Logan **** ½ / *****
Directed by: James Mangold.
Written by: Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green.
Starring: Hugh Jackman (Logan), Patrick Stewart (Charles), Dafne Keen (Laura), Boyd Holbrook (Pierce), Stephen Merchant (Caliban), Elizabeth Rodriguez (Gabriela), Richard E. Grant (Dr. Rice), Eriq La Salle (Will Munson), Elise Neal (Kathryn Munson), Quincy Fouse (Nate Munson).
There is a uniformity to superhero movies that I find more than a little disappointing. I’ve heard people defend the genre as saying its nothing more than the modern day Western genre – except that ignores the fact that during the heyday of the Western (the 1930s-1970s) you had artists such as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, Sam Peckinpah, Anthony Mann, and many (many) others doing all sorts of very interesting, very different things with the genre – something that unfortunately hasn’t really happened with the superhero movies of the 2000-present era. The films, unless they’re directed Christopher Nolan, feel they come off an assembly line whose main purpose is to set up the next product to come off that same assembly line– and while that assembly line often ends up making a high quality, highly entertaining product, I wish there was a more personal touch to many of the films. That’s one of the main reasons why James Mangold’s Logan is the best the genre has produced – outside the Nolan Batman films – in recent years. The film feels like the personal vision of a filmmaker – and doesn’t have to worry about sequels, prequels etc. – the next chapter as it were. The movie exists by itself – and yet benefits from all the times we’ve seen Hugh Jackman play this character before (not to mention Patrick Stewart as Professor X). The film has weight – and real stakes. The action is more brutal (perhaps too brutal to be honest) and more personal. And like the best of the genre, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
The year is 2029, and mutants are all but extinct. There are a few left – like Logan aka Wolverine, and that’s because his body heals himself, making him pretty much immortal. But even he is not doing very well lately – he’s older and slower – and his wounds take much longer to heel than they once did. In short, he’s dying. He’s still better off than Professor X – who Logan keeps locked up in a huge oil tank in Mexico – under the eye of Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and drugged up to boot. Professor X has some sort of progressive brain disease – Alzheimer’s, ALS, etc. – which is dangerous in the world’s most powerful brain. Logan has a plan to get them both out of harm’s way – to set sail on a boat, and die in peace. But before he can do that, he is approached by Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) – who says her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) needs his help to get to North Dakota. Long story short, it turns out Laura and Logan have a lot in common – and that Laura has a team of paramilitary troops lead by Piece (Boyd Holbrook) on her trail – determined to capture and/or kill her. True to form, Logan reluctantly agrees to help – spurring a road trip for him, Laura and Professor X.
Director James Mangold is the right choice of director here – he has a history with the character (having directed 2013’s The Wolverine – a not bad film itself) – but more importantly being a director who would probably be directing Westerns if he could today. His 3:10 to Yuma remake – with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe – is one of the better modern, big budget Westerns – and his breakthrough film CopLand (1997) starring Sylvester Stallone, is essentially a Western itself – just one set in modern day New York. Logan unmistakably references Westerns throughout – I’ve heard it called the Unforgiven of superhero movies, and that’s not a bad descriptor. Mangold also knows action sequences – and here he outdoes himself. The action in the film is brutal and bloody and uncompromising – coming fast and furious, but expertly staged – avoiding the trap of shaky camera work and rapid fire editing so many modern directors think passes for action direction these days. The action sequences in the movie hurt – you feel it when the characters are fighting, and take their lumps.
The film’s greatest strength though has to be the weight of the interpersonal relationships – and how they develop. Part of that work has been done by our long connection to both Logan and Professor X – stretching back to 2000’s X-Men – now. Seeing them older, and more beaten and broken than ever before brings unexpected weight to the film. The very real bond between the two of them – contentious at times, pained is relatable. Watching Logan take care of Professor X will resonate with anyone who has had to take care of a dying parent (or seen those who have done it) – an oddly, real world problem this superhero movie goes for – and pulls off. Both Jackman and Stewart – knowing this is their last time with these characters – go for broke, and deliver two of the best performances the genre has to offer. The relationship between Logan and Laura also deepens, and becomes surprisingly emotional by the end.
If there was one thing I wished the film had cut back on, it’s all the swearing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a lot of swearing (I love Tarantino and Mamet for example), but like last year’s Deadpool, I think this film mistakes a lot of swear words (and more blood in the violence) for more maturity – something Logan would have even without that. It just struck me as the film trying too hard for something it was already doing quite well.
But that’s mainly a tiny complaint, of a movie I really did love. I wish more studios would give directors the freedom to do something like Logan – a superhero movie not beholden to sequels, prequels, etc. – and just went ahead a told a great story on its own terms. It’s the way you get a film this great.