One of the greatest superhero movies is not a superhero movie.
The year is 2029 and the X-Men world is no longer filled with mutants. None have been born in the last 25 years. When we see Logan – now appearing in his 8th and presumably last movie as his signature character – we quickly realize why “Wolverine” is left out of the title. This is not Wolverine. At least, it’s not the Wolverine we’ve seen so many times. This is a broken man, weary of life. He is not healing like he once did. He is sick. He struggles to walk.
Logan is now known as James, and he is working as a limousine driver near the Mexican border. He is taking care of Charles Xavier, played by the great Patrick Stewart, who has also said this is his last time appearing as the character we’ve come to love. Charles is in the twilight of his years, and has to be kept isolated because he is not in full control of his powerful mind.
Along comes a young girl who is rather special, as you can imagine, and everything changes. Logan and Charles embark on a long journey to take the girl to Canada, where she will be safe from the villains chasing her.
Allow me to be blunt. This is the best X-Men movie ever. It’s not even close. If all the previous movies were the 1960’s campy Batman, then Logan is The Dark Knight. It is one of the better superhero movies ever made, though it does not play at all like a superhero movie. There are no grandiose set pieces where mutants pull submarines out of the water, or flashy battles inside the Statue of Liberty with CGI effects swirling everywhere (“That was a long time ago,” said Logan, in a reference to that fight). There is fighting, and a whole lot of it, but within the first minutes of the movie you will see that this time things are different. You may have heard that the movie is violent and that is not wrong.
Try to imagine how Wolverine would fight in a non-movie world, unencumbered by a studio trying to tone it down to a PG-13 rating. He would slash, stab, and separate limbs from bodies. That is exactly what happens in Logan. It is a movie filled with brutal evisceration, which is exactly what one would expect from a character like Wolverine. This movie earns its R rating, and it is better for doing so.
Despite this violence, the movie is largely about the relationships between Logan and Charles as well as Logan and Laura, the girl that came into their lives, who you comic book fans may know better as X-23. The performances by all three actors, including the twelve year old Dafne Keen as Laura, are exceptional. Jackman, in particular, plays with a subtlety and nuance we have not yet seen from the character.
Similarly, Patrick Stewart plays a Charles Xavier in his twilight years, struggling to maintain control of his mind, which the government has declared a weapon of mass destruction. This is not the reserved, well-spoken Charles Xavier we are used to. This is a cursing old man who doesn’t want to take his medicine.
The interaction between Logan and Charles is at times combative, sometimes comical, and, most importantly, touching. These are two actors in total control of characters they’ve played so often before, and when they share a moment, it feels genuine. It feels like we’re sharing it with them. But being two characters in pain, it can also make one feel uncomfortable to watch. This is not a feel good movie, for sure.
And while there’s always a concern with child actors in a film, those concerns prove to be unwarranted, as Dafne Keen’s performance is great. Her character is a little badass, and every bit as violent and vicious as Wolverine.
It’s hard to complain about Logan. The movie is shot beautifully, the writing is fantastic, the action scenes are intense and entertaining. The complaints I do have are minor, and, unfortunately, would require spoilers. Let’s just say that while it is clear that director and co-screenwriter James Mangold wanted to avoid flash and dazzle, there is one scene in particular I thought could use a little more.
Logan is a great movie. It’s a bit of a gut-punch of a movie, and not one that you really want to see again right after it’s over, but it is different and it is fantastic.