This one’s a little spoilery, so heads-up if you’ve not seen Logan yet.
This review probably needs prefacing with a description of my experience of the X Men franchise so far. First confession: I’ve not read a single X Men comic. The constant retconning and rewriting and rebooting of superhero comics sounds exhausting to me. So, for the movies, it’s easiest to say that the ones I’ve not seen are: X3, The Wolverine and X Men Apocalypse. I’ll probably get around to watching the last two eventually, but I like to think that even in the movie canon, X3 only exists in Wolverine’s imagination (when Xavier reads his memories in X Men Back and Forth(1) Days of Future Past, and is pitying of his experiences, I like to think that he’s pitying the fact that Logan once watched X3, not that anything in X3 existed in canon). So yeah, I’ve seen Hugh Jackman’s Wolvie at his best (it’s hard to beat the nostalgia of the first movie) and at his worst (noooooooooooooooooooo.gif), and I loved the conceit of Logan: what happens when superheroes get old? What happens to the tightly leashed powers they wield when their bodies and minds age too much to control them?
With the above in mind, it’s probably not surprising that what I enjoyed most about Logan was probably the least connected to the characters’ comic origins, and what I liked least about the movie was more directly linked to comic lore (from what I gather, at least). Overall, the balance happily favoured the former.
Let’s get the small gripes out of the way. First: everywhere Logan goes, every person he meets, every non-mutant, most mutants themselves, just, you know, anyone who tries to form a connection with him, will get killed horribly. It always happens. And when it always happens, it’s hard to make it interesting. Very obvious emotions are called on, saintly helpers are set up only to be martyred to Logan’s man pain as the story demands. And I was in denial that it was happening in Logan for some time, but fear not, it happened in the end. And in a manner that left me particularly cold. Because the cloned super-soldier plotline is not one I care about. It’s just personal taste, probably. One part is that the super-soldier has no personality; it’s just a vehicle for action scenes to happen. I can see in the abstract how it’s useful in a Wolverine story: he’s forced to confront something that is the pure, ‘animal’ form of him and his powers, plus it actually gives him a run for his money in the fight scenes, and it gives the kind of fan who’s only there for the stabby-stabby claw action something to cheer about. In Logan, given his age and weakened state, the second one of those things seems a bit like overkill, though. The character inevitably gets associated with the kind of torture porn storyline like the one where Hulk literally rips him in two, and between the damage sustained by Logan, and that sustained by the super-soldier version, there’s plenty of that going on in Logan.
But Logan confronts the consequences to a greater extent, because in this story, his rapid healing powers have slowed, and the adamantium his skeleton has been coated with is slowly poisoning him. Revelling in the violent damage sustained by Logan’s body is a hard ask in this world, where his injuries heal slowly: he grimaces and strains over a sink in order to force bullets from his body; his reactions slow, right down to the speed with which he can extend his claws; and the consequences of fighting another clawed mutant linger for days.
Even the character’s dangerous effect on those around him is, I’ll grant, treated with more nuance by Logan. The family that take him, Professor X and Laura in (in thanks for rescuing their horses) are beautiful, kind, the little guys standing up to big farming conglomerates; in short, the Munsons are pretty damned perfect, and Xavier doesn’t hesitate to rub this is when he talks to Logan. Professor X frets and clucks and cajoles Logan like a mother hen, and for me, one of the stand-out moments of characterisation in the movie is where Xavier’s wishful thinking is quietly proved wrong. He talks of what an utterly perfect, peaceful night they’ve had at the farm, but Logan has just returned from the pump with their host, Will, where as usual, he finds himself in the role of The Muscle, confronted with violence and forced to respond in kind, even within the sanctuary that Xavier thinks they’ve found. Another nice touch was the last shot that Will Munson attempted to take; it confirms what Logan has always thought about himself, coming just moments after he desperately tried to let Xavier know that that wasn’t him.
Naturally, Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman are excellent. They bicker and bounce off each other with convincing intimacy; Stewart’s vulnerability, combined with the furious frustration of someone who has lost yet more of their independence, and who is losing their grasp on a mind that was once so formidable, makes for a powerful performance. And Hugh Jackman’s gruff resignation caps off his excellent run as Wolverine, in which he kept fans of all stripes happy, managing to be a convincing outsider whilst maintaining the sense of longing for stability that underlies so many of Wolverine’s storylines.
Laura, played by Dafne Keen, does rather steal the show, however. Like Logan, she’s apparently aloof, tough and in control, but underneath she longs for belonging, normalcy and affection. In Logan, the former aspects arise from his bitter experiences, but in Laura they’re something that the villains tried to instill in her from birth. Logan‘s point that this was doomed to failure is a subtle vein of hope in its bleak plot, and it gave a little more impact and meaning to the death of poor Gabriela. Just as we aren’t allowed to fall back on the easy assumptions that Logan’s healing powers mean that fights don’t have consequences for him, so with Laura we are never allowed to forget that she is a child, despite her strength and the violence that she’s trained in. Her silence, contrasted with her animal shrieks, and later her rapid Spanish and faltering English, reveal a vast undercurrent of confused emotions, making Laura indisputably the movie’s vital, beating heart.
Logan gains redemption as reluctantly as he participates in all other elements of the movie’s plot. He’s a surly, heel-dragging presence, and he doesn’t really change during the movie; his layers are simply peeled back further and further with each blow and each loss. What makes the difference here is the sheer bloody-mindedness of his counterpart; Laura hasn’t given up on everything yet, and even as Logan tries to teach her the tough lessons he’s learnt, Laura presses on, unfazed by the bleak vision of her future that Logan’s failing body presents.
Also, the action scenes are pretty amazing.
(1) Blackadder reference.