After nearly 20 years, the most famous X-Men character gets the hard R-rated outing that fans have been dreaming of from the start with Logan. Director James Mangold, who previously helmed The Wolverine, takes a fresh approach to the character made famous by Hugh Jackman, taking some inspiration from the ‘Old Man Logan’ storyline by Mark Millar but more importantly creating something that stands far and away from what people think when they hear ‘comic book film’.
It makes more sense to view Logan as a standalone, one-off tale – given that it intends to be positioned at the end of the X-Men chronology and the massive inconsistencies that each entry has featured to date. Set in 2029 where virtually all mutants are extinct, much of the story deals with the fallout from the past, with Logan ruminating on the decisions that have caused him to wind up at this point of evading capture. Working as a limo-driver in the day to care and provide for Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and another mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), and hiding in an abandoned factory, Logan becomes tasked with helping to protect a young girl (Dafne Keen) with powers much like his own from a group attempting to treat her like a weaponized medical experiment.
From the very beginning, the action in Logan is presented relentlessly with a heaping amount of brutal violence to boot. Not taking up too much of the runtime itself, these scenes are expertly shot and edited, with a degree of precision and technical detail. While Fox’s major R-rated superhero tentpole from last year Deadpool was also quite vicious in this manner, the humorous tone which adorned that film negated the impact of seeing people repeatedly shot and cut to bits – here it's hard to not wince at such sights, and even the most ardent fans of violence are likely to squirm a bit in their seats. At the same time, the story fields a tender, emotional side that sees Logan deal with his ensuing mortality. It’s this aspect that makes the film truly outstanding, as it provides some of many genuine, touching human moments that occur throughout. Many comic book adaptations try and fail to pull this sensibility off, but it works here just based on how distinguished the creative team have worked to make this more than that.
Logan makes a strong case for superhero films to be taken more seriously as art, mainly because it's an entirely serious affair – abstaining from the aesthetic tendencies which have defined the X-Men series. Much credit has to be given to director James Mangold here, who resuscitated the character after the abomination that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Mangold does an exceptional job with making the story tangentially connected with the universe, while being very much it's own thing, up to the point of self-reflexivity (the addition of X-Men comic books in the story is a nice touch and a lot is done with this element from a fatalistic perspective). By removing itself from the past, it allows the plot to feel more weighted in taking a new approach, one that is not based in comics but in apocalyptic cinema. The best points of comparison I can make to other titles would be Children of Men, Mad Max: Fury Road, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and even though it's not a film, Naughty Dog’s game The Last Of Us (which is still pretty cinematic in itself). There’s also an explicit reference made to the 1953 western Shane, and without going into spoiler territory it makes for a poignant touch.
Since the first X-Men film, Wolverine has been Hugh Jackman’s character, and he brings his A-game here through and through, giving the mutant a touching sendoff that is easily among his best performances. He’s equally as rough and ferocious as we’ve seen before, but with the addition of the fact that his healing powers are beginning to wear down from old age, leading to a lot of pain both inside and out. If this is truly the last time audiences are going to see Jackman as the cigar chomping, mutton chopped mutant from the north, it’s a hell of a way to go, and one that feels completely earned. Patrick Stewart is also back as Professor Charles Xavier, the only other still surviving mutant that we know from the past, and here the paternalistic relationship he’s shown towards Logan is insistently foregrounded. Xavier’s sense of empathy for taking care of others that moves the plot forward and while it’s Logan’s story, Xavier is unquestionably the backbone. Young newcomer Dafne Keen ends up being the breakout role of the film as Laura/X-23 – while giving an otherwise muted performance, she does a lot without saying much, especially when kicking ass alongside Logan. If there’s anything in Logan that feels unconvincing, it’s the range of antagonists that feature throughout. The most villainous of these is Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a cybernetically enhanced head of security for a team of equally enhanced super soldiers. This aspect leads to a lot of well choreographed action scenes, but the character itself is not very memorable, even when Holbrook chews the scenery to no end.
Like countless others, I've grown up with the X-Men films for most of my life, since seeing the original film in 2000 when I was very young. This fact dawned on me in the moments where Logan and Charles reminisce about their first encounter all those years back, and seeing them now at the end of their respective journeys is quite endearing. This particular series kickstarted the millennium comic book adaptation boom, which is why it's so interesting to now see this particular installment that envisions the characters we know and love in a different light, especially of a more adult tone. With that in mind, the deliberate intention to make this the final chapter for Logan makes everything feel and hit much harder - it's the kind of film that many never expected would happen, but now it's here, and it works in tremendous fashion - a near-masterpiece of the subgenre that succeeds in spades.
The year in film has only just kicked off, but Logan is easily one of the most exceptional so far, and is sure to be praised by fans and non-fans alike. Dark beyond belief and certainly earning it's R-rating, it's by far one of the most violent mainstream films to come around in some time. It takes a major risk in moving away what audiences have come to expect, but the sincere and dramatic story that Mangold has provided pays off in a big way. There's even one particular scene where I'm sure that many viewers will become instantaneously teary-eyed. For being such an artistic departure while committing to that choice and giving fans what they’ve wanted to see for years, Logan is a complete triumph, and one of the best comic book films ever made.