Well, this year’s round of superhero movies is off to a fantastic start. First it gave us the first good Batman movie in years, and now it’s given us the first good Wolverine movie…ever.
Logan takes place in 2029, a time when semi trucks drive themselves and robots have taken over the farming business, but other than that, not much has changed. Except that the X-Men are gone and mutants in general are all but extinct. Wolverine (who prefers to go by his dog tag name now) is eking out a living as a limo driver on the Mexican border, while caring for an increasingly senile Charles. While the former Professor X’s mind is wearing out, so is Logan’s body, thanks to a mysteriously reduced healing factor. Life seems pretty pointless and grim for the former hero, until one day a woman shows up begging for his help to transport a little girl to a place called “Eden” in Canada. He quickly learns that this is no ordinary little girl–she’s a genetically engineered mutant with a posse of evil scientists and cybernetically enhanced soldiers after her…and she’s got a very familiar-looking set of claws. Though reluctant at first, Logan eventually agrees to help Laura (also known as X-23), and so he, Charles, and the girl set off on the bloodiest road trip since Mad Max.
The X-Men movies have always been pretty hit-or-miss. For every X2, there’s been an Origins: Wolverine. For every First Class, we got a Last Stand. One movie would have interesting characters and fun action, and the next would have…none of that. And the franchise hasn’t had a coherent continuity in years. But I think I can say with confidence that Logan is not only the best X-Men movie thus far, but probably the best one we’re ever going to get.
One slightly odd thing about it is that, not only does it establish that X-Men comics exist in this universe, but one of them is even a major plot point. This gives Logan a chance to say what he thinks about comic books: “Maybe a quarter of it happened, and not like this,” he rants at one point. “In real life, people die.”
Normally that’d sound rich coming from any of the X-Men, especially Wolverine, but in this movie, it feels very appropriate. This movie is all about mortality–and by that, I don’t just mean that lots of people die in it. Although they do. But even when you take away all the gory death, most of the story is just Logan and Charles dealing with how much it sucks to get old. Wolverine, once the most battle-hardened, invincible warrior in his universe, needs reading glasses and ibuprofen. Professor X, who used to be able to see the minds of everyone on the planet at once, barely knows who he is anymore. Their reactions to being brought down by time this way range from comic to tragic, and they’re relatable and honest in a way very few action movies, and certainly no X-Men movies, have ever shown us. After all, in real life, people do die, no matter how strong or smart they were to begin with, and they don’t come back the next time the writers feel like making a few more bucks. So as you get older, how do you respond to that knowledge? How do you go out with style, and how do you leave behind a legacy worth remembering? Those are the questions this movie asks. They’re a heck of a lot better than, “Do you know what happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightning?”
One possible answer to those questions goes as follows: you pass the torch to a younger person. Which brings us to the fantastic ball of awesomeness known as Laura.
This kid is incredible. She may be 11 years old, but that doesn’t mean she can’t match Wolverine in both fighting skills and pure ferocity. And when the two of them fight side-by-side, it’s something to behold. Movies and TV have brought us a lot of tiny warriors over the years, but Laura still manages to establish herself as something unique. Unlike, say, Eleven from Stranger Things, you never get the sense that she’s vulnerable, even though, just like Eleven, she was raised in a lab as part of a science experiment. She always seems like she can take care of herself, and, if anything, it’s the rest of the world that needs to be protected from her. Like Charles says, she’s “very much like [Wolverine].” And over the course of the movie, the two of them form a sort of dysfunctional father-daughter relationship that eventually blossoms into something more meaningful. Wolverine, once the definition of a savage killing machine himself, now has to teach this girl how to be more human. It’s kind of a touching story, and is portrayed with a lot of subtlety and grace. If anyone’s worthy of taking up the Wolverine mantle after Hugh Jackman gives up the vein-popping business, it’s Laura.
I also have to give credit to Laura’s actor, Dafne Keen, who had never appeared in a theatrical movie before this one. She pulls off such a wide range of emotions, often with no dialogue, that her acting even looks impressive next to Hugh Jackman. Plus, I have a deep respect (and envy) for all people who are bilingual. Curse my stupid American brain!
I can’t believe this is still an issue nine years after The Dark Knight came out, but I saw a lot of under-12-year-olds in the theatre where I saw this, so I’ll say it again: just because it’s a superhero movie, that doesn’t mean it’s for kids. Children should be kept as far away from this movie as possible. It’s incredibly gory, laden with swearing, and just all-around dark and gloomy. But as long as people realise who its target audience is (you’d think the rating would be a clue), I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. When Deadpool first became a mega-hit, I was a little worried about the inevitable wave of R-rated superhero movies that would follow it. What if the directors of future Avengers, Superman, or–heaven forbid–Spider-Man movies took Deadpool‘s success as a free pass to fill their stories with gratuitous violence, profanity, and sex? But Wolverine has always felt like an R-rated character stuck in a PG-13 world. He’s supposed to be a half-crazy berserker whose weapon of choice is a set of huge metal claws, and yet in previous X-Men movies, he was always stuck in fights that were barely allowed to show blood. This movie gives him a chance to bloody those claws, and I feel like we’re seeing for the first time what this character was always supposed to be like.
Not that some of the R-rated stuff doesn’t feel a little unnecessary. For example, I can understand Wolverine and the bad guys cussing like sailors, but Charles? Really? There’s also a flash of pointless nudity early on that feels like it was thrown in just because the filmmakers knew they could get away with it. On the other hand, this is the first Wolverine-centric movie in a while that hasn’t felt the need to show off Hugh Jackman’s backside, so you have to respect that.
Both Hugh and Sir Patrick Stewart have made it clear this will probably be their last X-Men film, which is sad, but I don’t think they could have ended on a higher note. Aside from the minor issues mentioned above, pretty much everything about this movie works. The acting is top-notch, as one would expect. The story is as subtle and thought-provoking as the action is intense and visceral. The cinematography, the music, the dusty desert landscapes where most of the film was shot…it all works together to create a great backdrop to a truly beautiful, tragic story. And the Johnny Cash song during the credits is just the icing on the cake.
Despite the film’s “in real life, people die” theme, I think should mention that it doesn’t ever feel like it’s actually dissing comic books. That X-Men comic I mentioned earlier actually becomes something of a symbol of hope by the end of the movie, showing that people–especially children–need happy stories in their lives. But this is the rare comic book movie that shows life more as what it is, than what we’d like it to be. And once in a while, you need that kind of story, too.