The phrase “not a superhero movie” has been thrown around a lot since the modern superhero film surge started primarily by Bryan Singer’s X-Men back in 1999. It’s been associated with such films as the Watchmen, the Dark Knight, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Man of Steel.
The problem with this codifying of dark super hero movies as “not super hero movies” is that, well, they are super hero movies. Of the list above, the farthest one that strayed from the genre was Watchmen, and that was because Alan Moore wrote that graphic novel specifically to spite the super hero comic book realm. That being said, it was still reacting against a movement, and the best way to do that is to mine it for tropes to alter.
I say all this to let you know that when I call James Mangold’s Logan “not a super hero film” I do not mean it as inherent praise or condemnation. Instead, it is a statement of fact.
Because of this, you are probably wondering why I’m even talking about it since this is a website built upon mainstream super hero culture. I’ll explain that to you now.
Those films I previously mentioned, especially Watchmen, Man of Steel, and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice are super hero films that desperately want to not be super hero films. Hell, you could even clump the first three X-Men films in that category, even though the first two still hold up pretty well.
To contrast this, Logan is a film that isn’t a super hero film, but the characters in the movie, specifically Laura and Charles Xavier, desperately wish that it was. Where those aforementioned movies struggled against the super hero genre, Logan has immense respect for it while existing outside of it from a narrative and technical standpoint.
For the few of you that haven’t seen it yet, the plot is as follows. It’s the year 2029, and James “Logan” Howlett (Hugh Jackman) is working as a limousine driver in south Texas. Most of the mutant population is gone, and the prejudice against what is left of them has not disappeared. He lives just south of the border with Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant with enhanced senses who can track other mutants, and the now very old Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Xavier’s mind is deteriorating, and his powers are malfunctioning to dramatic extremes.
A woman named Angela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) tracks down Logan and pleads with him to escort her daughter, Laura (Dafnee Keen), to South Dakota. Logan turns her down.
However, through a series of unforeseen circumstances, Logan and Xavier are forced to take on Laura in the hopes of making it to this mythical location called “Eden” which Angela and Laura heard about from X-Men comics.
Pursuing them are the Reavers, a band of bloodthirsty mercenaries led by Doctor Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) and Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). It turns into a bloody cross-country chase where Logan, Xavier, and Laura must struggle against their pursuers as well as the deteriorating powers of the elder mutants to survive and make it to Eden.
One thing you may have gleaned from that description is that this is a very depressing movie. It grapples with mortality and how it affects even the living legends. It’s also a gory and bloodstained film, which you probably took away from that R rating. Please do not take your children to see this movie. The backlash to Deadpool was stupid and should not have happened even once, and it certainly shouldn’t happen a second time.
Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are in top form in this film. They bring a depth to their characters that hasn’t been seen in previous X-Men installments. Boyd Holbrook plays a delightfully sadistic southern killer, and the film is weaker for him not being in it more.
Dafnee Keen is a frigging revelation as Laura. She doesn’t speak for a good portion of the film, but her facial expressions and body language are that of an experienced actor, which she isn’t. This is actually her first film. She’s also pretty freaking scary, which is perfect for the character she is playing.
The action sequences are divine, and they are what I’ve been waiting for since 1999 to see from an on-screen Wolverine. The gore is, frankly, superb, and it’s great seeing an actual warpath in the wake of the Wolverine.
Going back to what I said about this wanting to be a super hero film, the body count and casualties to this film are not that of a super hero movie. Other films, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War have grappled with the idea of casualties to bystanders, but they didn’t approach it like this. Frankly, it’s harder to deal with in this movie, and that’s a good thing.
You want there to be a happy ending to this movie. Logan, Laura, and Xavier want there to be a happy ending to this movie, but you know there can’t be, at least not in the way they want it. They want this to be the super hero film where most things turn out alright and the damage can be undone. They want it to be like the X-Men comics Laura reads. It can’t be though. Some scars never go away completely. People die. Legends deteriorate. Entropy and death will have their due.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are optimistic moments in the movie. There are some good laughs. You do get to see Logan unleash the Wolverine a few times. You need joy and sorrow to contextualize one another.
That is where the film’s homage to the super hero genre lies. Laura idolizes Wolverine and the X-Men. Logan is old and embittered, and he doesn’t want to be that hero. However, Laura needs it to live and to not become emotionally hollow. Charles pushes Logan to be that hero, even if it is only one more time. Charles knows Laura is the future, and without hope and optimism, what is the future but the long spiral towards universal death? We need our heroes to give us something to aspire towards.
The film is truly something special in that regard and pays more respect towards super hero movies than many proud super hero films do.
That is not to say that the film is without flaws. One issue is it’s love of the f-bomb in the first act. I have nothing against obscenities in my R rated film fare, but the repetition can lead to it being somewhat comedic. These scenes were not intended to be comedic and the result was slightly off-putting.
The film doesn’t so much have a villain as much as it has a struggle with the self. It’s a fight against apathy and atrophy. That’s fine and fits the theme of the movie, but Pierce seems like such a great villain. Boyd Holbrook plays a charmingly evil bastard, and I wanted so much more of him than I got. Zander Rice is alright, but Pierce was just delightful.
There is one other villain that I will talk about now, but, if you haven’t seen the film yet, it’s a bit of a spoiler. You’ve been warned.
I hated that X-24 was a more direct clone of Wolverine. It gave a literal edge to that “struggle against the self” that I talked about earlier, but it was such a disappointment. Wolverine and the X-Men have such a great rogues gallery to tap into, but they just went with Wolverine being the villain for Wolverine. Hell, they could have brought back Liev Schreiber as Sabretooth and had him fight Logan again. He was by far the best part of that X-Men Origins: Wolverine disaster, and I have been hoping to see him again in one of these films.
That being said, this was still a fantastic experience. I loved this movie, and it had me thinking about it more than most super hero films, or just most films in general, do. It was smart, paced perfectly, and was an emotional ride that Hugh Jackman deserved on his last outing as the Wolverine. Go see it (without your kids).
Final Score: 9/10