Logan, directed by James Mangold, is the tenth and latest installment in the X-Men series of films and the third in a trilogy specifically focused on Wolverine. The film stars Hugh Jackman as Wolverine/Logan and Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, each actor said to be reprising these roles for the final time. Set in the year 2029, mutants are all but wiped out; there hasn’t been a new one born in 25 years. Logan, formerly Wolverine of the X-Men, is aged substantially as a result of his miraculous healing abilities degrading. Along with the mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) he works as a limo driver to help care for Xavier, who suffers from a neurodegenerative disorder in his advanced age. Coasting along through this meagre existence Logan gets caught up escorting Laura (Dafne Keen) — a young girl being hunted by a shadowy organization — across country to safety in North Dakota.
The track record of the X-Men series is really fascinating to me. Last year we saw the likes of Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse, the former being a really good and funny R-rated take on the franchise, while the latter was not that good at all. I watched it for the first time before I went to see Logan and the contrast was actually quite startling. It baffles me that a franchise could go from having a really weak entry one year, only to produce one of the best superhero films ever made the year after.
There’s no getting away from that sounding hyperbolic, I understand that. While it may be divisive to declare Logan the best superhero film made so far, I can say with confidence that it easily stands among the best. As an aside, it’s also an interesting case where technically a trilogy went from worst to best.
It’s the first R-Rated outing for Wolverine, which is more significant here due to the character’s nearly constant importance throughout the franchise, the violence of his nature, and his ability to just keep coming when he gets knocked down. While it’s great to see his claws used with the ferocity that’s been downplayed in the past, the R-rating blends more wonderfully with the fact that in this film we see Logan at his most vulnerable. The punishment he takes throughout this movie would be much more easily brushed off by his younger self, so the more graphic content is used to better effect because the stakes are higher for the character. We don’t know how quickly or if he’ll be able to recover from what’s thrown at him at all, so it’s far less spectacle and far more illustrative of the brutality that consumes his life.
His dynamic with a senile Charles Xavier is one of the strongest aspects of the movie. Uninhibited due to his degrading mental health, the Xavier present in this movie can be cruel, foul-mouthed, and honest in a way that is both humorous and utterly heartbreaking. While I could not help but laugh out loud hearing the otherwise dignified and wise Xavier lamenting being left alone with “that fucking Albino,” it’s emphasizes the dramatic quality of life change he’s suffered as a result of his condition. He’s not swearing and prickly because the film is R-rated; he is because it fits the context of the story. He’s a shadow of his former self. Logan clearly loves his old mentor and is committed to looking after him, but both are tired and disappointed with themselves, and unhappy with the way things have gone.
Logan’s relationship with Laura is well-developed as well, especially considering context that I won’t spoil for those who don’t know. Her character development is slightly hindered by the fact that she spends a good portion of the movie not speaking, but it is noteworthy how much this doesn’t ultimately matter as we still come to understand a lot about her and sympathize with her plight. Little interactions between her and Logan start to define their relationship as well, which is a touch that I appreciated. It puts more weight on what they do rather than simply what they say to one another.
The only negative I have with the movie is its connections to the film franchise as a whole, which is frankly a mess of inconsistencies and canon confusion. Having seen every film at least once and having a good enough understanding of the characters helps in understanding the tragedy of where these people have ended up, but the knowledge can also be distracting when you catch references that point out just how messy the X-Men canon is. The incident from the first film at the Statue of Liberty is brought up briefly, for instance, as well as Logan being discovered by Xavier as a cage fighter in Canada. These are things I’d assume were rewritten by the time travel shenanigans in Days of Future Past, and while it could be assumed similar things happened anyway, it still raised an eyebrow or two for me.
This problem aside, Logan is without a doubt one of the best superhero films ever made. Though past experience with the characters is important, it tells a great self-contained story that rarely wastes a moment of screen time. It subverts the spectacular powers of its protagonists by making them aged and sickened, emphasizing the violence in a haunting way rather than simply using the R-rating for violent thrills. It’s also a wonderful send-off for these two iconic performers. It will be unfortunate not to see Jackman and Stewart reprise their roles ever again, but they concluded their contributions to the franchise in the best ways possible. If you like superhero movies, go see Logan. You won’t regret it.