Movie review: "Logan" Is A Brutal and Emotional Masterpeice

Starring High Jackman, Patrick Stewart,  Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, eriq LaSalle and Dafne Keen
Screenplay by Scott Frank, Michael Green and James Mangold
Directed by James Mangold 

Reviewed by Paul & Patrick Gibbs

Out of Four

The X-Men franchise has had spectacular ups and downs since its debut in 2000, but our fondness for the franchise has remained a steady presence. We went into the first movie with only a passing familiarity with the source material, but we were quickly hooked by it, and like most everyone else, one of the key factors for us was this unknown Australian actor, Hugh Jackman, who played Wolverine. The actor and the character commanded the screen from the get go, with a roguish sense of mystery, and strong physicality.  There was the inescapable feeling of a complex, tortured soul in there, a soul capable of great good, and perhaps great evil. Jackman has played the role now for 17 years. To put this in perspective, consider that when Jackman started, Pierce Brosnan was still Bond, George Clooney was tentatively still Batman, Bill Clinton still had a few months left in office, and nobody was Spider-Man yet. Not since Christopher Reeve flew in out of nowhere to win the role of the Man of Steel has any actor been so synonymously tied with a superhero, and unlike Superman, nobody else had played Wolverine in live action before. In an age where established properties matter more than stars, Jackman was Wolverine, and together the two were perhaps the biggest star in Hollywood. His final outing in the role marks the end of an era, and the beginning of an uncertain "not too distant future" for the franchise.

Loosely inspired by the "Old Man Logan comic book series, the new film is set in an unspecified time, one in which no new mutants have been born for two decades. Logan is finally getting old, and his heeling factor is becoming less and less powerful. He is scraping a living as a limo driver in a town on the Mexican border and hustling for medication that he takes out south to a remote, makeshift home he shares with a mysterious albino mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), where the two of them take care of and hide Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is old, infirmed, and suffering from a condition akin to dementia. He's also wanted by the government, but not as a criminal: he's classified as a weapon of mass destruction. The Professor's dreams of a next stage in evolution appear to have died out, though he is not willing to face the facts of no more mutants. "Maybe we were God's mistake," Logan muses. But the Professor's belief in more mutants gains some ground when a mysterious woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) tracks Logan down and begs for his help with her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), a young mutant being pursued by dark forces.

Logan stands apart from previous attempts at a solo Wolverine film, succeeding spectacularly at taking the character to a whole new level. Not only is it better than The Wolverine, it's James Mangold's best film since 3:10 To Yuma, and as you've probably heard by now, Logan plays as much like a western as it does a superhero film. In fact, it may be the best and heaviest dramatic western since Unforgiven.  Much talk has been made out of the film's R-Rating (or 15 in the U.K.), and we were skeptical as to whether this would play as merely a gimmick to appeal to the Deadpool crowd, or even worse, the kind of lazy "we'll let the R-Rating do all of the work for us" approach of A Good Day To Die Hard. But while there is a little bit of a feeling of reveling in the ability to drop F-bombs everywhere in the first 15 minutes, one becomes very quickly swept up into the bleak atmosphere, and the content feels more than justified. It's a different, darker and seemingly hopeless world, and if that was filtered, it wouldn't have the same impact.  The intensity of the violence is definitely going somewhere, adding quite a bit to the raw emotion of the final section.

Mangold, who has always been a strong actor's director, has assembled a great cast, but Jackman and Stewart stand out, making the most of this chance to explore a new side to the characters. Stewart is complex, soulful and touching as he depicts the world's most powerful mind slowly losing control, and Jackman is really allowed to work with a broader emotional palette than ever before (at times they very much bring to mind the complicated dynamic of Lear and Kent in King Lear.). Logan's physical and emotional pain is palpable, and his world-weary demeanor is more tragic than comic. This is a Wolverine who is tired of his long life and wondering if any of it meant anything at all, whose only remaining emotional tie is to Xavier. Jackman's performance is rich and multi-layered, and we see all of those decades of life and loss in his eyes. It's a superhero performance for the ages, and the character work displayed here brings to mind Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Here, Wolverine is not merely a great comic book character, he's a great character, one with enough dramatic depth to deserve serious award consideration. 

Cinematographer John Mathieson (Gladiator) and composer Marco Beltrami both add to the dark western feel without ever overplaying it, and Mangold is in top form, giving us a film worthy of the director of Cop Land and Walk The Line. The remarkable performance by young newcomer Dafne Keen as Laura reflects not only on Mangold the director but on Jackman and Stewart as well, and while the credit "A Film By James Mangold" feels solidly earned, there is the unmistakable sense of a group of people working together with great passion for the project and the characters. A polar opposite to the slapdash commercialism of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this film is truly a labor of love.

It's important not to brush aside the harsh content: this is not a movie for kids, loaded with graphic violence, harsh language and brief female nudity, and it's going to be too rough even for some adult X-Men fans. It's an unflinchingly gritty journey about finding a glimmer of hope and purpose in seemingly hopeless times, and being willing to dig down inside yourself and fight the part of you that is still willing to fight for something. It's a poignant film that is both energizing and exhausting for true fans, and when the end of the year rolls around, you can expect to see Logan showing up on ten best lists. Every other comic book based film coming in 2017 has a very tough act to follow, though Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is hardly aiming at the same audience, and that's a good thing. We certainly don't want every superhero movie to be Logan, but we can't think of a better way to send such a groundbreaking cinematic legend off into the sunset.

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