Comic book movies often get pooh-poohed as being less serious than other films, lighter weight, less important. And certainly, this is not an opinion without merit, going back to movies like the original Captain America (1990), Superman III and IV, or even, for some critics, the hit-or-miss Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice from last year (I kinda liked it, but found it lacking compared to other recent comic book movies). So how about Logan? Does the movie improve on what came before, or is it another tired attempt to rake in some pre-summer box office? In my opinion, this, the ninth outing for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, is not only his best work as the character that really made him famous, it is perhaps the actor’s finest work period.
I will be constraining myself to direct commentary about only the first 15-20 minutes of the film, and avoiding all spoilers thereafter. If that’s too much for you, please read after you’ve seen the movie.
The movie is set twelve years in the future (2029), in a world where mutants are no longer the force they once were – in fact, it appears there are almost none left. Logan is one of the few, and he’s looking after a frail Professor X [Patrick Stewart playing the role for the seventh time] with the help of another mutant, the albino Caliban [Stephen Merchant]. Xavier tells Logan that he is needed, but Logan’s about done with the world. Despite his reticence, he’s pulled into a mission as protector that he really doesn’t want to be a part of. And his role as protector is strongly reinforced in one extended scene where the Alan Ladd classic Shane is playing on a TV in the background. There are a ton of thematic connections with other Hollywood tropes throughout the film, and Shane makes more than one appearance. Logan as reluctant hero is a role he’s been playing for many, many years (and movies).
The trailer for Logan used Johnny Cash’s excellent rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt as its soundtrack, and it’s exactly the right choice for this iteration of Logan. This isn’t our parents – or grandparents, or great-grandparents – Wolverine. Logan is a broken man, covered in scars, with a noticeable limp. Something is wrong with him, and he isn’t healing like he used to. In an early sequence he gets into a fight with a large group of men, but it takes a bit for him to get moving, before we see glimpses of the old hero reemerging. Slowly, reluctantly, the old Wolverine shows up for one last dance. Logan is much more a chase film than it is a typical comic book movie, with the second and third acts basically taking place at a near-constant adrenaline fueled pace, with only the occasional brief respite for the characters to catch their breaths. This is particularly trying when those on the run include a fading Wolverine, an 11-year-old, and the nonagenarian (as he proudly asserts at one point) Professor X.
Speaking of the Professor, he’s but a shell of the man he once was, kept on mind-numbing agents due to a serious control issue he’s having with his mental powers. He’s crotchety, resentful, and played with a joyous – but dangerous – zest by Stewart. Boyd Holbrook is surprisingly convincing as a tough mercenary with very questionable ethics. Stephen Merchant also shines as Caliban, but the true star of the show is young Dafne Keen as Laura. She is a little whirlwind with more than a few tricks up her sleeve, and she emotes with huge, expressive eyes – important, as she appears to be mute when we first meet her.
There are a few other cameos and small roles that stand out. Without giving too much away, it was a pleasure to see Richard E. Grant (Withnail and I, Prêt-à-Porter), and a small but important role for Eriq La Salle (best known as Dr. Peter Benton from ER).
Action sequences are well-choreographed, and although there is some CG in use, it connects smoothly with the live-action, not becoming intrusive at all. Sound editing is also spot on, with a subtle yet moving score that keeps ramping up the tension as Logan and his wards get deeper and deeper into trouble.
Is this a movie that I would rank up there with a Casablanca or Godfather? No, it doesn’t achieve those sorts of heights – but neither does it aspire to them. Logan is something comic book fans have been asking for for a long time – a movie, based on the source material that they love, that treats them like adults. And for all that it aspires to be, Logan is a helluva good movie.
Steve’s Rating: (9 / 10)
Bonus: Two Johnny Cash videos – Hurt from the trailers, and The Man Comes Around from the film’s credit sequence:
Director: James Mangold
Writer: James Mangold (story by); Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green (screenplay)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant
Release Date: March 3rd, 2017
Runtime: 2h, 17min
MPAA Rating: R