Logan has never quite been Wolverine. The centerpiece character of the oft-derided X-Men film franchise, the starmaking role for the singular Hugh Jackman, differs wildly from his comic-book counterpart. He never wore yellow-and-blue spandex, he wasn’t a burly 5’3, and he wasn’t the traipsing superhero that could fit in alongside the Avengers, the X-Men, Spider-Man.
Jackman’s Logan was a complicated man, a loner with the blood of more than he could remember on his hands. A man who lost everyone he loved. A man who kept doing what was right even if he just wanted to be left alone. Charming, but in the way only someone who had stopped caring could be, only in the way of someone who believed nothing would be left of them when they were gone. A character that could stand out no matter the material around him, a hero for those who didn’t want to be heroes.
Logan is a near-perfect send-off to that character, a dusty neo-Western final ride through a world that’s left heroism behind. A ride undertaken by a man who never felt comfortable as a hero anyway. Director James Mangold gets the chance to tell Logan’s final story, a story that is heartbreaking and brutal and one of the great goodbyes to a character now played by one man in 8 films over 17 years.
Logan flashes the X-Men franchise forward to 2029, when mutants are now on the brink of extinction. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is one of the last alive, but his powers have begun to fail him and the adamantium on his bones is beginning to slowly poison him. He spends his days driving a limousine and taking care of Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), now stricken with Alzheimer’s and losing control of his mental powers.
A woman named Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) asks him to take her and a quiet young child named Laura (Dafne Keen) to a refuge. You see, Gabriella is a nurse formerly working for Transigen, a company that artificially created young mutant soldiers from harvested DNA. Laura is created from Logan’s DNA with adamantium also bonded to her skeleton. This makes her a priority for Transigen and their Reavers, mutant bounty hunters led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).
So Logan must take Laura and outrun the Reavers, the danger Xavier poses, and his own impending reality while growing close to his newfound daughter.
There’s more and I feel like I’m making this film sound much more of a plot-heavy romp than it is. Logan, more than any other film that shares its superheroic basis, is a film that thrives in the smallest moments. The little quiet humanities that give these people some respite from the dystopia that surrounds them.
One of my favorite moments in the film is the stop at a hotel the characters get, during which Xavier shows young Laura the movie Shane. Two characters sharing something between them, no monologues, no plot point, just Xavier reminiscing about how long ago he first saw that movie and Laura staring and taking in Shane’s final words.
Of course, it’s not completely without purpose. Logan is trading on Shane and countless other Westerns to fill out its texture. Mangold (director of 3:10 to Yuma) understands Logan less as superhero and more as The Man With No Name, a dark wanderer who never feels at home in any one place.
Which is to the film’s benefit. The spaciousness and the grandiosity of the Western gives Logan all the beauty and resonance it needs. The America of Logan is a sparse place, a few bustling and beat-down cities separated by miles of dusty and heat-soaked desert. A lonely sorrow is infused into every bit of the film, the feeling of a time that is now passed by.
And fitting in too is a Wild West notion of violence. The biggest limitation for Logan as a character has always been that he was a rage-filled man with knives for hands who was limited by the demands of the industry to bloodless battles only impressive for numbers more than anything else.
In Logan, the violence is brutal, every blow is bloody and deliberate and absolutely felt. Violence is a resort of desperation, its weight felt by the characters who must perform it. Good and evil is separated by those tortured by what they’ve done and those who can kill with aplomb and with choice.
That distinction leads us into Hugh Jackman’s performance as Logan, which is perhaps the film’s centerpiece and masterpiece. Jackman draws on every film (even the bad ones!) to give his performance the gravitas that only inhabiting this skin this long can. Logan here is tired, sick of life and sick of all this shit. It’s a heartbreaking performance, one that feels like it’s pushing the character to the absolute limits of desperation, almost past what he can handle, and Jackman wears that incredibly well. More than ever, his Logan actually holds the weight of being tragic and tortured in a way that doesn’t just feel like the film is strongly suggesting it. This is a career-best performance.
The other highlight here is Dafne Keen as Laura (also known as X-23). She’s everything that Jackman is avoiding in this film, a charming ball of rage and energy. She’s angry at what has been done to her, but all she wants is to find a normalcy that she doesn’t know. Keen is just so good here, doing more without a word than many child actors can with everything they’ve got.
Logan really is a special sort of film. As a standalone, it’s probably a little flabby in its middle act and its villains never really are more interesting than the internal pains and conflicts of its main characters. But Logan holds the weight of the years that it took to get to this point better than almost any film has, and it crafts a story that’s dark and sad and yet somehow deeply cathartic all at once.
You don’t want Logan to go, but you know it’s his time. So you cry and watch something special slip away.