Logan review: What’s old is new again
After nine films spanning 17 years, Hugh Jackman is finally saying goodbye to the role that transformed him from a very pretty singing Australian to an international man of rugged masculinity. And Logan is a fitting conclusion, as much for what it means for the genre as for the content itself.
After years of the superhero genre dominating the box office with no sign of that changing anytime soon, it’s a natural progression that it would spawn subgenres. We saw it a bit with Deadpool, but even that film with the emphasis on humor was still modeled on the bones of a traditional superhero movie. It still had a protagonist on a righteous path, a love interest in danger, and a bad guy that needed dealing with. There were just a few more dick and cocaine jokes thrown in than most.
Regardless, the shift in tone felt like a breath of fresh air for the superhero genre. Logan goes even further in that direction. And while it’s not a perfect film, it does offer something new and original. That’s good for the genre and good for Logan.
Logan is a different kind of film in a lot of ways. Set a dozen years in the future in a time where mutants have mostly died off, it’s unencumbered by the increasing convoluted X-Men film timeline. Logan is growing old, fast. His healing factor is barely functional and years of abuse have taken its toll on the former brawler.
Rather than living a heroic lifestyle, Logan is barely making a living playing limo driver for hire. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle, but it is an anonymous one that allows him to also take care of the nonagenarian, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is battling dementia. For the most powerful telepath on the planet, that’s very bad thing.
Along with the light-sensitive mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), the trio are living an unassuming life in rural Mexico when a woman shows up claiming to know who Logan is. She begs for his help to transport a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), a mutant with powers strikingly similar to Logan’s.
In a nod to the comics that only diehard X-Men fans will appreciate, a mercenary cyborg named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) leads a team called the Reavers to bring the girl back at any cost.
Logan has a few nods to its comic roots like that, but it smartly avoids going into details on how things have reached the point they are at. It’s unnecessary information given what the movie wants to be, and given where the X-men films currently are. Director James Mangold and Jackman – who reportedly had a huge amount of influence on crafting the story – don’t necessarily want the film to connect to the X-verse. The characters are familiar, the powers are accepted, and that’s really all that connects this movie to the others. And that’s for the best.
It’s somewhat ironic that Logan uses one of the oldest Wolverine tropes – his habit of befriending and protecting young girls (Rogue, Kitty Pride, Jubilee, etc.) – in order to tell a story that is the most removed from the traditional superhero dynamic as any film yet.
Logan is a road movie in the traditional sense, with the protagonists on the run from the bad guys. It’s at times dark and mean, but it also delves into real emotions rather than just the traditional and often superficial themes in a traditional superhero movie. It’s easy to be a hero when the alternative is the destruction of the world. When it gets personal, however, it gets more complicated. Logan is tortured as he is forced to step outside his survival mode and open himself up to the young girl, Laura. There is a threat to fight, but it isn’t world ending. That makes it more about the journey than the destination.
There’s a constant brutality to Logan, and not just in the vicious action – of which there is plenty – but in the cynical world the protagonists navigate through. At times the film can become overwhelmingly gritty, which borders at self-indulgent. More than once the film would be better served by just getting on with it rather than emphasizing yet again the inner turmoil of Logan. Sometimes less is more, but that’s a minor complaint.
This is by far the meatiest take on the character that Jackman has had to contend with, and he embraces the role wholeheartedly. He is the same character, but with much more depth – and mileage. It’s also a depiction that wouldn’t work in other circumstances. Logan is a beaten man, bitter and self-involved. It’s not a complete departure from Jackman’s previous portrayals, but it is a more mature version. It’s also at times unlikable – or it would be if we didn’t have eight previous version of the character to have grown attached to.
This is easily Jackman’s best take on the character. Stewart’s turn as Xavier is also a stark departure from previous iterations. The character is actually closer to James McAvoy’s Xavier, filled with doubt and anger. He barely resembles the stoic Xavier Stewart portrayed in previous X-films, but there’s a good reason, and that in turns helps to build up the character of Laura, who in many ways steals the movie.
Keen’s Laura isn’t quite like any other character in film. If anything she most closely resembles Eleven from Stranger Things, and for many of the same reasons. Laura is vicious and vulnerable, driven and lost. Although Jackman may be done playing Logan, if others want to keep the future storyline going, there is a lot of life in the character of Laura.
For all its positives, there are a few issues with Logan, most centered around the pacing. The end of the third act hits a wall. It’s somewhat necessary in order to set up the finale, but even though it makes sense that doesn’t ease some of the rough spots. There are also a few plot holes along the way – including the motivation of some of the bad guys – but they can be overlooked.
Logan review conclusion
Logan isn’t a superhero movie, it’s a gritty and dark road trip film set in a superhero universe. This movie would never succeed even a few years ago – fans would never accept it – but now it stands out. It’s refreshing, and benefits from some of the best performances in any X-Men film to date.
There are some lulls throughout, and it could stand to lose around 10 minutes. It also only works because the characters are already so well established, which means those that aren’t already fans of the X-series may not embrace as readily. Still, it succeeds in telling a story within a larger story. It’s a subgenre, and possibly a roadmap for future superhero films. And that’s a very good thing.
Logan is rated R with a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes.