Before I break into the review portion of this piece, special mention must be made of the alleged cut scene from Deadpool 2 that serves as a preview or teaser of sorts for the upcoming sequel to the R rated smash hit. I greatly enjoyed experiencing the company of the darkly comical Merc With A Mouth once again, to the tune of John Williams’ epic Superman: The Movie score, and the song that closes out the late Tony Scott’s underrated True Romance. What a fun little riot, a pleasant albeit all too brief little tease of the pleasures to come. Cue the music!
In 2029, the ageing James ‘Logan’ Howlett (Hugh Jackman) is a pale shadow of the once iconic mutant hero he used to be, Wolverine, popularized in comics that both exaggerate and sanitize the truth. Mutants are extinct save for Logan, Professor Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart), and the albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant). A mutant birth hasn’t been recorded in 25 years either. Logan is an alcoholic, sporting a visible limp and a frequent cough, and a cynical, cantankerous, almost always pissed off demeanor. He’s kind of an asshole now. His body is slowly breaking down thanks to the cancerous adamantium that covers his entire bone structure and trademark claws, his wounds healing slower and leaving big ugly scars. He’s also plagued by nightmares if the brutal acts committed against and by him. At 200 years old, Logan has experienced multiple lifetimes of violence, tragedy, loss, heartbreak, and grief, the result of which coupled with his age, has broken the poor guy’s soul. He lacks the conviction and strength to get through each day, hence his worsening alcoholism and overbearing cynicism. Life has truly beat the hell out of Logan, yet he presses onward. If an adamantium bullet doesn’t kill him, time, our own worst enemy, surely will. Eventually. By this juncture in Logan’s life, violence isn’t just a way of dealing with other violent beings, it’s become a part of who he is, as if a genetic code for violence is coursing through his veins.
Logan works day and night as a limousine driver in Texas for the kind of drunken party girls who like to flash the driver, and foolhardy guys that dickishly chant jingoistic phrases. His work provides him with just enough cash to afford him the medicine he and Caliban require to help control a neurodegenerative disease that produces seizures Charles is suffering from, the result of which if left untreated renders anyone in the vicinity, save for Logan, temporarily paralyzed, or dead. They live in seclusion in a dingy private smelting plant in Mexico, until their relatively peaceful existence is shattered by the arrival of a merciless cybernetically enhanced assholes called the Reavers. They’re led by Wolverine fanboy and henchman Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), and Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), a bioengineer and Donald’s boss. They’re seeking the mute Laura aka X-23 (newcomer Dafne Keen), an 11 year old mutant who bears eerie resemblance to Logan. I think we all know why. A brutal encounter sends the trio on their way to Eden, a supposed place of salvation for young mutants in North Dakota, with the Reavers hot on their trail. Yes, this is a road movie but don’t worry, it’s a great one.
I’ve been an X-Men fan since I was a little kid, watching the ’90’s animated series on television, watching every live action movie adaptation, and collecting action figures and comic books along the way. I don’t have anything against PG-13 movies or comic book movies, with the sole exception that the rating limits on-screen violence. I’ll gladly watch jokey, fun superhero flicks any day of the week, a few of which even populate my own favourite films list. But Logan required an R rating to get across the precise tone director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have been aiming for over the last few years. Just like many other fans, I’ve been waiting 17 years to see Wolverine finally cut loose and tear people to shreds the way I’ve always known he can, because foot-long metal claws from the strongest metal on the planet (in their reality), don’t just poke the bad guy – they dismember, disembowel, and decapitate. Rest assured, he finally does in Logan.
The rumours are true, Logan is packed with plenty of bloody violence, far from tame, and with enough blood soaked carnage to satisfy even the most bloodthirsty gore-hounds. Heads roll, limbs fly off, threats are ripped open wide, and buckets of blood are spilled as Logan finally delivers a whopping heap of berserker rage fuelled killings throughout its 135 minute runtime, especially in two scenes of 100% pure classic Wolverine berserker rage that will blow minds. Two fight scene in particular, one midway through the movie, and the other the bloodstained finale, offer up some of the most intense, brutal, and graphic comic book movie violence committed to film. These two scenes in particular are stand-out action set pieces due to the physical and dramatic weight the R rating allows them to possess. When Logan becomes physically drained, weakened by multiple gunshots (*spoiler alert* or stabs wounds from an experimental clone of himself *end of spoiler*), we feel his exhaustion through his body language and facial expressions. When he or Laura are dispatching foes left and right, we feel the primal anger and blood lust. A PG-13 movie could never have that dramatic heft to it. Logan also bears a significant amount of profanity, enough to rival last year’s similarly R rated comic book movie hit Deadpool, but unlike that movie, profanity isn’t used like a comedic tool to up the wattage of vulgarity as was needed. Rather, the frequent uses of the f-bomb accentuate the anger and frustration the characters (Logan in particular), are experiencing at any given moment. Logan isn’t for the faint of heart, but there’s more to Logan than just gory violence.
Hugh Jackman deserves an Oscar for his performance as Logan. I’m not just saying that for the sake of it. Hugh has never given a more layered, meaningful, naturalistic performance in the 17 years I’ve been watching his movies. If Logan is a truly his final outing as the iconic character, I don’t think he could have given a better performance than what you’ll see in Logan. The script by Mangold and co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green, along with that R rating, affords Jackman the opportunity to work with dialogue and scenes that at ask for more of dramatic work than physical, allowing Hugh to go to places he wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. It’s the work of an actor who knows this character better than anyone else outside of his creators, who isn’t simply playing a role, but living within the skin of him. He is our Logan, through and through in every way in this subtle, deeply human performance. Sir Patrick Stewart has never been better as Charles Xavier, and acting on the assumption that this is also his final turn as his iconic character, as reported in recent days, I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting end to his reign. Dafne Keen needs an X-23 movie pronto, she’s so good for such a young newcomer. Boyd Holbrook makes for a menacing villain, his smooth talking Texas accented Donald acting as quite the ice cold delight in a sea of CGI, oversized doomsday super villains, and Richard E. Grant gives multiple dimensions to his Zander, bringing a welcomed honesty, tenderness, and sheer cruelty to what could have otherwise been a thinly developed villain.
At first glance, Logan is a comic book movie meant to bring a satisfactory yet heartbreaking end to a 17 year long career and story arc spent on the iconic hero. Peel back the layers and it’s a redemption through justice and revenge western tale, the kind kind of story carried through history books for centuries to come. Logan is right from the get-go, a classic western yarn, and the best kind too. The kind of western where a tired gunfighter has to take up their guns one last time in the name of frontier justice. The western frontier may be gone, but the idea of the stubborn hero who needs persuading still exists, right down to the classic Shane appearing on a hotel television.
That Logan uses a couple of the same tropes seen in westerns decades ago doesn’t mean the film is a slave to those tropes, as Logan firmly stands on its own two feet as a unique amalgamation of comic book fantasy, the classic western, and the modern family road trip drama. Remove the use of mutant powers and you have a modern day western about a tortured soul waiting for death to end his suffering, until his skills are called upon to assist those in need, one last time. Hollywood hasn’t run out of fresh ideas, rather they’ve just found creative ways of reinventing the wheel from time to time. Taking the fantastical world of the X-Men and grounding it in the themes of the classic American western is a brilliant manner of humanizing and personalizing Logan’s story. Logan has more in common with Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven than any of the X-Men movies that precede it. The presence of X-Men comics in the film (real comic books with newly commissioned art by their original artist Dan Panosian), seems to suggest that the world in which the previous 9 X-Men movies occupied may also have been a sanitized embellishment of the grim world Logan inhabits. I quite enjoy the notion.
Last year Deadpool proved an R rated comic book movie about a fourth wall breaking, profane, crudely humourous, violent mercenary out to rescue his lover and not look like an avocado had sex with an older more disgusting avocado, could out perform multiple other comic book movies released this past decade, if the correct amount of love and respect are applied to the material. This year, Logan has proven that Deadpool’s success wasn’t just beginner’s luck, but that lightning struck twice because just as much love, passion, and respect were applied in all the right places. That they had the balls to make a commercial comic book movie about a broken man learning to love one last time, proves they broke the mould when they made Logan. That we’ll likely never see another comic book movie that treads these waters again is fine by me. I wouldn’t want it any other way. This final ride was perfect.