Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Richard E. Grant, Stephen Merchant
Director: James Mangold
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
If Logan (aka Wolverine) has become something of a fan favorite over the course of 17 years in which Hugh Jackman has portrayed the mutton chop-wearing, claw-sprouting, snarling brute; then it seems reasonable to assume that this is because the character has always differentiated himself from the other X-Men by prizing self-interest over group think. While other mutants used their powers as a kind of collective force, Wolverine has always been a loner; weighed down by past trauma and the impact of taking lives through means of disembowelment and hacked limbs. Audience identification with the character may say more about our own need to forge personal identities outside the confines of a social group than anything else, but James Mangold's Logan is wise to capitalize on the basic idea that Wolverine has always been, and will always be, a solo act.
Set in a dystopian future where Logan works as a limo driver while knocking back bottles of whiskey, Mangold's film deftly paints a rugged portrait of a man/mutant whose intrinsic pain over losing friends and the cruel marches of time has rendered him nearly incapable of human empathy. His only remaining ally, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is locked away inside an industrialized silo, doped up on drugs to keep his dementia at bay. Left untreated, Xavier's deteriorating mind can cause waves of psychic energy to wreck havoc, not to mention unintelligible foul-mouthed babbling. Out of nowhere, a child mutant shows up named Laura (Dafne Keen), having escaped from a bioengineering facility in Mexico, while being pursued by a rouge with a mechanical hand (Boyd Holbrook, channeling Charlie Hunnam by way of Garrett Hedlund), who in turn, is working for a mad scientist (Richard E. Grant). Logan, at first reluctant to help, is thrown into the action after hordes of nameless goons infiltrate his hideout, forcing him to take Xavier and Laura on the road. Of course, before that, there's plenty of R-rated blood-spattering mayhem and grisly violence.
Whereas the Marvel studio films traffic in escapist populism and rah-rah fanboy pandering, Logan goes in the other direction, but ultimately, doesn't go quite far enough in certain aspects. Mangold and cinematographer John Mathieson create a visual look akin to grey-brown industrial noir; dusty roads, shitty bars, deserted highways, and apocalyptic tones, which gives the film a sense of realism. The violence, too, is unrelentingly gruesome, which seems legitimate given the fact that Wolverine is a traumatized loner on a war path. If anything, Logan earns its R-rating and goes to town with the freedom it provides. However, the character of Wolverine is limited to only a few broad character traits (annoyed, sad, gruff, enraged), and as good as Jackman is at portraying him after all these years, Mangold is forced to create a narrative trajectory which robs him of anything even resembling an intriguing arc. Additionally, fashioning your film as a Western in the mold of George Steven's 1953 classic Shane is all well and good, but do we really need a scene where Laura and Xavier kick back in a hotel room watching that very film? Such obvious paralleling only telegraphs where the story is heading, and the script's attempts at integrating the immigration debate (because, you know, mutants are emblematic of the immigrant experience) feels like a forced political statement rather than organic world-building.
Still, there's something poignant about seeing Jackman; with his grey beard, slumped posture, and world-weary eyes, giving this iconic character notes of vulnerability; (the rumors are that this will be the actor's final onscreen outing). The idea of a mutant aging, losing one's virility, and battling mortality is compelling, and Jackman's scenes opposite brilliant newcomer Keen as the pint-sized clawed killer, are tinged with humor, antagonism, and affection. However, Mangold treats the metaphor much too bluntly during the third act, which devolves into the kind of superhero boss battle that the rest of the picture sought so earnestly to avoid. To go so far out of your way to construct a bleak, Western-tinged road movie with splashes of gore for the first two thirds, only to hedge your bets with a formulaic redemption arc and generic action sequences during the climax is not only disappointing, but indicates a lack of nerve.
Logan is a solemn, ultra-violent comic book movie which doesn't really feel like a comic book movie, until it finally does. The small stakes nature of the story allows for the film's mythic self-seriousness to take root, capitalizing on the notion of ordinary villains (in this case, doctors and bureaucrats) being the most dangerous enemy rather than outer space floating baddies with world-destroying powers. Meanwhile, Jackman's feral, fully committed performance; coupled with Keen's innate ability to communicate emotion with very little dialogue make for a compelling road trip duo. Unfortunately, the narrative eventually spirals into cringe-inducing sadism (a sequence involving the butchering of an innocent family is especially gratuitous) and the climatic superhero action scenes are numbingly repetitive.
Ultimately, there's a bit of "look how serious we can be" posturing going on here which takes away from the film's legitimate virtues. Self-conscious affectations and nods to the grim realities of living in a world without human empathy must be earned, not simply trotted out under the guise of faux-grittiness. If Logan is a comic book movie for adults, then what does it say about adulthood? The answer is perhaps more disturbing than slicing a man's eyeballs out with sharpened claws.