“Logan” opens in the darkest reaches of the “X-Men” universe. A broken and defeated Wolverine, drunk on liquor and the paralysis of his past, is the hero we’re introduced to. Not the typical superhero greeting, no, but “Logan” is the opposite of what superhero films have become today. Big on spectacle and faded on emotion, most of the common superhero lot offer only blind escapism from the problems of the world. Meanwhile, “Logan” dares to be many of the issues humanity faces, as it crafts itself as a somber telling of life, family, love and, above all, the ever-growing closeness that is death.
Don’t let such heavy themes dissuade you from purchasing a ticket. The film is still descended from classic superhero stories we’ve enjoyed from the “X-Men” series for almost two decades. While those films have crept along, suturing themselves with complacency and genre safety, “Logan” steps beyond the bounds of convention. “Logan” is not the antithesis of those films. In many ways this movie is as familiar as the title character, except here his claws are used to rupture the sutures that have made the “X-Men” series (besides 2015’s Deadpool) what it is.
Many lesser movies can be crafted around a single word. Once the credits roll, that resounding adjective marks that movie’s merits in a simplified and often dull expression. “Mind-Bending” is Marvel’s Doctor Strange, while “terrifying” is the Nightmare on Elm Street series. To describe “Logan” in any specific fashion would be a disservice to what director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman have accomplished. “Logan” is a puzzle without an end picture, with parts of brutality, of morality, of philosophy and humanity being its chosen pieces.
Set in the future world of 2029, most mutants have been killed off. Wolverine (Jackman) runs a limousine service to scrounge money together to purchase medication for a withered Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). When outside forces place a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) in their midst, the film sets off. Part road-trip, part slasher and part drama, “Logan” sees itself as a melting pot of genres, taking influences from such diverse films as Mad Max: Fury Road to The Dark Knight.
After the success of the R-rated Deadpool, “Logan” was given the same ratings treatment, though for different reasons. Whereas Deadpool used its rating for vulgar jokes and innuendo, “Logan” molds its R-rating behind striking violence and brutality. From the opening-scene, this film earns its rating as Wolverine hacks off limbs and stabs his claws through human faces. The violence that’s racked up can be a bit much for the squeamish, but for those who’ve craved an ideal depiction of Wolverine and his beast-like tendencies, there is no better portrayal.
The Wolverine character has become synonymous with Hugh Jackman, who has played the character since the 2000’s X-Men. Seventeen years later and Jackman is still portraying the character, still peeling back new layers to a man who has been shown on film nine times. Most of that is from the different person that Wolverine has become in this film. When once Wolverine’s body was corded by muscle, it is now a raw map of scars. The character’s healing factor has slowed and Wolverine, after living since the Civil War era, has finally turned old. That the character’s invulnerability is gone makes him more human, one who must face the mistakes of his past and the inevitability of his future.
Jackman, as ever, deserves praise of the highest for modeling this character and still adding new facets of intrigue to him. Jackman plays vulnerable, savage and sincere, sometimes in one scene.
The biggest surprise comes in Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier. Coming into the film series in the same film as Jackman, Stewart’s portrayal of the wheelchair-bound mentor has always been marked by intelligence and calm that made the character, for better or worse, seem a bit robotic. In “Logan,” Xavier degenerates quickly, with his all-powerful mind plagued by a neuro-degenerative disease. The world’s greatest mind is faltering, but that opens Xavier up to more human means, as he is inhabited by guilt for a disaster he created in the past. Stewart has never been better as the character; moments of frailty are evened out by comedic choices and deeply-emotional scenes.
With their powers weakened, those things that granted them a specific privilege of immortality or some semblance of it, these characters are more open to the viewer. It is a nerve-racking and often pain-staking reality to come to terms with mortality. While that realization has faced every mortal being with its inevitability, for these characters it must seem more an epiphany than anything else. And with these revelations come meditations on the past, where Logan realizes he’s never felt something akin to love or family, only partial ruins of both in the form of his former X-Men teammates . A life without achievement in love is one seemingly without cause, and that is one of the moral dilemmas that Wolverine must overcome in the film.
The superhero genre has its merits of fun escapism, but never is it so bold as to defy, or even obliterate, convention. Characters in this genre are typically covered in the flash of computer effects and one-liners, but not in “Logan.” Here they are the center of the film, its organs and flesh and bone that compile it into a truly human experience. Films rarely feel so fresh and, after 17 years of Wolverine on film, are never so deserved. If this truly is Jackman’s final time portraying the character, then he has given the final ingredient to make the mutant whole: humanity.