If you had seen both X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine, I wouldn’t blame you for being highly skeptical of watching a third solo movie starring everyone’s favourite, slash-happy mutant. But believe me when I say that Logan isn’t just better than those previous outings; it’s quite possibly one of the best comic book movies of all time.
Very loosely based on the Old Man Logan graphic novel (so no inbred, hillbilly Hulks here, thank God), the film is set in the not too distant future, where not only have mutants become practically extinct but the X-Men are long dead. A much older and much more miserable Logan (Hugh Jackman) now lives a semi-normal life as a chauffeur, alongside a severely ill Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).
While he has very much quit the ‘hero’ gig and is kind of just counting down the days until he dies, Logan finds himself thrown into action once more when a young mutant girl named Laura (played by newcomer Dafne Keen) enters his life, having escaped from an organisation called Transigen that were trying to create mutant child soldiers. Logan and Xavier agree to help her flee to North Dakota, where a supposed safe haven for mutants called Eden awaits.
To be honest, though, that’s not even the real plot to the movie. I mean, yes, it is arguably the main driving force – getting Laura to Eden is the goal – but unlike most superhero movies, Logan isn’t about our hero trying to save the day or thwart a villain’s plans. It’s really just about Logan trying to live what’s left of his life, which is an absolute shit one.
From the opening credits alone, it’s clear what kind of movie this is – harsh, bleak and weary. The first scene has him trying to talk some thieves out of stealing his limousine. He doesn’t threaten, he doesn’t growl; he just bluntly tells them to just leave. He’s tired, and he doesn’t want to fight. It doesn’t work and he winds up viscerally murdering them (as someone who didn’t know this was an R-rated movie, this took me by surprise), showing how much more rage he has built up inside of him. He’s always been an angry guy but it’s clear that the years have not been kind to him. Without his friends, his rage is unchecked, which lends well to the film’s more bloody nature.
Not to mention that, early on, we see him struggle to heal himself. One of the problems with a character like Logan is that, as someone who’s essentially unkillable, there’s very little tension. This film, however, makes it clear that something is wrong with him, which is only accentuated by his occasional coughing fits. He’s a far-cry from the ultimate bad-ass we’ve seen before, which not only adds that needed tension but it, ironically, makes the times he has to fight even more awesome. The dude’s ill and he’ll still rip bad guys a new one.
With so much focus on the character himself, this means a lot of Logan rides on Jackman’s performance. Though I’m not a die-hard fan of the X-Men movies or even the comics, I’ve always believed Jackman was perfect as Logan, even in the likes of X-Men Origins. It’s abundantly clear that he loves this character and Logan is proof of that. It’s hard to put into words but he just nails Logan’s more pessimistic attitude. You can feel his constant, inner struggle. You are watching a man who has so little to live for; the only thing that’s kept him going is looking after Xavier, and even that’s a struggle due to Xavier’s own dementia and seizures.
Jackman’s not the only one, though. All the main performances are fantastic at capturing how bleak their lives are. Patrick Stewart is on top form as Xavier, but his constant optimism has been tragically beaten out of him. His illness has made him more frail than ever; hearing him berate and insult Logan whilst drugged up is almost sad, probably because of how real it seems. They’re the only family each other has but circumstances have made their relationship horribly strained. In fact, their relationship makes up a big chunk of the movie. The fact that both these actors have worked together as these characters for so many years only amplifies the emotions, and is probably why it works as well as it does.
I also want to give quick credit to Stephen Merchant, who’s almost unrecognisable as the mutant Caliban and gives a surprisingly subdued performance. I’m more familiar with his comedic work so I was impressed with his take on a much more sombre role (though he does provide the occasional bit of dry humour).
The real scene-stealer, though, is eleven year-old Dafne Keen as Laura. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see stories featuring the gruff anti-hero and the precocious young girl he has to protect, but Laura manages to not only stand out but also avoid every possible pitfall that could’ve ruined her character. For starters, she’s not helpless. Yes, she does need Logan’s help to get to Eden but, as a mutant, she is more than capable of protecting herself in a fight. In fact, at this point, she’s actually stronger than Logan and saves his ass more than a couple of times.
But this is never done in a cute “oh look she’s beating up fully grown adults who’ve vastly underestimated her, how empowering for children” way. Whenever she gets into a fight, we are reminded that she was bred to be a weapon, and she remembers all the trauma they inflicted on her. She shares many similarities with Logan, and while they frequently butt heads, a connection is formed throughout the film. She even has a sweet friendship with Xavier, without uttering a single word of dialogue.
Not to mention that, despite her more vicious tendencies, she is still a child with very little social skills. We see her casually take a tub of Pringles whilst in a small convenience store, she wears a pair of frilly, pink sunglasses with the most neutral of expressions; it’s even implied she reads X-Men comic books (yes, X-Men comics exist in this movie and are an actual plot-point).
Keen makes other child actors look bad. I’ve never seen a character before that can be adorably precious one scene and be disturbingly violent in the next. Unfortunately, some of her best scenes are pretty spoiler heavy so I can’t go into too much detail, but I sincerely hope this will be the start of a prosperous career for her and that she doesn’t go down the same path as other child actors before her.
The only other characters worth mentioning are the villains, but they’re pretty bland all things considered and aren’t even all that threatening. They kind of exist just to give a name and face to the enemy organisation; figures we recognise just so they’re defeat is all the more satisfying. Even the identity of the X-24 project is pretty disappointing, even if it makes sense for the story.
But possibly the best part of Logan is its overall tone. Like I already stated, it’s a harsh, borderline cynical world. While not set in a post-apocalyptic landscape like Old Man Logan, the use of arid deserts and sleazy cities at night as backdrops almost make you think that’s the case. The film is not shy in telling you how terrible life can be and that even when you perform good, genuinely altruistic acts, that doesn’t give you a pass.
This isn’t like Deadpool, the other R-rated Marvel movie in recent memory. Whereas that was your typical hero origin story but with a lot more goofy and bloody antics that would leave you in metaphorical stitches, Logan is the exact opposite. While its action is intense and enjoyable, it’s not as stylised as Deadpool; it’s visceral and grim. We see the emotional and physical wounds it leaves. Logan is not a film you watch to make yourself feel good, and while I believe you can still tell good Wolverine stories without being excessively grim, gory and full of swearing, the R-rating (just like Deadpool) actually helps – it suits the tone and enhances it.
However, while it could have very easily gone down that dark, depressing route and stayed there, the film still possesses moments of levity, and I don’t just mean the occasional humour. Xavier is as altruistic as ever and keeps trying to convince Logan to do good acts for the simple sake of being good. Logan himself shows that he still cares for Xavier, almost like a father, and in turn becomes one to Laura in a way. He sees the similarities between them too and doesn’t want Laura to turn out exactly like him.
As dour as the film is, it doesn’t drown you in it. In a lot of stories, the loner anti-hero is presented as being stronger because they discarded their empathy; because they are alone. Logan, however, shows how Logan’s own isolation and loneliness cripples him, and his interactions with Xavier and Laura manage to strengthen him. There’s a lot more I could write about but I want to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.
As sad as it is that Jackman is stepping down as Wolverine, we can at least take solace in that, of all the movies he could’ve gone out on, at least it was this one. Gritty, hard-hitting, emotional and yet strangely fulfilling, Logan is the Wolverine movie that both Jackman and the fans deserve. And after a performance like this, whoever’s taking over has some big shoes to fill.