Despite being a lifelong X-Men fan, I was disappointed with the last Wolverine movie, finding it a little too hollow. So although I walked into Logan optimistic, as I always try to do with new comic book movies, I wasn’t certain what to expect. 137 minutes later, I walked out thinking I’d just had one of the best cinema experiences of my life.
2013’s Wolverine was certainly an improvement over the disastrous X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which almost strangled the life out of the already weakened franchise, yet it still left me feeling lukewarm. Both films seemed more interested in flashy excuses for Wolverine to stab people, rather than commit to saying anything interesting. Meanwhile, Logan has stomped over its predecessors and arrived as the explicit and emotionally mature film the character deserves.
The story takes place in 2029, something only quickly alluded to and mostly inconsequential. Rather than show us another apocalyptic wasteland of killer robots and scorched skies, this is a setting almost identical to our own landscape. Little technological advances are sprinkled across the film to remind us that this isn’t modern day, otherwise the film is rooted in an everyday setting and is surprisingly restrained. The reason for the near-future setting is simply to brush aside all the previous films and provide a buffer for Logan to tell its own tale.
As for where we find Wolverine himself, his codename and super-heroics are long behind him, now simply working a mundane job where nobody knows of his past. Of course, his plan to live quietly off the radar is soon jeopardised, as he’s dragged into the path of a dangerous group who are more than willing to go through him to get what they want.
Excluding his cameos, this is the seventh time Hugh Jackman has headlined a film as Wolverine, either alone or part of an ensemble, this is also arguably the best performance he’s ever given. Here Wolverine is played as weary and vulnerable, in both a physical and emotional sense. He stumbles and coughs his way from one scene to the next, looking like a man who’s constantly on the verge of collapse. Adrenaline can push him back into his old behaviour, but there’s no rapid healing anymore and any extreme exertion leaves its mark. He’s no longer a skulking wildcat, but a grey lion with barely enough strength left to protect his pride.
Speaking of the extended cast, they are phenomenal. For the first time an X-Men movie abandons its devotion to cameos and it’s all the better for it. Winks and nods to lesser known characters were exciting easter eggs back in 2003, but in a world where even Rocket Racoon stars in a blockbuster movie, such indulgences have long lost their thrill. Logan instead focuses all its time on its small cast. Patrick Stewart returns as Professor Xavier in the most vulnerably touching portrayal of the mutant patriarch to date. Now in his nineties, the planet’s most powerful telepath is long past his prime and no longer the esteemed teacher he once was. The third main character of the primary trio is a fan-favourite whose delayed debut feels perfectly timed. I hesitate to even name them, in case you’ve avoided the trailers and remained unspoilt (as evidently some people had in the screening I was part of). I’ll simply say that their performance is another standout and more than lives up to the weighty expectation that such a character brings.
It becomes clear early on that Logan is a film that understands Wolverine and his appeal. It knows that on the surface he’s of course that gruff lonely drifter with an anger problem, but also that he’s a lot more complicated than that. Wolverine is a character that believes he’s a bad influence on everyone around him, a magnet for death due to his own self control issues and those who hunt him down to use him. Yet despite that, he knows he’s often in a position to help. His desire for quiet seclusion and his irritating sense of responsibility are often at odds. Logan heavily plays on that moral conflict, regularly forcing him to choose between what he wants and what he feels obligated to do. By doing so, Wolverine is humanised to a level we’ve rarely seen in any of his big screen portrayals, here he’s more flawed and human than ever before.
Another welcome deviation is the entire lack of any romantic subplot. I’m certain there was temptation to have him once again torturously mourn over Jean Grey, but she is entirely missing. Meanwhile there is no new love interest to replace her. Instead Logan cuts right down to what the X-Men are all about: family.
At their core, the X-Men aren’t about violence, they’re about a marginalised group of people who look out for each other because they’re hated, feared and exploited by those in power. They’re a family united by shared rejection and ideology. When X-Men stories forget that, they drift into middling tales of showy superheroics, but when they keep that theme at the forefront, like Logan does, it results in a much more endearing and engrossing story about the dangers of being different. Against the backdrop of modern politics, the film contains more than a few chilling reminders that the most vulnerable in our society are often considered expendable and subhuman by those we’d expect to protect us. Intentional or not, this allusion adds an extra layer of subtext that only strengthens its subject matter.
Ultimately the reason Logan works so well is it blends together everything that makes a satisfying X-Men story. There are plenty of surprisingly violent action scenes, as you’d expect with a Wolverine movie, but they’re wrapped around heavy themes of isolation, family and oppression. It’s that focus that elevates Logan to something special, more than just another set of strung together CGI-infused fight scenes.
Despite the tone, it’s not a humourless film. Logan has a number of laughs throughout to break up the tension. It’s not what I would call a funny film, as it mostly sticks to a somber atmosphere, but it’s also a movie that knows its action scenes, which star a man with retractable knives in his hands, border on outrageous,. Although gory, there’s often a dark humour to its violence which speaks of a healthy self-awareness that stops itself from taking it all too seriously.
Altogether Logan is a fantastic film, one of the best superhero movies to date. A masterful demonstration of character driven storytelling, it’s also a surprisingly emotional film. It knows when to slow things down and when to crank the pace back into frantic and bloody fight scenes. Perhaps the best praise I can give it, is that it made me really care. I cared about what was happening and I cared about these characters, I was hooked for the entire lengthy running time. Never was I simply waiting for the next excuse for Wolverine to pop his claws, the contemplative moments drew me to the edge of my seat just as much as the ones racking up a bodycount.
It’s going to be tough for any future X-Men movies to match how ridiculously enjoyable Logan is. You really ought to see it for yourself.