“Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.”
Of all of the X-Men through various incarnations in the last thirty years, there’s arguably one of its members that’s always delighted this fan – Wolverine. As a kid growing up watching the Fox Kids cartoon, I played with my Wolverine action figure, emulating the various grunts and growls that Logan made in midst of battle. When Hugh Jackman was cast years ago, no one could have foreseen Jackman serving as the embodiment of the character, each performance growing stronger as years passed by. But it’s now 2017 and everyone has to retire sometime. As Jackman announced that he would be abdicating his throne of Wolverine, fans weren’t angry. They were distressed and, really, they were somber. Jackman has been the one constant in a very dizzying franchise that opts for spectacle over story. (I’ll give Days Of Future Past: The Rogue Cut a pass – that version should have been the reset long needed but was thrown out with last year’s Apocalypse.)
In my life, and looking back at my career reviewing movies (something I’ve done for now 20 of my 32 years on this planet), I have loved many movies across many genres. I’ve become more a moviephile as I’ve gotten older, garnering more of an appreciation for deeper themes and performances powered with bravado. I’ve given films glowing reviews, only to have my temperament cooled as time has passed. But as I drove home from the theater, the buttery smell of popcorn still lingering on my tee shirt and Logan still warm on my mind, those perfect score reviews came to mind. My fondness for films in the comic book genre has waned slightly with repeat viewings but is usually settled upon due to fun factor.
This time, though – that fun factor isn’t part of the equation. Logan is more than just another X-Men movie, no no. James Mangold, aided by Scott Frank and Michael Green, has crafted a movie that crosses genres, veering away from the baffling nonsense producer Simon Kinberg has left the franchise saddled with these days. Bolstered by compelling and gut-punching performances by both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, Logan is an emotional and compelling narrative that will mesmerize and entangle your essence with characters weighted by the decisions and the sins of their pasts, knowing that redemption is the ultimate form of sacrifice when there’s no other resolve.
The year is 2029. No new mutants have been born for many years, becoming a species teetering on the brink of extinction. The X-Men are but a memory, more of a long-forgotten fable that became the stories of comic books published and sold at shops across the country. Logan is settled along the Mexico/United States border, sheltering an incoherent Charles Xaiver who rambles and babbles while heavily sedated to temper his telekinetic powers. Logan is a wounded man, world-weary and longing for a death that he knows he’ll never get afforded. By night he drives a limo around El Paso, shuttling drunkards and businessmen between casinos and parties. He drinks to forget the past, to forget the pain that reverberates in his bones. He’s dying, and he knows it. But when a little girl is dropped on his door step, along with a team of cybernetically-enhanced assassins hot on her trail, Logan has no choice but to fulfill one last promise – get the girl to North Dakota, even if the ultimate price is the death that he has welcomed.
Logan is one of these rare occurrences that, while labeled as one genre, truly belongs in a wholly different class. Sure, Wolverine and Professor Xaiver are at the soul of the story, but the references to an ever-larger universe are non-existent. The X-Men are thought to be a popular comic book, a fable of a bygone era that no history book mentions. Logan and Charles are now ordinary people in a sea of sheep who’re more involved with sugary drinks living in a world of sin. No one cares about mutants anymore. They’re nothing more than a myth. Instead, Mangold’s story is more akin to long-forgotten westerns as told by Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, and John Ford, tales of broken men with mental scarring that seek salvation from one last good deed, being pulled by the notion that the bad they’ve done in their time can be soothed by one final stroke of good intention. In order to benefit the greater good, the hero must lay bare their weaknesses and faults in a final selfless act. Logan is the for-hire cowboy, the Reavers the banditos the pale horse-riding protagonist swats away like flies.
Logan doesn’t take place in any sort of timeline. There’s no need to try to piece on what Earth this story takes place. This doesn’t occur after Days Of Future Past; the events of Apocalypse bear little impact to the bloody past of this Logan. Nor do any of Wolverine’s previous adventures bear any weight on the normal-looking facade of this Earth. Having the freedom to break away from X-Men producer Simon’s Kinberg’s convoluted universe (that now contains so many glaring plot holes I’ve just about given up on the future of the X-Verse) makes Logan easier to swallow and digest. The only plot that matters are the events unfolding before you, not anything that’s transpired in the past. The notion worked well for Deadpool (jetting a bloated backstory to acknowledge that, yes, heroes do exist and we know the major movers and shakers) and only elevates the simplistic yet heavy storytelling on film. Logan takes to a long and winding course, the sworn protector doing what he knows best, with obstacles along the way he must stand ground against to keep each foot going forward.
I should make mention that, if not for Deadpool just a short year ago, than there’s no way we could have bear witness to such a real and gritty film like Logan. Like the aforementioned, Jackman’s final performance as James Howlett, ne the Wolverine, lacks the usual studio and producer interference also afforded to Ryan Reynolds’ merc with a mouth. (Keep in mind too that Jackman took a steep pay cut in order to perserve the tone of Logan). This film earns his R-rating in more ways than one. Logan’s love of cursory finally gets its due to shine, casually dropping expletives as poetry to express frustration or anger. Hell, the best lines gasped by Xaiver are like an art form, Stewart seeping the f-bomb into sentences with such flair you can’t help but grin. Not only is the colorful language plentiful, but Logan’s penchant for violence is finally unchained. And do we get a lush red array of blood. The blood isn’t just there to make a statement. The bloodshed actually works in favor of Logan’s fear of losing control and allowing crash to take full control. The deaths and wounds are graphic, making Deadpool look PG-13 in comparison. And that says something. With each hack and slash, the sold-out crowd hollered louder, leaping out of their seats to finally see the chaos that Logan frequents when his claws are unsheathed.
Language and violence aside, very rarely does a film of this much importance, in this case Jackman’s last Wolverine gig, avoid the continual plodding of individuals more concerned with earning millions of dollars against the bottom line. Logan is a labor of love, with the utmost care given by James Mangold to lens a comic tale that’s more raw and more human that anything committed to the comic book genre. Placing Logan and Charles in a world that feels more real than fantasy, learning to survive the harshness of their present by their relationship with each other, was the right call at the end of the day. How many times can a comic book film follow the same blueprint and try to offer a fresh take year in and out? Though Marvel has perfected the formula at this point, throwing that detailed blueprint out of the window was necessary to have Logan stand with its own single identity. The best stories about Wolverine occur when he’s away from the X-Men and on his own. (See – the unrated cut of The Wolverine, hotly debated even just four years on.) This is no different.
Be that as it may, make no mistake – this is a Logan who has lost his touch with humanity, his will to continue to awaken each day to the denizens of the world, just working enough to buy a boat and sail away from humanity. Hugh Jackman is a showman through and through, a dedicated actor who ranks among one of Hollywood’s best. He’s never had a chance to stand on his own two feet with a performance with such brazen gusto as Logan. For one last time, Jackman showcases a more raw and flawed character, more than just a mutant but a man who has seen far more terror and blood than anyone has, dogged by nightmares of those he lost too soon and regrets that haunt him each second he must remain sober and attentive. This isn’t your snarling, claw-waving Wolverine. Logan is much like a lone wolf who has wanderlust, drifting from place to place drenched with sorrow and depression, a bullet in his pants pocket for the exact moment the booze no longer keeps his being functional. He’s leery, he’s wounded. He’s dying.
In any other genre movie, Logan would just be kicking ass and taking names. But Jackman performs with such strength that the word “Oscar” must be mentioned. Remove the comic book characters, the familiar traits we’re accustomed to, and Logan is a tale of a man who wants to be remembered for completing one thing right in his long life. His pain, his depression, his emotional withdraw as a functioning member of society, all brought together creates a performance that resonates well beyond the screen. Logan isn’t just bound by an adamantium rage. Logan is very human. The scars on his body act as a metaphor for the many losses he’s had to face. Each tear on his mangled skin serves as another memory that brings him to his knees. Never have I seen such execution in an acting role, especially in a comic book tale, that has given me chills. Moreover, if you think you can just waltz out of the theater with nary a tear – I wish you good luck. And I truly hope Jackman earns the accolades and awards for his finest performance in his repertoire.
Though, there’s one person who really steals his thunder – and no, it’s not Stephen Merchant at Caliban. (Caliban serves more as the comic relief at the right moments when the drama needs a much needed breather.) Rather, it’s Patrick Stewart. While that should not be a shocker, given that Stewart is a classically-trained actor who associates more with Shakespeare (and Captain Picard), Stewart’s Xaiver this time isn’t the go-to father-figure. He’s battling dementia, unable to see the world and people as lucid as he used to. He rides around uttering absolute nonsense, one minute spewing cheesy made-for-TV product infomercials and the next remembering what he wants to forget. Like Logan, Charles wants to just forget the pains of his past. He has observed many milestones beyond normal man’s understanding but, as he continues to ingest pills to halt psychically -powered seisures, the emotional tear of his past failings haunt him and waste him away. But he doesn’t want to die. He’s an eternal optimist, knowing there is still good out in the world of man. There still must be mutants. His absolve is unending. Stewart looks like a man aged and bogged down by his shortcomings and his inabilities to change what has happened. Jackman may be the epitomes center of the movie but Logan remains focused only because of his love and honest affectionate care for Charles. Like Jackman, Stewart shouldn’t be overlooked for a supprting acting nominations. To emote such an understandable pain ripped me apart at the seams, tears welling at my eyes. (Fun fact – Jackman actually carries Stewart around almost like a son carrying a father, only furthering the sadness that wraps this film.)
Oh, and newcomer Dafne Keen? Much like a certain Negasonic Teenage Warhead, I have a feeling X-23 is going to become the envy of many girls and women both around the globe. Barely muttering a word of dialogue, Laura’s pain is written on her face. With just a look of seriousness or a beam of her eyes, you really begin to feel sympathetic for X-23 and the hellish environment in which she’s raised. While Laura serves as the macguffin of Logan, Keen shines very well with Jackman in the daughter role. (Pretty certain that’s not even a spoiler, as that assumption is easy to make even from the movie’s very first trailer.) Laura could easily carry her own movie, but this film isn’t about her. It’s all about Logan. Her very presence serves deeper meaning for Logan to come to terms with the man he was previously and has lost all faith in with each waking second in consciousness.
Of course, many a comic book reader will question how far Logan veers from its source material, the seminal Old Man Logan saga of over a decade ago. Lacking the ability to utilize any of the Marvel Studios characters, Mangold instead veered into a more personal direction. Logan doesn’t tussle with the Hulk, nor interact with Clint Barton. Instead, Mangold (credited with developing the story on his own) focuses solely on both Logan and Xaiver. Both are laying low in the Southwest due to a violent tragedy that occurred back home in West Chester just a year prior, an event vaguely touched upon and never shown as a flashback. Instead, as our trio continue their travels northward, the plot unravels slowly. Sure, any regular film can just show you what happened, sucking all of the air out of the room in favor of fancy green-screen effects. Mangold opts to allow the acting to tell the story, Charles and Logan delving deeper night in and out of their ordeal and the pain consuming both for different reasons. While seeing Old Man Logan would be thrilling, I doubt such a film would have the emotional punch we’re given instead, feeling more torn for what both men have had to live with but also dogging the elephant in the room.
I could gush all night on what a ride Mangold’s solo film is – the music by Marco Beltrami (echoing classic spaghetti Western arrangements), the gorgeous cinematography, the bone-jarring stunt work – but I’ve made my point. Logan isn’t just another notch on Fox’s belt with Marvel’s band of merry mutants. Rather, this is a film that is unusually far from being heroic and bright, the hero swooping in to save the day from the bad guy with millions preaching the praises at day’s end. No. This is a movie that stands not just with the best – but as the best. Juggling adrenaline thrills, a brisk but rewarding pace, and award-worthy performances, Logan is quite reminiscent of another genre film of just two years ago – Mad Max: Fury Road. And, like George Miller’s tour-de-force, I certainly foresee Jackman getting the due he deserves. Rarely does a comic book film leave such a ripple effect after getting settled on the couch at home. Sure, an effects-heavy blockbuster with snappy dialogue can be a great escape at the box office. Logan is a whole different beast, propelled with such an emotional force you won’t head home without your eyes wet with an infinite sadness and appreciation. This is one of the most poetic and compelling films I have ever seen to cross genres. Hugh, we’ll miss you as Logan – but only you’ve made us all the better with your humble adoration for James Howlett.
Reber’s Rating – 100/100
(And yes – deserving to be one of the most gratifying emotional journeys of the last long while)