A film that is often hailed as The Dark Knight of its franchise, in some ways Logan is actually better than the Caped Crusader’s most beloved outing. Its tighter, more focused, far more intense, and ultimately, more emotional. Logan strips away all the extraneous elements that so often bog down super hero franchise films until nothing is left but the core of the audience’s emotional connection to the film: its characters. We don’t care about saving the world. We don’t care about super powers, explosions, or spectacle. We care about these people: Logan and Charles. This is the most intimate and authentic portrayal of these characters ever put on screen and it is by far the best film in Fox’s X-Men franchise.
From its very first scene, Logan sets itself apart from its predecessors by embracing its R rating and giving us a dramatic tonal shift. The first word the titular hero speaks is, “Fuck” followed by The Wolverine’s most brutal, gore filled killing spree ever captured on camera. Free of the constraints of PG-13, the feral beast is at last unchained. Adamantium claws protrude from the heads of impaled assailants, appendages are separated from their owners, and showers of blood and meat splatter the ground with every swing, all while our hero endures more gunfire punishment than we have ever seen before. The visceral impact of each injury he sustains is keenly felt by the audience because, for the first time, the seemingly invincible Wolverine is brought low by the one enemy no one can defeat: age.
Logan is old. His healing factor has slowed and at last his lifetime of injuries have caught up with him. The man from X-Men 2 who memorably screamed, “If you want to shoot me then shoot me!” is now left staggering and bleeding when the bad guys turn their guns on him. Action scenes in Logan never feel like simple, entertaining affairs meant to showcase super powers and wet fanboy pants. Here, they are raw, emotional moments more akin to what one experiences in a war film. The punishment our hero endures and inflicts is shown with such realism and intensity that it lends the entire film greater authenticity and emotional impact. In fact, Logan does this so well that it retroactively neuters the rest of its franchise, even the better installments like Days of Future Past. Previous outings now feel like toothless, childish affairs and Logan has no interest in associating itself with them.
This is very much a standalone film. Though part of the X-Men franchise, and technically the third solo Wolverine film, Logan disregards the series’ convoluted timeline – to its immense benefit. Set in 2029 in a world where mutants have been hunted to near extinction by a hostile regime, Logan seems to regard the rest of the franchise with subtle derision. This is the first X-Men movie to overtly show X-Men comics and toys, and Logan resents that his life and the lives of his friends have been commodified and merchandised by money hungry corporations. Logan casts aside the comics and calls them “bullshit”, implying that the films we’ve been watching all these years are also part of that fictionalized world and are bullshit too. This is the first real X-Men movie. Logan takes nothing from its predecessors other than the audience’s established love and sympathy for its lead characters.
In a franchise known for being so character dense that you often can’t keep track of all their names, Logan has just three: the man himself, played by Hugh Jackman, Charles Xavier, played by Patrick Stewart, and the newly introduced Laura, or X-23, played by newcomer Dafne Keen (more on her later). Much like its spiritual predecessor Deadpool, this film benefits from this reduction in scale and tightening of focus. The plot is simple rather than complex and the stakes are personal rather than global. The result is a character film driven by our two favorite franchise leads, one that is remarkably intimate and relatable.
At its core, Logan is a film about family – about generations and the ravages of time. In the same way that Logan is coping with the degradation of his body, so too is Charles dealing with the degradation of his mind. Deep into his 90s, Charles, the man with the most powerful brain on earth, has dementia. Logan’s struggle to care for the ailing professor recalls the experiences each of us have had in dealing with an aging grandparent. His flashes of lucidity and dislike of his medication lend an undercurrent of greater realism and deeper sadness to what is already an emotional film.
Into this dynamic is thrust Laura, X-23, a girl who is very much like Logan, and suddenly, our aging heroes have a daughter. Younger and more raw than Logan himself, Laura is exemplarily played by Dafne Keen in her feature film debut. Laconic and feral, she displays both the savagery of a cornered animal, and the innocence and vulnerability of a child. Her’s is a largely nonverbal performance, and that makes the depth of character she portrays all the more impressive. It is entirely possible that Logan may be playing host to the rise of a new child star. Only time will tell.
The way in which Laura’s presence shifts the family dynamic is what drives much of the drama in the film. Logan is forced into the guiding role of teacher and protector, Charles becomes a paternal, grandfatherly figure who once again finds purpose in the raising of young minds, while Laura herself slowly emerges from her sociopathic shell. There is an implicit sense of passing the torch underlying the relationship among the three generations of this family, and the way in which this is brought to fruition in the third act finale is by far the most deeply moving conclusion in any comic book film.
Logan is the rare sequel which utterly surpasses its predecessors. It transcends not only its franchise, but its genre and its source material. With brutal authenticity and utter conviction, Logan delivers the Wolverine movie we’ve always deserved – a fitting finale and farewell for stars Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. It is a shame that Fox too is not saying goodbye to the X-Men. The departure of its stars lends the ending of the film an even greater sense of finality. This feels like the place the franchise should end, but of course it won’t. Fox will go back to business as usual in their other timelines and the next film they produce will inevitably fall flat in comparison to this masterpiece.