“Logan” is as much an anti-superhero movie as its titular character is an anti-hero. Now when superhero films feel like final exams, testing you on how well you’ve been completing your social obligation of seeing all the hero flicks, “Logan” focuses on a simpler concept. It is a brutal story of a man who has led a life of violence and now wonders what he has accomplished, if anything at all. This film greatly exceeded my expectations, and is the best superhero film I have seen since “The Dark Knight.”
The film begins in 2029 with Logan, formerly known as Wolverine, played masterfully by Hugh Jackman, working as a chauffeur along the now heavily barricaded United States-Mexico border. He is older and tired. He is also not healing as fast as he used to, poisoned by the very metal that once gave him his strength, adamantium. He needs money to maintain the aging and decrepit Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) whose powerful mind is now a massive danger. Wolverine is offered a job to escort a young girl (Dafne Keen) to safety. The film then becomes a road trip film, with Wolverine learning more about this young girl, who, like him, is more than she appears.
This is a now famous setup of a violent journey with a protector and young child. The film shares many similarities to others of the same type, like the excellent films “The Road” and “Children of Men.” However, the desert setting and the journey of killer-outlaw reflecting on his ways give this film a very western feeling. In fact, the western film “Shane” plays in the background, which was a nice touch, albeit a bit heavy-handed. The movie I am most reminded of is Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.” Something both films have in common: violence and its ugly portrayal.
For those who feared that this film only had an R rating because of the success of “Deadpool”, worry not. This is one of the most violent films I have ever seen. In all honestly, the carnage and profanity in some parts of the film were a bit gratuitous, especially when children were involved. Most of the time though, it did feel it was organic to this story. For the first time in two decades, Wolverine’s claws are shown to do what sharpened blades would do a human body, in graphic detail. The action on display caused intense bursts of catharsis and adrenaline in me that made me question how good of a person I am. But when the adrenaline died down, there was always an aftereffect of exhaustion and sadness.
Killing is always intense, but never glamorized. Logan warns a character that once you’ve killed someone, you have to live with it for the rest of your life. “But they were bad people” will not free you of the guilt. It certainly has not freed Logan of anything. While this film thankfully throws the “X-Men” franchise continuity out the window to focus on the story, there are some great moments that arise from knowing the history. Seeing a blow that young Wolverine would have shaken off in seconds, which now causes Logan agony for days, is very unnerving. Likewise, Logan does not look back at his days of saving the world with such fondness. He finds the young girl’s “X-Men” comics (a pretty clever idea) and berates them. This wasn’t how it happened, Logan argues. This is nonsense; in the real world, people die, and it’s never pretty. This might be a jab at other comic book movies as well as the comics in his hands. Logan is tired of the promotion of the heroic quest of killing bad people. He lived his sad violent life; now he wants to find something else.
This brutal depiction of Logan is done with heart-breaking vulnerability by Hugh Jackman, who easily gives the best performance of this character after nine films. Patrick Stewart is unsurprisingly great as once the wisest man in the world, now having to deal with his own lack of control. Dafne Keen also brings a lot of personality to the young girl, despite mostly being a silent character.
The dialogue feels very natural and it is very important that a film as dark as this has moments of levity. It is around 140 minutes long, but it flows really well. The villains in the film are serviceable, if a bit underwhelming. They work more as a force to keep the characters moving. The main physical antagonist to Logan works fine, but it is easily the most familiar part in a movie which tries to be as subversive as possible.
In the end, this is a film that focuses on characters’ internal conflicts and trusts its audience to figure out details on their own. “Logan” has shown that the Marvel characters can still be used in new and interesting ways. Superhero is a premise, not a genre. As long as there are interesting conflicts and passionate filmmakers, these characters can star in films for decades to come. I hope this promotes other genre pieces to take more risks with their properties. For now, I’m going to see “Logan” again.
Directed by James Mangold
2 hours 17 minutes