Those are the first words that come out of Hugh Jackman’s mouth in Logan. He then proceeds to slice, dice, and brutalize every last vato trying to jack his ride. This is the Wolverine you’ve always dreamt of seeing on screen. All previous X-Men film have had this veneer of cleanliness whenever they’ve shown Logan cutting loose (though I admit that the raid scene from X2 is still pretty cool) — claws go in, man goes down, not a single drop of blood. This time you see limbs flying, faces getting impaled, and blood gushing left and right. From Logan‘s first scene, the tone of the film is set. This isn’t a kid’s picture, far from it. Everything is far from pretty; It is visceral, gritty, and with lots of blood. And yet, this film is more than that because just like its titular character, Logan may deliver on the violence but its core is touching, human, and poignant even.
The year is 2029, mutantkind is near extinct, no new mutants have cropped up in the last generation. Wolverine (who now goes by his birth name James Howlett) is now a pale shadow of who he was —his near 200 years on this planet is finally catching up on him as wounds don’t heal as easily anymore, claws take time to pop, there’s now a limp to his walk, and he is seemingly being poisoned by the adamantium in his body. He is weathered, beaten, and broke in every sense of word. Now driving a limo for a living, whatever little he earns, he uses to care for an ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) — now senile and basically a weapon of mass destruction, hurting a lot of people in the past with his psychic seizures. A bleak future for the two, not in the dark-skied Days of Future Past dystopian kind of way, but subtler, drearier. This seemingly spiraling life of self-loathing and deprecation is soon interrupted by the arrival of a young mutant forced into their care. Feral, temperamental, near-mute, and dangerous, she soon brings the pair back into the fold as they are forced to ferry her up north, mercenaries hot on her trail.
The concept of reformed killing machines never escaping their past has long been examined on film and TV. From John Wick, Taken, to Cowboy Bebop, retired bad-asses are ubiquitous on film. But choosing to present Logan under this guise, choosing to create a superhero film under this lens, it’s refreshing. It makes the genre more than the fast food Marvel has made it to be (no disrespect though). Loosely based on Mark Millar’s seminal comic Old Man Logan, Director James Mangold chooses to forego all the “superhero-ness” of the story and leaves it stripped-down, character-based. In a genre now all about interconnectedness, banking on the potential of crossovers and team-ups, Logan is isolated and focused; it stands alone. This is what makes the film work so well, it understands that Logan as a character works better when it shies away from spectacle. Logan is not Superman who shines through scenes of him catching planes mid-flight, or Spider-man stopping a derailed train. Large scale doesn’t work for him. With him, it must be up close and personal, not just in the way he kills, but in terms of storytelling as well.
Introspection takes focus in Logan by pairing Hugh Jackman’s character to the superb Dafne Keen‘s X-23 (or Laura as she is fondly-called). This creates a Lone Wolf and Cub-esque dynamic: the world-weary samurai becoming a guardian, and in the process finding a reason to live. This is nothing new for X-Men films, Logan has had this kind of relationship with Rogue and Shadowcat in the past but choosing this to take the main spotlight in a film, complementing it with the weariness of this old and beaten Wolverine, this makes the narrative a lot more intimate, a lot more human. The theme of family is what permeates, and it is through Logan’s reluctance, uneasiness to the feeling of comfort that we get to realize how traumatized, how tormented this man is. The gravity of which we’ve never truly seen in Wolverine’s past outings. It is him getting past this, the killer letting his guard down, that’s the real conflict in this film.
It’s a given that Hugh Jackman is not pulling any stops in his last outing as Wolverine. Angry, tired, borderline suicidal, Jackman gets the character of Old Man Logan down to it core, he is talented no doubt about it. It is Dafne Keen though as Laura that serves as the biggest highlight of the film. I don’t think any superhero movie has ever taken the daunting task of presenting children in such a dark light before. The mutant children here engage in self-harm, they were raised dehumanized, as killing machines, and Laura embodies all this rage, this tarnishing of youth. It’s uneasy seeing how easily she can shift from childlike wonder to killing machine without batting an eye. She acts as mirror to Logan and it’s through this shared pain that they connect. It’s an added feat that she spends most of the movie without dialogue, conveying that anger through simple nuances.
Logan’s maturity at times though can be too on the nose. During the earlier parts of the movie, cursing seems more like a novelty rather than natural to the dialogue. It’s as if the writers had a field day, an excitement to the fact that they now can curse on film. They peppered almost every character’s line with the F-word and I found myself thinking “Ok, I get it. This is R-rated.” Logan, also, at times feels longer than its actual runtime. Yes, it’s a road movie, with multiple stops, but they could have trimmed off the fat a bit (here’s looking at you farm scene). These are gripes though that can be dismissed, they don’t make this tale any less gripping. The biggest shame of Logan though is that it took three movies to get the character right; The third and, unfortunately, the last time we’ll get to see Wolverine in this kind of glory on film.
Logan is a bittersweet farewell. It’s a swan song that takes this character we’ve seen on screen for the past 18 years and gives us a deeper appreciation to it. It’s a tribute that is beyond the blood, that is beyond the heroics. It’s is a tribute to life itself, to a life lived. In a way it kicks the trend of making things “darker, edgier, grittier” in its face because here the grit is just a means to present a tale uplifting, touching. Logan is a poignant reflection on finding meaning amidst the chaos. It’s a tale of hope, of finding strength in others, of salvation.