It seems likely that the creators of X-Men films will treat James Mangold’s Logan as a story apart from the ongoing series, something belonging to an alternate timeline. One does not get the impression that the problems of the characters in Logan can be fixed via the time-travelling future-altering of X-Men: Days of Future Past; what’s done is done here, and the future is bleak and the heroes cannot hope to change it, only to survive it a bit longer. No other film in this franchise comes close to the darkness of Logan and, coincidentally or not, none has its depth. First appearing in 2000’s X-Men, the film that started it all, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine has been amongst the most prolific figures of the modern superhero movie boom (second only to Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man), and, with co-star Patrick Stewart’s Professor Charles Xavier, its longest-tenured. Now, for Jackman’s (reportedly) last outing in the role, director Mangold turns in the series’ best entry yet.
Logan is set in a year 2029 in which all but a few mutants, including all but two X-Men, have been wiped out by a man made virus. The titular hero finds himself working as a chauffeur south of the border and caring for an aging and increasingly addled Professor Xavier with the help of Caliban (Stephen Merchant, doing compelling work), an albino mutant with a talent for finding others with the mutant gene. Logan is no longer interested in the superhero gig, instead hoping that limo-driving will yield the funds to purchase a boat with which to escape the prying eyes of civilization; Xavier is now prone to seizures that could potentially be lethal to anyone within the range of his telepathic abilities and, his dream having long-since died, Logan simply wants to see him spend his few remaining years in relative comfort. This is, of course, not to be. Logan finds himself charged with the care of Laura (Dafne Keen), a mysterious preteen mutant who is pursued by nefarious governmental/corporate operatives and whose mutant powers are strikingly familiar (she has adamantium claws and will quickly bounce back from a harpoon wound to the chest). Soon, at Xavier’s insistence, Logan, Laura and Professor X are on a road trip to, the perhaps fictional, Eden, a haven for mutants.
Hugh Jackman’s performance of Logan has been the most consistently good element over the course of the decidedly hit-and-miss X-Men franchise and with Logan the actor gets to dig further into the character than he has previously. Where Logan was a man in search of identity and place, he is now a man who has had those things and lost them, and is clinging desperately to the only family he has left; in previous entries he fought to overcome his cynicism and hope for a better world, now those hopes have been dashed. Logan is the most depressed X-Men movie yet, perhaps the most depressed superhero movie yet. It is also the one most concerned with character. Stewart too does expectedly great work, his Xavier is no longer the controlled force he once was, his dream now a tragic, distant memory. While they are on the road, Logan, Xavier, and Laura form an ersatz multi-generational family, a dynamic highlighted in the lovely, quiet moments that dot the film.
To say that this X-Men film has a greater focus on character is not to suggest that it is not action-packed. Logan earns its R rating with gusto, with Wolverine’s adamantium claws doing to human bodies what one might expect adamantium claws would do to human bodies. Fox may have found its niche in R-rated superhero movies (Logan has the bloody violence of Deadpool, without the intolerable protagonist). Death has real impact in this movie, a factor that has largely eluded the genre thus far. It’s entertaining as hell but the violence has some weight, with even the most disposable of thugs afforded an impactful death. The film plays like a Stephen King novel about superheroes, with a tragic drunk (Logan knows how to pull a cork), protecting a superpowered child pursued by villains who would try to wield her powers to their own ends. Those villains are Boyd Holbrook’s mercenary Donald Pierce, and Richard E. Grant’s faux-kindly scientist Zander Rice, both of whom are pretty great in what could have been one note parts.
While there are future X-Men films currently on the books, Logan feels like a natural endpoint for the franchise. It would be daring to end the series on a note this tragic. Logan is not a crowd-pleaser and is all the more satisfying for it.
Director: James Mangold
Producer: Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner
Writer: James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green
Cinematographer: John Mathieson
Editor: Michael McCusker
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keene