End of an Era - Logan Review

I wonder if it’s possible to for people who weren’t there when it happened how important the first X-Men film was. It was, in essence, the first real Marvel superhero movie. Sure we’d had Blade a little while before, but that was a kung-fu/vampire movie with its origins rooted in comic books; X-Men was a comic book movie, one with a fantastic cast and more to the point, it was a comic book movie that took itself, its characters and its world, seriously. I mean the opening scene took place in the Holocaust for god’s sake.

From there the genre that the X-Men kicked off kept getting bigger, but their star waxed and waned, nearly disappearing with the awfulness that was X3 and Origins, before coming roaring back with First Class. And through it all, Hugh Jackman has remained the constant, a shining star always elevating his Wolverine above what might otherwise be trite material. But with Jackman growing older, the franchise has begun to try and contrive a way to send his character, the character he’s made his own for nearly 20 years, off in style.

Our story kicks off in the year 2029. Mutants have nearly completely disappeared for some reason, the X-Men are all dead and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is living in Texas, which is just the worst one of all. He spends his days working as a chauffeur, buying prescription drugs and hopping the border into Mexico. The reason he’s going to Mexico, incidentally, is because Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is there, slowly dying of an unspecified neuro-degenerative disease, having world shattering seizures and being cared for by Caliban (Stephen Merchant).

"They see me rollin, they hatin-"
But Logan’s not so comfortable life is upended when Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) shows up and asks for his help transporting a girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) north to a safe place in Canada. He initially refuses, but obviously circumstances conspire to get him to participate and there’s more to Laura than meets the eye.

There are a lot of moving parts in Logan, but with its brutally horrific violence, bleak tone and western setting, it resembles nothing so much as what would happen if you gave Cormac McCarthy license to make an X-Men movie. And while that might sound like a complaint, believe me, it is not. Logan is as fine a send off for Jackman’s Wolverine as anyone could hope for, and it sets a nearly untenable bar for any other superhero films this year.

That brutal violence will be what gets the most attention, because it’s a thing both the movies and the comics have always tactfully avoided. Wolverine’s rampage in the Mansion in X2 may have been incredible, but it was always weirdly clean, no blood or body parts flying. Not so Logan. The very first scene involves Wolverine having a tussle with some thieves, and they walk away minus limbs or clutching bloody wounds, and from there the film never lets up. It’s a good choice for such a dark movie, and it makes the action immediate and engaging.

Ah yes, we can tell he's sad because he has a beard now.
On that note, the action is also superbly directed and put together. While it does dive into shaky cam sometimes, for the most part it’s always easy to tell who’s fighting who and where, and the moments where reality ensues are always fantastic. It’s also great to see Wolverine seeming...well mortal, as his groaning pain or panting exhaustion throughout the fight makes it feel less like an invincible monster hacking his way through pawns, and more like a person we care about triumphing against adversity.

But we know Jackman is great at the action beats; he’s always been good at it. What surprised me was Laura. Young girl killers are nothing new, but they’re usually afforded some distance from the action by a PG-13 rating, long range abilities, or even just a layer of irony. Not so Laura, who is diving straight into the fights shrieking with wordless fury like a cross between Wolverine and Black Widow, and shredding limbs with the best of them. An early moment that stuck out to me is when she was harpooned, and rather than cut away, the film lingered on her bloodily impaled, hacking herself free and jumping back into the melee.

The actors all show up hard to their roles. Jackman and Stewart seemed to be crushed by the lives they’ve lived, but both of them manifest it differently and they both do such incredible jobs that you could submit their performances to the Oscars and not be surprised to see them make it: Jackman's broken and aimless fury contrasted with Stewart’s crushing despair. But Keen, Keen surprises every step of the way. Not only is she a great, often silent, presence in the quiet or story scenes, but she’s also such an intense and engaging presence in the fight scenes. Managing to be a shining element in a movie involving both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart at the peak of their abilities would be impressive for Charlize Theron; for a girl of Keen’s age it’s damn near a miracle.

"They're trying to catch us riding dirty Logan!"
But what truly elevates it, what keeps it from being a relentlessly grim march through despair and exhaustion like Batman v. Superman, is how it manages to be hopeful amidst the darkness. The X-Men have always been about inclusion and togetherness, and it takes a LOT of effort to keep those themes in a movie this aggressively bleak, but they pull it off.

There are a lot of other elements I could gush about, like how brilliantly realized and terrifying the concept of a telepath of Xavier’s level struggling with dementia and seizures is, or how incredibly the continuity (and lack of it) square with the theme of perseverance through disappointment and despair, but the salient point is this: Logan is an incredible X-Men movie, an incredible superhero movie and an incredible movie on its own merits, and you should see it immediately before someone spoils it for you.

Elessar is a 27 year old Alaskan-born, Connecticut-based, cinephile with an obsession with The Room and a god complex.