Logan is the last, and ultimately the boldest of the Wolverine films. It eclipses past efforts (and, arguably, mistakes), while not quite stepping on the toes of the X-Men films that precede it. While it does not wholly ignore the seventeen-year cinematic history of Hugh Jackman’s iconic character, Logan is not beholden to a canonical timeline, a thematic mould or a sequel-generating finale. An extensive knowledge of the other films is entirely unnecessary to understand and enjoy Logan, which is such a relief given how daunting that timeline can be for most. All that should be known is the prior existence of the X-Men, the past prevalence of mutantkind and the inner turmoil of the distant Wolverine. Logan is not tied down by the past, but it does not retcon it outright. While it took nearly two decades to achieve such a satisfying conclusion to his tale, it could not have been made without the nine X-Men films that were released between 2000 and 2017, including Deadpool.
Logan is not a superhero movie, and it doesn’t have to be. It may exist in that realm of X-Men titles but it is not written, shot, edited, or marketed like any other in that vague genre. It cannot be categorized as such without diluting its personality. As much as Captain America: The Winter Soldier a modern spy thriller, Guardians of the Galaxy is a space romp akin to Star Wars, and Deadpool is a Ryan Reynolds action comedy, Logan is a western. And it’s one hell of a good western at that. Superhero movies are no longer a genre, but a source of material. Where Deadpool balances its blood-soaked action with comedy, Logan finds harmony with character moments driven by human emotion.
Logan is a downtrodden man with little left in his withered body, a body that once regenerated at awe-inspiring speed and efficiency. Now it betrays him from within. Like other westerns, this is an end of an era, the last hurrah for an old friend that must now pass the torch, however reluctantly. Despite his own suffering, a man does well by those who need him most. Much like the classic western Shane, which is deliberately inserted into the context of the film both thematically and quite literally, Logan is a good-bye to the man of a bygone era. There are no more guns in the valley. There are no more mutants in the world, at least in the way there used to be. Now they’re created, not born. Now they are bred for destruction. Before Logan can go, he must ensure the world is safe for those he leaves behind.
The key to a good X-Men film as they move beyond Bryan Singer’s leather-bound end-of-the-world events of yore is the balance of action and personal drama. Logan is a violent movie. It is brutal, unrelenting and could possibly stray into the gratuitous, but it never crosses that line. Instead, it is leveled evenly with quiet moments of character exploration that feels more grounded than any previous effort. The heart-pounding chase scenes are as compelling as the almost mundane road trip bonding between Logan, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Laura (Dafne Keen).
Character exploration is quite often at the forefront. Wolverine is becoming more human than ever before, and this is also reflected in the tearing down of his rough, bearded façade. We can finally begin to understand where Logan’s head is at decades into his life as the Wolverine. This is also demonstrated in the deterioration of Charles Xavier’s mind. Once a king amongst mutants, Professor X has been betrayed by a degenerative brain disease that poisoned what was once the most powerful mind of all.
X-Men has always been about the persecution of the outsider and the ability of the disadvantaged to overcome adversity. Those who were different could confide in the mutant characters that all had something that made them special. Mental illness is one such hardship that may be reflected in the form of a gifted youngster. Logan and Charles both embody these difficult roads endured by many people, and they are often deterred with pharmaceuticals to curtail their ailments and make them as normal as they can be. Logan does a great job in reflecting a realistic struggle, no matter how fantastical their mutant conditions may be.
It would be a disservice to the film to dedicate time to the engrossing, yet quiet character of Laura, also known as one of the children of the X-23 program. She has known nothing but suffering and dehumanization. It forces her to lash out in a way no child should have to, but she knows no other way. Logan is able to see himself in her, no matter how begrudged he is in accepting the mirror that stands before him. It is a tremendous feat for a character steeped in aggression, but Logan can express his regrets of violence to Laura who can relate in a way no one else truly can. Logan and Laura’s relationship is carefully teased out in a way that feels organic and paternal. It is angry, and event violent, but there is a kind of love that grows between them. Like Logan and Charles’s relationship, the connection between Logan and Laura as well as the overall development of emotional character exploration and discovery is the strongest pillar of the film.
A caveat to slow, contemplative character moments is the lengthening of the run time. There are points in the film following fast-paced action set pieces that slow to a halt in order to deliver crucial character development. As a result, it makes you feel the time pass. It is not that the scenes are uninteresting; they are quite the opposite But, the alternation between extreme action and quiet moments of conversation can feel jarring. This balance is entirely necessary, but it is a downside to the structure of the film that can feel as if it contains four acts rather than three.
The villains of the film are not found in much of a different vein than the other X-titles. They are still evil humans with evil schemes and homemade mutants. Fortunately, Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) has a compelling screen presence that doesn’t blend in with his typical band of mercenaries. The mutant related enemies that cause trouble for Logan and crew can be a bit of a cliché retread for superhero movies, but there is an upside to including them. Visually, it is intriguing to see a history of Logan on screen at the same time. It is a representation of both the character’s past as well as Hugh Jackman’s career wearing the claws. While this may be a theme of other superhero films, Logan does not fall into the trap of apocalyptic consequences or giant blue beams of energy shooting into the clouds. Rather than a major action sequence taking place atop the Statue of Liberty, Logan opts for a roadside shack, a family farmhouse, and even a quiet, wooded valley (and there are guns in this valley).
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Logan is a fitting, honourable end for the Wolverine story, as well as Hugh Jackman’s tenure as a member of the X-Men. The vicious action matches the cornered, savage nature of this injured Wolverine and it shows through even in his quietest moments. While this is a film primarily about Wolverine, it puts forward spectacular depictions of Charles Xavier and X-23. Every moment shared between Jackman, Stewart, and Keen is heartfelt, genuine and at times smile-inducing. As the film Shane was once described, Logan’s monumental backgrounds are matched by its human drama. Logan is quite possibly the best of the X-Men franchise, with X2 being its closest competition. It’s violent, it’s moving and it’s an encapsulation of Wolverine that does the character its deserved justice.