The X-Men franchise has had its ups and downs over the past 17 years. By far the most consistent thing about them however is Hugh Jackman’s performance as Wolverine. This character is so beloved by fans that he’s the only one to get not just one, but three solo films. Of course, we don’t speak of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And the jury is still out on whether The Wolverine is as good as I think it is. Regardless, Logan is the solo Wolverine film that we can all agree we’ve been waiting for. It completely stands on its own; there is nothing about it that resembles an X-Men film. This is a comic book superhero movie for people who don’t like or don’t watch comic book superhero movies. It is a dark, sombre, character study. The stakes feel real. And yes, the R-rating is most certainly applicable, not just for gore or coarse language, but because the subject matter is simply not kid friendly.
Logan takes place in the year 2029. The mutant species has been completely wiped out. By what or who I won’t reveal. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is living in solitude with Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and a sunlight allergic mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant). His day job is driving around a limo. On one of these jobs, he comes across a lady named Gabriela, who asks him to protect a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen). While Logan first refuses, it isn’t long before sinister agents end up at his door, looking for Laura. So it is up to Logan to protect the girl and lead her to safety.
This plot sounds like the perfect set up for non-stop action sequences where audiences can cheer the Wolverine on as he slices and dices his way through faceless baddies until he gets to the head agent. Do not be fooled. Logan spaces its action scenes between long passages of characters trying to relate to one another. Many of the situations that Logan comes across serve to define our perception of him. In fact, the tone of the film is a cross between a road movie and a post-apocalyptic western. Logan is our “Man with No Name,” our John Wayne or Clint Eastwood type. This is not the Wolverine we’ve come to recognize. Here, he is tired. He’s withered, and he’s given up on helping people. He’s terrified of getting close to anyone, including Laura, as he fears that everyone he gets close to ends up dying.
The bond he shares with Xavier is that of a caretaker. It’s hard for us to recognize this Charles Xavier as the Professor X we know from previous X-Men films. This Xavier has lost his mind. He can’t control his powers. He’s suffering from severe post traumatic stress, partly because of how many loved ones he has witnessed slaughtered in front of him, and partly because he feels unworthy to be alive while his species is all but extinct. When Xavier sees Laura and her abilities, he begins to believe that there is hope for mutants after all. But not before becoming a bit of a liability on Logan as well.
In other words, don’t go into this movie expecting Deadpool or an action packed thrill ride. This is a much slower and more dramatic piece than you would think, a testament to director James Mangold’s willingness to take risks. This is a film where the focus is on the characters’ inability to respond to the world around them, simply because they have never been able to fit into it. The action scenes have a sense of purpose by relieving the tension that has been built up through the plot. Dialogue is important but so are the actions of the characters. Logan doesn’t want to be a hero. He has superpowers, but he’s realized that they are more of a curse than a benefit. The weight of personal loss has made the burden of immortality that much heavier. And yet, Laura gives him something to believe in. Through her, he rediscovers the ability to love and protect; in other words, what it means to be a hero despite the sometimes horrific consequences that come with it.
If you’re watching this movie for blood, you will get it. It is important to warn that Logan is an extremely violent, graphic, bloody film. It isn’t gore for the sake of gore either. It is gore as a consequence of Logan’s power, and the ruthlessness of his adversaries. However, if you’re only watching this movie for gore and action, you will find yourself checking your watch quite often.
Logan is the Unforgiven of the X-Men saga. It deconstructs Logan both as a hero and as a human. It adds depth, austerity, and a relentless wave of repercussions as a result of character actions. This may not be the first superhero film, or X-Men film for that matter, to prove that the superhero genre can explore complex subject matter with intelligence and contextual significance. But it certainly is the first to do it without feeling like a superhero film. 2017 is quickly becoming Hollywood’s year of reinventing itself to exploring the craft of filmmaking and taking risks. Logan is perhaps the greatest risk it has taken in decades. The result is the best film of 2017 thus far.