Wolverine is a character known for his unbreakable claws, berserker rage, and of course his ability to heal from nearly any injury. That last ability has proven useful not only in his fictional stories but also with his movie franchise. Injuries like the horrid reaction to his first solo film Wolverine: Origins would spell the end for most characters. Even with the entire X-Men franchise was on the precipice of a reboot Hugh Jackman and his Logan counterpart remained a constant. Apparently the old adage, ‘Whatever does not kill you makes you stronger’ is true as Logan is not only by far the best Wolverine film it is in the conversation as one of the best superhero films ever made.
Part of what makes Logan such a standout is how its appearance, tone, and execution share little with the current state of superhero films. Logan does not completely forget the movies that came before, but it is far more focused on telling this story than building upon an established franchise. Taking place in a not so distant future the great X-Men experiment has appeared to fail. Wolverine is the best and what he does and what he does is chauffer a limousine—a limousine he would kill to protect.
That killing is much more brutal and bloody than ever before. A lot was made over the fact that this marked the first time we got an ‘R’ rated Wolverine movie. Largely due to the success of last year’s Deadpool and Hugh Jackman’s wiliness to take a massive pay cut director James Mangold was given full control to make the movie he wanted to make. With that freedom comes the worry that the violence will get out of hand and become a gratuitous mess of blood and gore.
Mangold holds back enough from making the film into a glorified slasher by giving the violence a purpose. Unlike the desensitized violence often associated with the super hero genre here the action has this instinctive weight where each punch is felt with lasting effect. Now older Logan does not heal the same way he once did. A shell of his former self his purpose in life is simply survival. No longer does he call a mansion in New England home, instead he hides out in an abandoned mill where he has stashed away a degrading Charles Xavier from the rest of the world.
You would think with both Patrick Steward and Hugh Jackman entering the seventeenth year playing these characters there would not be much more they could do with them. Superheroes like Spider-Man, The , and The Hulk have seen their actors change three times in the period of time. Somehow despite the years this was easily the best performance both Jackman and Stewart have given these characters. That is saying a lot considering the phenomenal job both have done up to this point. Here though there is an element of tragedy unlike ever before.
This is a version of Charles Xavier I have never seen before on film or in comics. One where his greatest gift has become the enemy he is unable to beat. Despite that there is still this small element of hope he clings to even if he does not feel he or this world deserves it. Much of that hope comes from a ‘new mutant’ who has forced her way into their lives.
That mutant is played by Dafne Keen in her first ever movie role. In one of the best casting choices of the year so far she lives up to all the pressure her role brings. So much of what makes her performance works is what she portrays in her eyes. At times she has this quiet curiosity as she attempts to figure out a world she has never really been a part of before. Quickly that curiosity can change to range when threaten or confronted. Based on her powers and performance she is a child version of Wolverine with even more of a blank slate.
These three depart on an unlikely road trip to find a safe haven for Laura (Dafne Keen). Hot on her trail are the Reavers led by the gentlemanly malicious Pierce. Boyd Holbrook plays Pierce and chews up the scenery in the best ways possible. Unfortunately when it comes to depth he and the rest of the antagonist are lacking. They are there to provide a consistent threat and propel the plot forward and not much else. Some may see that as a detractor considering the consistent issue villains tend to have in Marvel movies. When it comes to this film the conflict here it is not Wolverine against another character per say. Most of the conflict lies inside the soul of Logan and his attempt to find possible redemption.
Considering how much of the narrative was inspired by the classic western Shane, which is also creatively used inside the film, that thematic exploration makes sense. Similar to Shane, that search for redemption lies within the relationships with the people around him most notably Laura. It is a formula that makes sense as it has worked for Wolverine in the comics for decades now—partnering the emotional distant hard edge Wolverine with the young and innocent child seeking a father figure. We saw it some in the first X-Men films with Wolverine’s relationship with Rogue, but here it is on another level and much more powerful. This is made clear in the film’s final moments that garner an emotional response at a level not seen in perhaps any superhero film.
Logan may be inspired by Shane, but for me a more apt comparison is to another classic western Unforgiven. Both see a man fighting against his own notoriety, against his own history, and against what it seems like he was put on Earth to do. Ultimately what makes Logan so special is that it is a film first and a superhero story second. When a genre is at risk of becoming stale you need a movie like Logan to come along to open up the scope of film making to show true art can be formed with any subject matter. History may show Logan did for its genre what movies like Die Hard and The Matrix did for theirs.
Lastly much respect and recognition must go to Hugh Jackman and the dedication he has given this character. Even when the movies where awful Jackman was giving everything the possibly could in heart, body, and soul. Finally a Wolverine film has come along to match his intensity and emotional depth. If this is truly the last time he will pop the claws it is a fitting end as it leaves you wanting more but still completely satisfied with the product at hand. This is his magnum opus, his master work, and as award worthy as anything he has done previously. Here is hoping when award season comes along he gets the much needed recognition he deserves.