Logan Review: The Best X-Men Film

Logan represents the best of what a superhero film can be.  It is a film about the struggle to be a hero, to live up to expectations of others when it is not easy, and to serve those for whom you care.  The director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman have generated a film that is different from other recent superhero movies as it is not an overly complicated story about saving the world, rather it is an intimate Western about saving a lost hero’s soul.  Logan is an exquisite film that represents the best of the X-Men franchise and the best of what this genre has to offer.

The better X-Men films are political in their themes, which is one of the reasons why this franchise has always clicked with me.  The main thematic through lines of the films deal with the life of outsiders/outcasts, discrimination, prejudice, bigotry, and differing ideologies on how to combat hate.  In the 60s, the comics represented the Civil Rights.  Today, the films often are metaphors for gay rights, racism and homophobia.  From X-Men to Logan, the best films of the franchise always have more on their mind than simple popcorn entertainment.  Even the much maligned X-Men: The Last Stand (although not a great movie, is still better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine and is a guilty pleasure of mine) deals with the idea that mutation could be cured, that your inherent natural difference could be removed.  Logan continues that proud tradition by being an immigrant tale, one stacked with imagery alluding to today’s volatile political landscape.

This tale starts with Wolverine aka Logan (Hugh Jackman) in 2029 as a limo driver, picking up random people and parties in a world where there are no new mutants, strong border patrol and walls dividing Mexico from the United States.  Logan is struggling to make ends meet as he takes care of Charles Xavier (a never better Patrick Stewart) south of the border with the assistance of the albino mutant Caliban (a surprisingly terrific Stephen Merchant).  Logan then finds himself taking care of a mysterious girl named Laura (Daphne Keen in a star making turn) as he, Laura, and Professor X take a road trip through the western United States to protect Laura. She is being hunted by a group of mercenaries called the Reavers, led by the bionic armed Donald Pierce (Boyd Hollbrook in a performance with humor and swagger).  To avoid spoilers I won’t discuss the plot anymore, except to say that the film plays out more as a Western with a sci-fi angle and less of a superhero film.

In fact, the film is stripped of most superhero film tropes.  The biggest explosion in the film is when a van blows up.  The biggest fight sequence is when Logan, in a berserker rage, kills a bunch of soldiers in a forest.  The film also isn’t driven by the action sequences or its brutal grisly violence.  That isn’t to say the action isn’t solid, in fact it’s stunning.  The action scenes are disturbing and shocking and gut wrenching.  They aren’t exciting or overtly fun like other superhero films.  Logan shows the consequences of what Wolverine’s blades can do to a body, and it’s scary.  Logan’s wounds and diminishing healing ability demonstrates how much damage our hero sustains.  The violence is not gratuitous, but necessary to underline the central theme of the film, of a man reconciling with his violent past.  The film is driven by the characters and their journey.  Unlike most other superhero films, Logan is entrenched in pathos and character-focused drama as it explores the violence of a particular man and his struggle to live with that side of him.

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As the film is different from past blockbusters, so too are Xavier and Logan different from past iterations.  Age has caught up with them and they struggle to live with the violent memories of their past, as they try to hold onto what’s left of their mutant powers.  Xavier’s mind is rattled with dementia, and his “most powerful mind in the world” is now declared a weapon of mass destruction.  The past movies show how powerful his mind can be when used for destruction, and Logan shows the terrifying consequences of when Charles can no longer control his powers.  Xavier becomes this bitter old man, yelling at Caliban and Logan as they constantly tell Charles to take his medication and pain killers to prevent his seizures and those uncontrollable moments.  It’s odd at first to see Charles yell at his caretakers, dropping f-bombs left and right.  But Stewart’s performance is always incredible.  He seemed to channel a little of James McAvoy’s performance when he gets testy and annoyed with his companions.

There still exists these moments when Charles is fully lucid and shows his kindness and fatherly instincts to Laura and Logan that remind the audience that he is still the wise gentle mentor we have grown to love so much.  There is one scene where Charles uses his powers temporarily and without any mistakes and it is a scene that moved me so much.  To see him in that state after an hour of him weak and in despair was heartbreaking.  It was a great reminder of his capabilities and his affection and warmth that was felt by so many characters and so many fans.  Stewart’s performance is pitch-perfect and seriously demands awards attention.

Hugh Jackman’s Logan is physically weaker in this film.  In the past he was rarely defeated, but here Wolverine gets his ass kicked multiple times.  His healing ability is dissipating and old age, after almost 200 hundred years of existence, is finally catching up.  He can’t fight as well, and in the first scene one of his claws can’t even fully extend.  He only wants to keep Xavier alive and safe and not worry about anyone else.  He constantly drinks to keep the pain away, and his body is constantly scarring from new battle wounds. His skin is tattered and patchworked, as his body can’t keep up with the violence that always finds Logan, no matter what he is doing.

After seventeen years of perfecting his performance as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman gives his greatest iteration yet as the famed Canadian.  Even in the lesser Wolverine-centered movies, Jackman was always great and fully committed to the role.  It is clear that he loves and admires both the character and what the role has done for his career.  That love and affection for this character is felt in every scene in Logan.  When I watched Logan, I didn’t see Hugh Jackman, famous Academy Award nominated actor, I only saw Wolverine.  Jackman is a consummate performer, always finding new emotions or sides of Wolverine in Logan.  He is angry, vicious, loyal, frightening, enraged, sad, lost, everything.  In short, Jackman is the best when he is Wolverine.

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There is so much I want to write and discuss about Logan.  I truly loved watching it and I cannot wait to see it again and it has rarely left my mind the days since I viewed it.  I want to talk more about the performances and how mesmerizing and scary and sassy Daphne Keen is as Laura.  I want to sing praise for Stephen Merchant as Caliban, a performance I fear will get lost as people focus on Stewart, Keen, and Jackman.  And then there’s James Mangold, a director who on paper may seem like a journey man director, moving from genre to genre, but gives more depth and meaning to his films than what might have originally existed.

Mangold isn’t flashy like modern auteurs are.  Yet if you look closely at his filmography, he is the perfect kind of filmmaker for this property.  He has a classic, unassuming visual style, playing with foreground and depth.  Mangold knows how to pull stupendous performances from his actors, having directed multiple Oscar winning performers including Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted and Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line.  But most importantly, Mangold deals with consistent themes of protagonists with moral shades of grey struggling to contend with the world around them.  Just look at 3:10 to Yuma, one of the best Westerns of this generation, and you can see how those themes and characters coincide perfectly with Logan.

Logan is a masterful comic book movie where its emotional moments stood out more than its action.  It’s a Western and an immigrant story with low, non world ending stakes, where the only thing to be saved is a man’s soul.  I don’t need every superhero films to have unmitigated destruction, just characters I hold dear.  Logan is a fitting final film for Jackman’s tenure as Wolverine.  My connection to the X-Men franchise has only been through its cinematic outings, not the comics and not the 90s cartoon.  I fondly remember seeing X-Men and X2 in theaters. I have loved watching these characters evolve on screen since 2000.  I have grown up with them and my adoration for these films made me feel every second of Logan.  It is a film I will revisit often and one I will study and continue to admire as much as I love the character of Wolverine as portrayed the great Hugh Jackman.

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