I recently saw Logan twice within a twenty-four hour period. The first time I saw it, I was unfortunate enough to be in the same theater as a family with no real film-manners to speak of. For the entirety of the picture’s run time, they made all manner of noise. The children whined (as a side note, Logan is rated R and is not a good choice for young kids under ten, which these kids were); the father’s phone went off (he failed to silence it), and he frequently felt the need to comment on what was happening in the picture; and the mother cursed (using the f-word more than once) at her children and, for the last fifteen minutes of the movie, flicked her fingers repeatedly against the brim of her hat, producing a loud, staccato rattle that droned over the movie. This was by far the worst experience I’ve ever had in a movie theater*. Naturally, it was hard to focus on the film itself while having to deal with all that; and since I could not give Logan my full attention, I didn’t think it fair to review the movie after that viewing; so I decided to see it again the following evening. Thankfully, it was a much calmer experience.
And I must say, I’m really glad I gave it another watch; because while I was not all that impressed by what I saw the first time through, my second viewing revealed many things that I had missed while being distracted**; and I’m happy to say that Logan is both a good film and a fitting send off to Hugh Jackman’s run as Wolverine.
Directed by James Mangold — who helmed Wolverine’s previous solo effort, The Wolverine, as well as 2005’s Johnny Cash-biopic, Walk the Line — Logan is a Western-Action-Drama depicting the last days of James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine. Set in 2029 in the American West and Mexico, the film shows an aging Logan in a world that is becoming increasingly violent and dystopian. Mutants have nearly gone extinct, with the few remaining living on the fringes as outcasts and fugitives, marked to die. Logan, whose body has begun to succumb to adamantium poisoning, splits his time between being a chauffeur and tending to an elderly and mentally-ill Professor Xavier, whose failing mind has made him a danger to himself and everyone around him and who has therefore gone into hiding. The plot is set into motion when Logan meets a young girl, Laura, who turns out to be his “daughter,” a result of experimentation with his DNA by an evil organization. Now being pursued, Logan, Professor Xavier, and Laura set out in search of Eden, a remote location in North Dakota where it is rumored they can find safety.
I wouldn’t call Logan a happy movie. It’s very somber, gritty, and violent at times (it gets its money’s worth out of R-rated gore, I assure you), but that mostly works to the film’s benefit. It’s a serious take on a comic book character that gets you to examine deep questions regarding life, death, and the legacy we leave behind; and I’m a fan of that approach to the material. Wolverine has always been a tortured hero, and I’d argue that, of all the X-Men movies, Logan is the most successful at addressing that. Hugh Jackman gives a great performance, as always; and the film has many moments that allow him to reveal his character’s anguish, both in big ways, such as how his body has begun to fail him and the pain the comes with it, and in smaller ways, such as through some well-written dialogue between him and Xavier and him and Laura that reveals his angers, sorrows, and doubts. If this is indeed his last turn as Wolverine, Jackman has certainly given it his all here.
I think my favorite part about this movie is seeing Logan interact with his daughter. The actress who plays her, Dafne Keen, is really talented despite only being 12; and she plays the role with a very unique kind of anger, fitting for the daughter of Wolverine. More over, the film never devolves into any kind of forced silliness that often comes with joining child actors with established heroes (I’m looking at you, Temple of Doom). Rather, the film treats her very seriously, and there are truly terrific stretches of film showing her and Logan learning to get along. Additionally, the presence of this character in the story brings with it a really strong dichotomy between young and old, innocent and corrupted, hope and doubt, that the movie really benefits from. It reinforces and adds nuance to the movie’s themes of aging, death, and legacy; and the picture is all the better for it.
I said earlier that Logan was partly a Western; and you’ll see that influence throughout the film in terms of setting, landscape, and themes. Particularly noteworthy is the rather direct nod of this film back to the 1953 classic, Shane, part of which is shown in the movie and which is also used for thematic inspiration, particularly at the end. I really like this Western influence, mostly because I am a fan of Westerns but also because it dovetails so well with the character of Wolverine. He is a modern outlaw/cowboy in some sense, and it’s fitting to see him in a world indicative of the Western genre. Now, I have heard some criticism of this concept of superhero movies co-opting other genres. Some argue that it winds up overshadowing more straightforward genre entries. For example, people will see a film like Logan, which is partially a Western-Drama, but they will pass up a non-superhero Western-Drama like Hell or High Water. I think that’s partially true. On the other hand I’d also like to think that a film like Logan, or any other superhero film that takes clear inspiration from a particular genre, could potentially turn people on to that genre when they might other wise have not had any interest. As a related anecdote, I only saw acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurisawa’s samurai pictures because more modern movies drew inspiration from them. My point is that I think this superheroes-using-genres trend can run both ways in terms of benefiting film culture, and at the very least it’s certainly justified with Logan.
Overall I thought Logan was a very well made movie; but it’s worth noting that it’s not perfect. There a few things, mainly plot points, in the picture that I don’t think really work. One involves a back story about a prior event involving Professor Xavier that, while seemingly having huge ramifications, feels under-explained at best. As a side note, Patrick Stewart, who gives his final turn as Professor Xavier in this picture, is good here; but, without giving too much of way, I would have preferred him being in the film a little longer than he is. Another problem with this movie involves a straight up clone of Wolverine that feels clumsily inserted into the picture. I get what they were trying to do but I don’t think it quite works as presented. And lastly, while I think it’s kind of cool to hear superheroes occasionally use the f-word to remind us of their frustrations and humanity, much of its use in this film is just excessive and gratuitous and doesn’t really add to anything. I think the writers just got so excited that this was going to be R-rated that they got a little carried away with the language. They could have dialed it down somewhat.
But as a whole Logan is a really great, enjoyable, and at times quite emotional picture. When the curtain closed on Wolverine for the last time, I admit I was moved; and if that’s not a sign of powerful filmmaking, I don’t know what is. Additionally, I’m a little sad that this is going to be the last time Jackman plays the character; we were incredibly lucky to have an actor like him commit to the role for a generation. But I understand his desire to move on, and this is a very fitting note to go out on. I just hope that who ever plays the character next — and believe me, they will get someone else to play him sooner rather than later, I’m sure of that — puts as much passion and effort into the role as Jackman did. So yeah, if you are the right age, I do recommend checking this film out.
*Looking back, I wish I had tried to find someone at the theater to address the issue to, but no one was immediately around and I did not wish to miss parts of the movie.
**Seriously, I was amazed by how much I missed due to those people being so bothersome. Now is as good a time as any to remind people to be courteous in theaters. It detracts from other people’s experience in more ways than one.