Movie Review: Logan

From director James Mangold, who has now effectively delivered some of the best solo Wolverine films in the X-Men franchise, comes his radical and breath-taking follow-up to 2013's The Wolverine in Logan. Working not only as an emotional send-off for Hugh Jackman's ferocious character, but also a fascinating dissection of what a character-driven comic-book movie can become, Logan blended both heart-wrenching drama and gut-wrenching violence to deliver one of the most dynamic and defining superhero films since The Dark Knight.

(Contains minor spoilers from Logan)

While the not-so-distant future of massive, enslaving robot Sentinels depicted in 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past presented the ultimate end to mutant kind, we find ourselves now in a far more desolate future, where mutants have become victims to both violent experimentation and crippling extinction. With a single incident presumably wiping out the remainder of the X-Men, only Logan (Hugh Jackman), Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and a handful of other mutants remain in this broken landscape. The landscape isn't the only thing that's broken, however. With Logan relinquishing his past with the X-Men for a life of drunken solitude, and Xavier suffering from a neurodegenerative disease with catastrophic consequences, the two have found themselves shadowed from society, turning a blind eye to the horrors of their past. It's not until a mysterious girl with similar abilities to Logan appears that the two must jump back into action, pushing both Logan and Xavier to their limits in order to prevent a more devastating future.

It began some 17 years ago, when a young, scruffy-looking Australian named Hugh Jackman entered the unpredictable cage match known as the X-Men franchise. Fighting his way through every trial and tribulation every since, Jackman has defined not only his calling in the comic-book movie genre, but also the grisly and deeply-troubled humanity of Wolverine. Putting as much effort as he can muster into every film that featured the character (yes, even X-Men Origins), Jackman has created an emotionally-charged, sincere yet ruthless beast that has skyrocketed the 20th Century Fox franchise to new heights. With Logan presumably being Jackman's last run as the clawed character, the impact of this singular film was without a doubt going to be high. With Jackman redefining the character for over 17 years, maturing and sculpting the mutant both mentally and physically, Logan took our every perception of the character and broke them down like never before. In the end, what works best in the film, and what made it such a defining chapter, was the phenomenal and heart-breaking character study at its core.

While I'll touch on Jackman's "sculpting" later on, another element that initially drew me to this film was its radical new landscape, as well as its more grounded approach to the superhero genre. One of the first things I noticed about this project was that it was like nothing we've seen before, or at least in the last couple years. Moving away from the traditional "big bad" we've become accustomed to seeing in the genre, Logan opted for a far more fascinating move, as its hero (if you can even call him that) wasn't saving the world or stopping an impossible foe, but rather fighting himself. While that might have more meanings that one, Logan presented a film that didn't use generic comic-book movie ploys to draw us in, but rather strung out its central character until there was almost nothing left. Doing so, the audience was able to explore the hostile yet desolate environment that Logan now inhabits. An environment of hatred, loss, regret, one we might not be fully prepared for.

The setting of the film acted as a character in itself, or rather an extension of the characters we saw on-screen. The X-Men have disbanded, Professor Xavier, the once-determined guide for lost souls, is now as lost as his students, and Logan is debating what is worse: living out his mediocre life of pain and solitude, or putting an adamantium bullet through his skull. The harsh landscape has changed these characters we once knew from the original X-Men trilogy into hardened yet broken versions of themselves. Products of immense guilt, suffering, and longing for death, they are far from the characters we knew. That's what made a film like Logan such a dynamic force in the X-Men franchise, it didn't pit a massive foe like Magneto or Apocalypse against a team, but broken individuals against themselves. The element worked not only to elevate the characters of Logan and Charles Xavier to more complex heights, but allow the audience to truly feel for the characters, not simply as comic-book portrayals, but as actually human beings...or mutants in this case.

The tone of the film, which felt very much like a western drama rather than a glossy superhero film, impacted the film and its characters as well. That tone, while not defined by it, was majorly affected by the film's R-rating. While this did allow the film to adopt a much more grisly and grown-up approach to Wolverine's signature method of getting things done (you know, slicing and dicing and all that jazz), it also allowed the film to project its characters in a whole new light. As I mentioned before, the characters of Logan and Xavier are not the same ones we know from previous films. While watching Logan spew out an F-bomb multiple times might have been entertaining, it was far more interesting to see how unhinged and somewhat-uncharacteristic it was to see the crippled persona of Charles Xavier lay out the R-rated language. For me, this presented a whole new dynamic in the character that we've never seen before, one that felt almost natural. As emotionally -- and physically -- broken a character as Xavier is, after years of building a team only to see it burnt to the ground, it was fascinating to watch how fragile and unfiltered his psyche has become.

With both the desolate setting and the emotional tone fueling the performances of both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, the two delivered some of their best work in all of the X-Men series. With the original trilogy only scratching the surface of Charles Xavier's emotional complexity, and X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past diving into his relationship with Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto, Logan managed to apply a new layer to that complexity, delving into his true attachment to the X-Men. Stewart's stunning performance was coupled only by an equally-complex performance by the one and only Hugh Jackman. Wringing out not only Wolverine's pure rage in the film's action, but also his immense guilt and regret as Logan's body and mind deteriorates, Jackman transformed himself from the scruffy anti-hero we knew into a character we could almost see as the antagonist. Showing him as his darkest point, where death seems like the only solution, and then suddenly deeming him a father figure to a creation of violence and rage very much like him, the film was able to extract what defined the character, as well as why Jackman is the sole barrier of the character's complicated humanity.

While the film was very much a character study of Wolverine and Xavier as broken versions of their past selves, director James Mangold was also able to introduce a character that not only worked into that study, but also created a captivating entity all its own. One of the many highlights of the film had to be the character of Laura, brought to life by newcomer Dafne Keen. As violent and stubborn as Logan, while also retaining a very similar hostility, Keen debuted to fantastic acclaim, as her character brought another layer of emotional significance to the film. While Keen's fate of whether or not she'll follow in the violent footsteps of Logan remains unclear, the hostile and genuinely bad-ass character of Laura is definitely one I'd like to see again.

Boyd Holbrook's slithering head of security also delivered
a minor but effective performance as the film's semi-antagonist

Overall, while my mind might still be reeling constantly from this film, I'll sum up the film in a few words. Turning the superhero genre on its head, Logan delivers what I see as the culmination -- and ultimate conclusion -- of the Wolverine character on the big screen. While the fate of Hugh Jackman's involvement in the films might be up in the air, there really could have been no better way to send his character off than how James Mangold did in Logan. A film of complex emotions, brutal but conservative action, and fantastic performances, Logan solidified the legacy of a great character, and opened the doors to brilliant new ways of bringing comic-book character to the silver screen.

I gave Logan a 9 out 10 for its fantastic character study, its unhinged and breath-taking landscape of guilt and regret, and its unsettling violence that worked to tell a story, rather than just shed some blood.

When Hugh Jackman took the role of Wolverine some 17 years ago, my eyes were opened to an actor of incredible ferocity and versatility. With his career spanning not only films, but also a gracious amount of theater performances, I continue to be intrigued about Jackman's roles outside of the one that made him a star back in 2000. With that, stay tuned next week for my breakdown of Jackman's career as March's Silver Screen Spotlight. 

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