“What Have I Become? My Sweetest Friend, Everyone I Know…Goes Away…In The End”
– Hurt (Johnny Cash / Nine Inch Nails)
It’s really a shame that this song didn’t find it’s way from the initial trailers into the actual movie because it is the perfect musical companion for Logan – a movie that demonstrates that no matter how many mutant abilities one has, no matter how many times someone has beat insurmountable odds, one foe remains undefeated: time.
When we first encounter Hugh Jackman as the eponymous Logan AKA Wolverine, he is grizzled and fatigued by scars that no longer heal as quickly as they used to. Gone are the wars, the never-ending fight for mutant acceptance, there is no X-Mansion, no school for gifted children nor even any other X-Men in sight. Instead, he spends his days as a glorified Uber driver, going from place to place trying to make ends meet for the now ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). This is the reality of the world in 2029, dark and unforgiving, our former heroes now reduced to shells of themselves relying on alcohol and prescription pills to survive.
To see them in this state is where Logan creates separation from its fellow comic book movies, it is not a happy go lucky place where they will go bash a few robots and then have Shawarma together, these characters are not looking for the next adventure, they are looking at the end. This is especially true for Jackman who has publicly stated this will be his last time playing Wolverine and he seems to channel this feeling of finality in his performance pulling off a sense of decrypted vulnerability much like Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler as he and Charles are forced into action when a new mutant arrives (Dafne Keen as Laura / X-23) for the first time in 25 years proclaiming that there is salvation for the mutants in a place called Eden just north of the Canadian border. For Charles this is an opportunity for redemption, to teach the mutant youth once again and for Logan it is one last ride before walking off into the sunset.
The set up allows for director James Mangold to tell a story that is singular and grounded into one relatively simple storyline – a rare feat these days in the world of comic book movies where large portions of the runtime are spent in exposition or setting up future sequels. It makes Logan less of a traditional superhero movie per se but more of a Western with a buddy road trip underbelly that allows for deeper explorations into character, emotion and what it means to belong. That is not to say that Logan doesn’t reference its predecessors but it is so far removed from the other films that it can stand alone without intimidating newcomers who may not have seen the previous entries. There are parallels here to Westerns like Shane (which Logan references prominently) with a visual style that is reminiscent of Children of Men or Mad Max: Fury Road but if I had to draw a complete comparison I would say that it is very much like the stellar video game The Last of Us in everything from story to tone.
Like The Last of Us, Logan is elevated by its smaller slower moments, anchored by strong performances all around from Jackman, Stewart, and Keen, these moments demonstrate a vulnerability in people that we often consider being ruthless machines of war. It creates a sense of heart in these characters that we have followed for 17 years putting the focus on the human side of the word superhuman, something that is far too commonly lost in the current rotation of superhero films. Where it does falter slightly though is in its redundancy at times, there are side storylines here (specifically at the farm) that extend an already long running time while hitting on themes that could have been tackled in other scenes. Though rare, these moments feel like an unnecessary side mission in an otherwise focused story.
However, Logan is far from your humdrum family drama, in fact, it utilizes its R rating to full effect hacking and slashing its way throughout complete with Tarantino levels of violence (and gore) with some decidedly Mortal Kombat-esque executions. Mangold adds to the effect by shooting relatively low with fewer cuts shifting between wide and fullscreen to allow full scope of the action unfolding on screen. The structure of the story as flowing narrative makes the action feel like it’s a part of the natural progression rather than pushing from one elaborate set piece to the next and these scenes help fluctuate the pace of the film into a solid rhythm (save for those aforementioned minor lulls in the side missions). However, the action still plays secondary to the more human moments because even in something as visceral as this, there is a limit to how many times we can watch a guy get his limbs decapitated before it begins to get stale.
If this is indeed the last time we see Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and (allegedly) Patrick Stewart as Professor X, then this is a great sendoff. As a movie, Logan isn’t perfect but as a comic book movie in 2017, it is everything that DC wants to be and everything Marvel is afraid to be. It shows depth and a desire to show these heroes as full-fledged characters not just simply action figures to push from battle to battle. Like Deadpool did last year, it forces audiences to look at the way comic book movies are constructed but where Deadpool found comedy in the genre’s many cliches and flaws, Logan represents what the comic book movie can be.