Hugh Jackman’s final (until he gets paid all the money to return) outing as Wolverine has finally hit theaters. So far, it is both a critical and commercial success. With a bleak tone, incredible violence, and a definitive ending, we finally have been treated to the first truly great X-Men film.
Taking place 12 years from now, Logan’s future looks like a hellscape. One could be forgiven for thinking they accidentally stepped into a post-apocalyptic movie. With locations set primarily on the U.S.-Mexico border, the film’s vistas are mostly desert wastelands. This mirrors the inner narrative that Logan’s life has been wasted on violence, leaving him with nothing to show for it. That’s not to say the film can’t be beautiful at times. In fact, the forlorn landscapes evoke their own stark beauty thanks to some wonderful cinematography.
Once again, mutants are on the run, hiding from humans who wish to wipe them out. Humans have perfected a gene therapy technique that has caused all mutants to either lose their powers, or find they have become unstable. Professor X can barely control his telepathic powers, and is reduced to taking seizure meds to subdue them. Logan’s healing factor has slowed substantially, causing him to take much longer to recover from injuries, and making him almost mortal.
Scraping by in a directionless life, Logan encounters a young girl, Laura (AKA X-23), who has the same powers as him. The Reavers, a group of bloodthirsty humans, are after her. This prompts Logan, Professor X, and Laura onto a road trip to a rumored safe-haven for what few mutants remain in the world.
No matter how hard he tries, Logan is unable to escape violence. It haunts him like an old scar that never stops aching. Violence, it seems, always finds him. The crux of the film is Logan’s relationship to violence, and the way it offers a deeper character study. It gives the film a much darker tone than any of the other films in the series.
Logan is the first introspective superhero film. It does not exist solely to move Logan from one battle to the next. It takes its time to examine his life while he tries to escape from heroics. He is a man full of regret, for both the things he has done, and the things he has not. He tended to be a loner, and his isolation brought him pain. In this film, a makeshift family is thrust upon him. Staying true to his character, Logan tries to eschew responsibility, tries to push the family away. However, by the end, he realizes he cannot turn his back on them. He learns that other people need him, and he cannot always run away for selfish reasons.
The film also examined Logan’s relationship with Professor X. He has served as Logan’s surrogate father, and, perhaps, the only person Logan has allowed inside his shell. Their conversations deftly maneuver from tragic to funny to insightful. Their dynamic is interesting because it feels reals. One can love their family, and be incredibly frustrated by them at the same time.
Logan rises above the typical superhero film because it is an actual character study. While Jackman has grown the character over 17 years, this movie is the one that really lets us get to know who he is. The film showed us different aspects of these characters without become cheesy or preachy or making you wish the next action scene would show up already. No, the introspection is the reason the movie succeeds.
And what about those action scenes? Well, they were brutal. The action doesn’t come off as flashy like in other superhero films. There’s no thundering, bombastic score to signal that the hero is about to kick ass. There’s no crazy CGI bullet train scene like in The Wolverine. Here, the action goes for realism. Logan plunges his claws through bad guys’ skulls, and you see every bit of it. The attacks are quick and violent, rather than overly choreographed. The action is more akin to a Western.
The big villain of the movie comes in the form of a plot twist. Logan must fight a clone of himself. However, this clone never had the benefit of meeting the X-Men, living in a community, or developing relationships. It’s Logan in his purest form, single-minded, without mercy, and, arguably, evil. It should not be lost on the audience that the only person capable of killing this bad guy was Laura, who turns out to be Logan’s daughter. She literally defeats the bad guy, and metaphorically defeats Logan’s isolation by giving him a family.
The elephant in the room is the ending. Logan dies. I don’t think it’s a divisive ending. It was telegraphed from the beginning. Most people will be so happy with how good the rest of the film is, they won’t begrudge the ending. But anytime a film kills off its main character, I have to ask: was there a better way to end it?
To me, it seems that death for Logan was too obvious. He wanted to die, and got his wish, but not before growing as a person. But what is the point of growth if he doesn’t get to utilize it? His entire life, he ran away from other people. He thought that’s what he wanted. But it turned out he did his best when forced to be with others. So, why is his wish to die fulfilled after he realized it wasn’t what he really wanted?
Part of me wanted it to end a different way. With Professor X dead, and his mutant school presumably defunct, someone would have to teach the new, young mutants how to use their powers. With a group of them clustered around Logan at the end, would he not have been the best person for the task? I’m not saying he should have started a new X-Men school or anything, that would have been cheesy. Perhaps the film could have ended on the notion that he would help these kids find themselves before riding off into the sunset. That would have brought his character full-circle better than simply killing him off.
I didn’t dislike the ending. It worked for me. It was bitter-sweet, and was the obvious ending. But sometimes you just don’t want to see the main character die.
James Mangold returned from The Wolverine to direct Logan. His experience was welcome. He learned from his mistakes from the previous film. Here, he directs with a steady hand. He has a good eye for making a scene work, and a good sense of even pacing. You can tell the actors felt comfortable with him based on how at-ease they feel, and how excellent their performances were.
Logan works on every level. It has a dark tone, and incredibly violent action. It somehow manages to be both a superhero film and a Western. It has great introspection, allowing us into the minds of our favorite anti-superhero. And after 17 years, it’s nice to see a conclusion to the journey Jackman has taken us on. Expertly directed, beautifully shot, and wonderfully acted, you couldn’t ask for a better final film in a series.
Best superhero movie ever? Yes.