the X-men franchise. But, with Logan, that doesn’t matter. Certainly, it helps to have seen some of the previous films. There are a few references to X-Men: Apocalypse. But, in the end, Logan works as a stand alone film. Even if you’ve seen none of the previous X-men films, you’ll find yourselves getting swept up in the story of Logan, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Caliban (Stephen Merchant), and Laura (Dafne Keen).
The film opens in 2029. There are only a few hints that we’re in the future: driverless truck rule the roads and, more disturbingly, it seems as if there’s fewer people around than before. Watching the film, which is full of wide open spaces and desolate towns, one gets the feeling that something has happened that has wiped out a good deal of the population. Almost all of the mutants are dead. Logan (Hugh Jackman) lives across the border, in Mexico. His only companion is the albino Caliban and Xavier.
However, this Xavier is far different from the one that we’ve seen in previous films. Suffering from Alzheimer’s, Xavier is often confused as to where he is and, if he’s not properly medicated, he can’t control his psychic powers. What’s left of Logan’s life is now dedicated to trying to keep the greatest mind in the world from destroying itself.
Logan has also changed. In the previous films, Logan was indestructible. However, his powers are weakening. He no longer heals as quickly as before. He’s losing his eyesight. Even his famous claws are no longer as reliable as they once were. Logan now works as a limo driver in El Paso. One night, a group of frat boys have him drive by the border crossing so that they can chant “USA! USA!” Another night, he drives around a drunken bachelorette party, trying to ignore one of the bridesmaids exposing her breasts to him. And then, he picks up Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and Laura.
Gabriella is a nurse. Laura is an apparently mute 11 year-old girl who has the same powers as Logan. Gabriella asks Logan to help them get to North Dakota (or “Eden,” as Gabriella calls it). Logan says no but he quickly discovers that he doesn’t have a choice. A sadistic cyborg named Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, giving a disturbingly charismatic performance) is searching for Gabriella, Laura, and Logan. The only way for Logan to protect Xavier is to make that trip to North Dakota.
Pierce, I should mention, isn’t alone. Pierce has a black-clad army of mercenaries at his disposal but he, and his employer (Richard E. Grant, in the role of the bad guy with the British accent), have a secret weapon. This weapon looks and acts like a young Logan and there’s a reason for that. By the end of the film, Logan truly is at war with the savage beast that he once was.
Logan is a violent film, one that doesn’t flinch when it comes to earning its R-rated. I don’t want to give too much away so excuse my vagueness when I say that, a little over an hour into Logan, there’s a fight scene of such brutality and uncompromising violence that it left me shaken in a way that no other “comic book” film ever has. Logan earns that R-rating but it never feels exploitive or gratuitous. When Logan curses (which he does quite a bit), it’s because that’s what people do when they’re in a hopeless situation. And, for all the fighting and all the blood and all the death, Logan never celebrates violence.
Instead, it celebrates redemption.
Early on, there’s a rather sweet scene where Xavier and Laura watch Shane on television. It’s an important scene because, in many ways, Logan is a western. Logan is the mysterious gunslinger who, after a lifetime of violence, finally has a chance to do something to preserve life rather than spread death. Just in case we missed, director James Mangold includes a scene in which Logan and Xavier help a family of ranchers round up some horses. Later, there’s a tense stand-off between Logan and a group of cowboy hat-wearing rednecks that feels as if it could have come straight from a spaghetti western.
Hugh Jackman is an acclaimed and accomplished actor but, to many people, he will always be the Wolverine. This is his 9th time to play the character and Jackman gives not only his best performance in the role but perhaps the best performance of his career. (It’s certainly the equal of his Oscar-nominated work in Les Miserables.) One look at Jackman’s weathered face and his haunted eyes and you immediately know that there’s going to be more to Logan than just comic book action. And then there’s Patrick Stewart, who has never been more heartbreaking and vulnerable than he is here. Finally, Dafne Keen gives a fierce performance, one that will probably remind many people of Chloe Grace Moretz’s breakthrough role in Kick-Ass.
Earlier, I mentioned Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s an appropriate comparison, as the two films have much in common. (That said, Logan definitely establishes its own identity.) There’s been some talk that Logan could be the first comic book film to ever receive a nomination for best picture. I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not. (I fear that a lot of Academy members will mentally check out during a jokey pre-credits sequence, one that serves as a teaser for the sequel to Deadpool. I understand why it was included it at the beginning of the film. Logan ends on such a poignant note that a post-credits scene would have felt inappropriate. But still, as much as I love Ryan Reynolds, it feels out-of-place.) I will say this — Logan deserves consideration. Logan occasionally had me fighting to catch my breath and it left me with tears in my eyes. For Logan to get a nomination, it’s going to need the same support from the critics groups that Mad Max: Fury Road received. The Academy is going to need the critics to reassure them that it’s okay to nominate a film about mutants being chased by a cyborg. It’s still early in the year. Anything could happen.
It could be nominated for every Oscar or it could be nominated for none. But, in the end, Logan is a great film.