The End of an Era | Logan Review
“So this is what it feels like…”
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Logan (James Mangold, 2017). I’d considered the first three X-Men films to be okay — not wholly offensive but nothing revolutionary. Similarly, the rebooted trilogy started well with X-Men: First Class (Vaughan, 2011) but seriously depreciated in quality at their climax, X-Men Apocalypse (Singer, 2016). Logan itself would be the final film in the trilogy of Wolverine films, which started with the abysmal X-men Origins: Wolverine (Gavin Hood, 2009) followed by the almost equally poor The Wolverine (James Mangold, 2013). Thankfully Logan is aware of its place in the succession of its predecessors, and uses this to its advantage, which is why it is a breath of fresh air for anyone suffering with ‘Superhero fatigue’.
Set after the deaths of nearly all the X-Men, Logan depicts a grim dystopia where mutants are successfully being eradicated. It seems as though the only mutants left are Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and Caliban, (Stephen Merchant) who previously appeared in X-Men Apocalypse using his mutant-tracking abilities. The three of them are hiding out, trying to in order to keep Charles away from populated areas, as his dementia is giving him seizures, which cause psychic earthquakes. They are suddenly tasked with transporting Laura (Dafne Keen), a young mutant girl, to the Northern border so that she can find sanctuary with other mutants. Complications arise as they are pursued by the cruel Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), who wants to use mutant DNA to create weapons.
The plot of this film contains some of the classic superhero concepts, such as using people with abilities as weapons, as well as the usual xenophobia allegory found in all X-Men films. However, one thing this film does incredibly well is take an existential approach to a character who has lived far longer than he would have liked. By this time, Logan has lived through wars, nearly seen the end of the world, and now watched as everyone he loved died. This is not the typical surly, sarcastic portrayal of Logan we’ve seen in previous installments, but a genuinely depressed old man, just waiting to die. The concept of life is seemingly meaningless to our protagonist, as he cuts down a number of street thugs in the opening scene, without looking back. This ties in extratextually with the fact that this is Hugh Jackman’s final performance as the Wolverine, having played the role for seventeen years.
Of course, everybody takes it for granted that Hugh Jackman plays this character well. He has truly solidified himself as an icon, and whoever will be next to take up the mantle will have some big shoes to fill. But Jackman has never played Logan as well as he does in this film. Never has he displayed such raw emotion, revealing hidden layers to a character we’ve all grown to love over the years. The exact same could be said for Patrick Stewart. Having already established himself in the geek community as Jean-Luc Picard, Stewart then took on an even more established role as the leader of the X-Men, who is now suffering from severe dementia in his old age. It really is heart-wrenching to see the confusion and pain on his face, which makes it all feel too real.
It seems that in recent years, child actors have really been given the tutelage to become convincing actors. Ever since Stranger Things we have been gifted with young actors, like Dafne Keen who can utterly steal the show as Laura. Her feral portrayal of a young mutant born into a hostile environment, is incredibly visceral, hearkening back to Wolverine’s early days. Also a newcomer to the franchise, Stephen Merchant is surprisingly human in his role as Caliban. Normally the comedic relief, Merchant takes a different approach as this character, playing it very quiet and compassionate. I do wonder why they chose him for the role, but the proof is indeed in the pudding, as he brought a likeability to a character who might have otherwise been seen as invading this personal relationship-driven story.
Unfortunately Richard E. Grant does not seem to push his capabilities as an actor in this film. This is mostly because he wasn’t given much to work with. And this is perhaps one of the films shortcomings. The complication driving the forward momentum of the plot is not particularly engaging. Dr. Rice is a typical evil scientist trope and his army are not very interesting either. However, this is not a huge drawback considering the main focus of the film is on Logan and Laura, who are both compelling to watch, separately and together.
Ultimately, Logan is one of the best superhero films I’ve seen. Rather than straining to tie into a larger cinematic universe, it simplifies the narrative, giving very details and focuses on the characters. It comes off feeling less like an action blockbuster and more like an actual movie. There were certainly many highs and lows, which hit me hard emotionally, and that is something which previous installments, such as X-Men Apocalypse, have utterly missed the target on. Logan is perfect existential end to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, showing the vulnerable side to the invulnerable man.