It’s hard to believe that Hugh Jackman has been playing the character of Wolverine for almost twenty years now. Mr. Jackman’s casting was one of the many minor miracles that made Bryan Singer’s original X-Men film from 2000 such a wonderful revelation. It’s easy these days to bash Mr. Singer’s work on the X-Men franchise. His latest X-Men film, X-Men Apocalypse, was a big misfire, and with Marvel Studios showing how successfully faithful adaptations of their characters can translate to the screen, it’s easy to slam the ways Mr. Singer’s X-Men films have, for the most part, eschewed many of the familiar tropes and story-lines from the comics. But let’s not forget what a revelation that first X-Men film was, how thrilling it was to see these comic-book characters treated more like speculative fiction than superhero fantasy, with complex, fully-fleshed-out characters and real-world settings. It blew my mind when I first saw it, and I still think that first film holds up well today. Mr. Singer’s eye for casting was amazing, and it’s exciting to see two of those perfectly-cast actors, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, bring these characters’ stories to a close two decades later, here in James Mangold’s dark, violent, riveting new film Logan.
Logan, set in 2029, shows us a world in which mutants have all but vanished from the Earth. The X-Men are gone (their ultimate fate a tragedy gradually hinted at as the film unfolds). Logan is no longer the Wolverine. He’s a physical wreck, his healing factor no longer able to restore his body from all the grievous injuries it has sustained over the years, no longer able to save Logan from being slowly poisoned from within by the adamantium bonded to his bones. Logan lives a day-to-day existence as a driver, trying to earn enough money needed for the drugs he needs for Professor X. Xavier, in possession of the most powerful mutant mind on the planet, is slowly succumbing to dementia, and without drugs to keep him subdued, his seizures could kill everyone around him. Logan and the former mutant-hunter Caliban care for Professor X as best as they can, hidden away in an isolated stretch of desert. When Logan learns of the existence of a young, mute mutant girl, the Professor urges him to help her escape the men chasing after her. The Professor sees a chance for them to once again take action to help mutants and to make the world a better place, but Logan sees only the potential for more death and terror. Eventually, they are given no choice in the matter, and events build from there to the film’s gutsy ending.
Logan is extraordinary, an intense, thrilling, shockingly violent and unremittingly bleak story. The film feels completely different from any previous X-Men or Wolverine film. After the success of the R-rated Deadpool, I’d read that Logan would be rated R as well. I expected that this would mean more blood and guts than previous X-Men films, but I was not prepared for how incredibly violent Logan would be. The violence is astonishing, and it is sustained throughout the film. As never before we see the damage that a man with metal claws can wreak. Hoo boy do we see it. But more than just being VIOLENT, Logan is incredibly INTENSE. Director James Mangold, working with talented editors and accompanied by Marco Beltrami’s incredible, unusual score, have created a movie that is a far more of an edge-of-your-seat experience than any previous X-Men movie, or almost any other super-hero movie that I can think of. We’re in Quentin Tarantino territory here, both in terms of the ultra-violence and also in terms of the experience of sustained tension.
Mr. Mangold has wisely chosen to strip away almost all of the super-hero trappings from this super-hero film. There are a few instances of a mutant super-power on display, but very few. There are no bright costumes and no heroic, swelling musical themes. This film has a far more rugged, down-to-Earth feeling than most super-hero films. There are fights, but they’re not CGI super-powered battles but rather bloody hand-to-hand combat. The film is set in the future, but that futuristic setting is only very subtly hinted at in a few moments. For the most part, Logan is a Western, not a super-hero film. (It’s far closer to Mr. Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma remake than it is to X-Men: Apocalypse.) I adore these choices.
Logan is very loosely based on — one might instead say inspired by — Mark Millar and Steven McNiven’s incredible comic-book story Old Man Logan from 2008. That story, too, was a very violent “last Wolverine story” set in the future in which we see Logan as the last surviving X-Man, reluctantly going on a road trip in order to do one last good thing. But the stories diverge from there. Mr. Millar and Mr. McNiven’s tale was steeped in Marvel Universe lore, and as Logan travels across what used to be the United States we discover the fates of many classic Marvel characters. But Fox’s X-Men films don’t have access to most of those characters (which are the property of the Marvel Studios film), and so instead what Mr. Mangold and co. have decided to do here in Logan is to strip away all of the super-hero aspects that were so much a part of the original story. Man, I would love to someday see a faithful adaptation of Old Man Logan, but Logan (you can see how even the title of this film is a nod to the original Old Man Logan story, while also making a statement about how this character is no longer The Wolverine, as his last solo film was titled) has, I think, made all the right choices for this particular franchise and this particular film. (Similarly, I long to someday see a faithful film adaptation of Days of Future Past, but I was satisfied by how the very, very different film version used the inspiration of that original story.)
With all of the superhero trappings swept away, Logan is, more than any previous X-Men film save possibly Bryan Singer’s original X-Men, focused on the characters. Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart do the best work of the series here in this film, bringing their two decades worth of experience playing these characters to wonderful fruition. Similarly to how Captain America: Civil War worked so well because it was building off our affection for the characters (especially Cap and Tony) that we’d developed over the many previous Marvel movies, so too does Logan take full advantage of the audience’s long connection with these characters, Logan and Charles, and the two men playing them.
Hugh Jackman has given his depiction of Logan a world-weariness ever since that first X-Men film, but here he shows us a Logan who has finally been dealt one too many blows. This is a man who never thought he’d have a family, then found one, and then lost it all. We can see how dangerous hope is to him now. He’s just going through the motions of living a life, simply waiting out the days until his healing factor finally allows him to give up the ghost. Patrick Stewart, meanwhile, is heartbreaking as a man who knows that each day brings him one step further away from the man he used to be, knowing that he was responsible for something terrible but no longer quite sure just what that was. He wants to still live in the world, wants to still make a difference, and his inability to do either is breaking him. Mr. Stewart is brilliantly able to play the drama and pathos of this old, broken Charles. What’s wonderful and surprising about the movie is how funny Patrick Stewart is in the role. (The moment in which Charles mockingly sticks out his tongue at Logan could be the best moment in the entire film!) The film leans heavily on the chemistry between Mr. Jackman and Mr. Stewart, on the strained but never broken bond between Logan and Professor X. It’s a very smart story-telling choice, and Mr. Jackman and Mr. Stewart hit it out of the park.
The albino mutant Caliban first appeared on-screen in X-Men: Apocalypse, played by Tómas Lemarquis. He was terrific, one of the best things about that film, and I was sorry to see the character recast here. But wow, if you’re going to recast a role, this is the way to do it. Stephen Merchant (frequent collaborator of Ricky Gervais) is spectacular as Caliban. Like most of the characters in the film, Caliban has been broken by the world, and he is hiding away as best he can. But he is also trying, in some small way, to do good. I love the bickering relationship he has with Logan. I wish the character had more to do in the second half of the film. Mr. Merchant is mostly known to me as a brilliant comic actor, and he brings a comic’s eye for perfect timing to his banter with Logan in the early parts of the film. But Mr. Merchant is really impressive in how well he plays the drama and tragedy of Caliban, heartbreaking to the very last moment we see him. It’s a great performance.
Then there is young Dafne Keen as Laura. This is a version of the character X-23 who has been popular in the comics for the past decade or so. I’m not a big fan of that character in the comics, but I adore the way she has been brought to life in this film. Young Ms. Keen is spectacular, soulful and incredibly expressive in her almost completely silent performance. This is impressive work, particularly coming from one so young. I’m not big into “kid sidekick” characters. Luckily, Mr. Mangold has something far deeper in mind for this character in the film.
One of my favorite story-lines in the X-Men comics from the eighties/nineties was the Chris Claremont-written “Mutant Massacre” story-line in which the cybernetically-enhanced, mutant-hating Reavers attacked the Morlocks — mutants living beneath the streets of New York City — as well as the later turn of events in which the Reavers attacked Muir Island. These vicious killers were terrific, hateful X-Men villains in those stories written by Mr. Claremont, and it was cool to see them brought to life on screen here. None of the Reaver characters are really fleshed out, which is a bit of a shame, though I understand why they went that way. The only one we get to know is Donald Pierce, their leader, played by Boyd Holbrook. He’s pretty one-dimensional in the film, but I liked Mr. Holbrook’s work and the way he underplayed Pierce rather than turning him into a loud, scenery-chewing villain.
I have written before about what a rare and precious thing it is when popular stories or characters are allowed to be given a proper ending, whether in books or TV or movies or comic books. The world rolls on and entertainment rolls right on with it, and so much entertainment just keeps going and going so that those responsible for it can wring as many dollars out of the material as possible. So either we have popular characters whose stories will never truly end — Will Marvel ever stop publishing Spider-Man comics? Will DC ever stop publishing Batman comics? — or they peter out as they lose popularity and creative energy and then vanish with a whimper. How many successful modern entertainment stories were ever given a true and final ending?
Logan is one of those rare examples. I don’t delude myself into thinking there won’t be more X-Men movies. Of course there will be more. LOTS more. It’s even possible we might see either or both Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman playing these characters on-screen again in the future. But Logan was designed to bring the stories of those characters to a definitive end, and it does that incredibly well.
I’m going to step into SPOILERS territory for the final few paragraphs of this review, so if you haven’t yet seen Logan, now is the time to disembark. Know that I loved this film. It’s an adult, grim, stomach-churningly violent version of an X-Men/Wolverine story. It represents a truly original vision for an X-Men/Wolverine movie, and I love it for that. It’s exciting and emotionally rich. Go see it.
OK, still here?
When I say that this film brings these characters to an end, I am not kidding. I was not expecting Professor X to make it through the film, and sure enough, he doesn’t. (Though, boy, what a brutal, wrenching way to kill off such a popular and heroic character!! My eyebrows are still raised at that choice. It’s upsetting, and I’m still not sure I’m 100% on-board with how it went down, but it’s supposed to be upsetting so I guess that’s the point.) I was not, though, expecting the movie to end with Logan himself dead and buried. I’d thought for sure that, while the movie started with Logan waiting for death, eventually his connection to Laura would lead him to reclaim his desire to live and to have a purpose. But that’s not quite what happens. Logan does connect with her, but the movie never really gives him that moment of choosing to live life over waiting for death. Yes, he runs after her and the other kids at the end, to help fight the Reavers in the woods, but that’s not quite the same. I’d thought the movie would end with Logan in a Professor X role, looking after Laura and the other mutant kids. I was very surprised, then, that the movie killed off Logan and left the kids on their own in the world. That’s not at all what I had expected! I applaud the film for taking the unusual choice even as I’m left not quite sure that was the right choice to have made. I am a loud proponent of these types of stories not needing to have a happy ending. But there is so much loss and death in the film that I wish we’d have been given a glimmer of hope at the end. When the screen went to black and the credits rolled, the movie was met with silence in the packed theatre I saw it in this past weekend. It’s a gut-punch of an ending that is powerful and surprising in the moment. But I think that Logan would have been an even greater over-all film, in the long run, had we been given a taste of hope and life at the very end. I think that would have led the audience to stand up and applaud, rather than sitting silently. I try to only judge movies on what they are, not what I wanted them to have been, but this is my opinion.
There’s no post-credits stinger in the film, which surprised me when I first heard that would be the case, although having now seen the ending of Logan it makes perfect sense. It wouldn’t be right to advertise another superhero movie after that bleak ending. We do get a lengthy teaser trailer for Deadpool 2 at the start of the film, and it’s great.
The most upsetting sequence in Logan for me is the whole bit of business late in the film in which Logan, Charles, and Laura visit the home of a friendly African-American family. We in the audience know this is going to end poorly, and so does Logan, who resists Charles’ exhortations that they allow themselves to stay the night as guests of this kindly family. That things end SO horribly — with all three of the family-members slaughtered — shocked me, and I was a little upset both that the movie allows Charles Xavier’s last act to be such a mistake, and also that neither Logan nor any of the other surviving good guy characters spend even a second, after it all goes down, lamenting what they brought upon this family. It’s bizarre for the movie to seem to care so little about the murders of these three innocent people, and that bothered me all throughout the film’s last act.
Other comments on the film:
* I wrote above about the film’s intense violence. I have to highlight the incredible sequence early in which the Reavers attack the compound where Logan, Charles, and Caliban have been hiding out. This action sequence is extraordinary, grisly and brutal, and it went on far longer than I’d expected it to. As Logan careens around the desert location in his increasingly battered limo, the movie took on a Mad Max vibe that I loved.
* I enjoyed seeing Orange is the New Black‘s Elizabeth Rodriguez as Gabriella, the woman who helps Laura find Logan. I wish the film had given her a little more to do, but Ms. Rodriguez makes the most of her small role.
* Though I will also comment that one of the only stupid things in the movie is Gabriella’s impossibly shot and edited video of the goings-on at the evil Transigen company that was supposedly shot on her cell phone….
* Speaking of Transigen, the evil company experimenting on mutants, I was surprised that the film didn’t draw a stronger connection with the Essex corporation, seen gathering up Logan’s blood in the post-credits scene at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse. Essex is the name for Mr. Sinister, a great X-Men villain who, in the comics, oversaw the Reavers. So why wasn’t “Transigen” here in Logan the same “Essex corporation” seen in X-Men: Apocalypse? There’s even a shot in the movie in which you see a vial of Logan’s blood that looks exactly like the vial of blood at the end of Apocalypse. It’s a weird choice. I understand the filmmakers’ desire for Logan to stand on it’s own, but that would have been a nice connection for the fans.
* When we first saw the evil doctor/scientist played by Richard E. Grant, I thought maybe that character was supposed to be Nathaniel Essex/Mr. Sinister. But instead he’s some other character named Zander Rice. He tells Logan that Logan killed his father, so then I thought that meant this character was the son of William Stryker (who has appeared in many of these X-Men/Wolverine films, originally played by Brian Cox in 2003’s X2), but reading on-line after the movie it seems I was wrong again, and this guy is the son of someone Wolverine killed when he first escaped the Weapon X facility (as seen happening in the eighties in X-Men: Apocalypse). I wish this character had been a bit better-developed by the film, and also that he had been smarter and more of a threat to our heroes. (He meets a pretty stupid end in the film.) I wonder if originally he had been supposed to have been Mr. Sinister, but that got changed somewhere along the way when the decision was made to remove most of the superhero elements from the film?
* I loved the costumes in the film. In particular, I adored the outfit Logan sported for most of the film, wearing a white dress shirt and a battered dark suit. I also loved Mr. Jackman’s bearded look, though that made him look a LOT like present-day Mel Gibson!
* I mentioned this above, but it’s worth saying again that Marco Beltrami’s bizarre, oppressive score was perfect for the film.
OK, it’s time to wrap this up. Bravo to James Mangold for taking a huge step forward from his previous Wolverine film (2013’s The Wolverine, which I liked a lot but fell short of my hopes). Bravo to Fox for having the guts to release such a different type of X-Men film, with such intense, gritty violence and such a grim ending. The film didn’t end the way I might have chosen, but I am very impressed to have been given such a definitive end to the stories of Professor Charles Xavier and Logan as played by Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman. Someday these characters will be recast, but from where I sit now it’s impossible to imagine either role played by any other actor. (Yes, I know that a younger version of Xavier has already been played by James McAvoy in X-Men: First Class and beyond, but while I love Mr. McAvoy, Patrick Stewart IS Professor X and there’s no two ways about it.)
I was continually surprised and impressed by Logan. This is an adult version of a superhero film, and unlike other recent attempts at creating an adult superhero tale that was dark and violent (cough Batman v Superman cough), Logan managed to be sophisticated and complex, taking these superhero characters and concepts seriously without falling apart into juvenile silliness.
I loved pretty much every minute of Logan, and I can’t wait to see it again.