Interesting how this all came about.
While the X-Men movies have basically been Wolverine-centric, it was X-Men Origins: Wolverine that featured the first onscreen appearance of the Merc With a Mouth — Deadpool — who eventually got his own solo movie that made a strong case for R-rated comic-book flicks.
Studios have traditionally shied away from restricting comic-book movies to adults because of financial reasons — toys, merchandise, and a larger audience filled with teens and children.
Which is, by James Mangold’s admission, why The Wolverine ended so badly — Logan fights a robot samurai and loses his claws, which somehow grow back.
Anyways, for what it’s worth, The Wolverine was better than Origins — though that’s not saying much. Origins was incredibly bad, and if I had to sit through it, I’d want the leaked version stripped of its special effects for educational reasons.
I admit I wasn’t all that thrilled to hear Mangold was going to direct Hugh Jackman in his final outing as the Ol’ Canucklehead, but prerelease reviews of Logan made me optimistic.
So did news about Mangold’s approach to Logan. With the success of Deadpool, Mangold pushed the studio to consider making Logan an R-rated movie. I assume Fox gave him the go-ahead based on the critical failures of the past two Wolverine movies, Fantastic Four, and that last X-Men movie. Fox needed another winner like Deadpool and less like Apocalypse.
And Logan is not only a winner — it’s a masterpiece. It’s the greatest comic-book movie Fox has ever made, and it tops any of Marvel Studios pictures hands-down. I hesitate to call it the greatest comic-book movie ever made — The Dark Knight still owns that spot in my list.
I’d possibly venture to say that both exist somewhere on that top shelf with the Dark Knight being the smartest comic-book movie. And what The Dark Knight is to the mind, Logan is to the heart.
Logan takes place somewhere in the future, though things look pretty similar to modern times, politically and socially. Logan now goes by James Howlett, and he’s no longer a member of the X-Men — he’s a limousine chauffeur who transports millenial bridal parties and businessmen around by night. During the day, he hides out in an undisclosed location somewhere in Mexico with Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose mental health has been on a steep decline.
Circumstances are threadbare about what’s happened to the X-Men, though Professor Xavier — between seizures and stretches of mental castration from drugs meant to keep his brain from psionically killing everyone around him — wonders what horrible things Logan did. At first we aren’t given much information about the recent history of these characters, but every thing is revealed in due time and after a women named Gabriela tries to hire Logan to take her and a little girl north to Canada.
Enter ex-Reaver Pierce, a former mutant hunter working for a scientist with ties to the Weapon X project — the one that gave Logan his Adamantium-laced skeleton and claws. Pierce wants the little girl, and he’s got his own private army of cyborgs to track her down.
The plot is a vehicle for a movie that’s complex and heavy on themes. On the one hand we have a father-son story between Logan and Professor X that’s filled with dramatic tension. Charles views Logan as a disappointment who never lived up to his full potential — another chip on Logan’s scarred shoulders. He’s never been able to live up to his surrogate father’s standards, let alone his own. If Scott Summers (Cyclops) was the embodiment of Professor X’s mutant dream, Wolverine was the family’s black sheep and Xavier’s toughest nut to crack.
When it’s revealed that the little girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), is in fact Logan’s daughter by genetic code, the relationships become even more complicated as we now have several different dynamics playing against each other — father-son, father-daughter, grandfather-granddaughter.
Add to that the requisite themes of race, and you would have an above-standard X-Men movie. But Mangold’s story also involves eugenics, GMO’s, survivor’s guilt, religion, and the passing of the old guard to the new. Mangold said he was able to deal with adult themes, and Logan takes it to 11.
But making people think about tough subjects isn’t the only reason why Mangold wanted that R-rating. Be warned — Logan is not for the faint of heart. Some might find the violence and language unsettling, but Logan pulls no punches, and it leads to a charged movie with great effect. This is, after all, a movie about a man who calls himself the best there is at what he does.
And what he does is kill.
The animal rage that he works so hard to suppress is displayed for all to see, and while the choreography is magnificent, the intensity of violence makes us understand exactly what Logan views himself as — a murderer. Killing — even if it’s just for dispatching the baddies — damages Logan’s soul, and the guilt is unbearable. In one scene, as he talks to his daughter about his dreams, she tells him she has nightmares of people hurting her. He responds by mentioning how different his dreams are — his nights are filled of images of him hurting people.
The brutality contrasts against the film’s beautiful poignancy. If you didn’t expect to have your emotions put through the grinder, you’ve now been warned. I can’t name many comic-book movies that gave me such a visceral response, but Logan is such a polished and well-thought out movie that swells with purpose. It’s not just a superhero movie about a man who has metal claws — those hand-knives are metaphors for his base nature and personal cruelty. The Adamantium-bonded skeleton that’s poisoning him is only doing half the damage — the walls he’s built to protect himself have collapsed and crushed his spirit. And with each new day, Logan lives a life rife with suicidal thoughts and a barely-holding-it-together chivalry that belies the rage that’s bubbling under the surface.
Again, Logan is a masterpiece — a Hollywood superhero movie that plays like an indie-film. It isn’t afraid of the dark, and that’s where much of the beauty is found.
While the superhero genre has proven it’s no flash in the pan, this movie elevates it by tackling the essence of the source material and displaying perspectives of humanity.
This is something else — something for which hoity-toity awards are given.
But it’s more — more than just an achievement. This is something filmmakers, musicians, and artists work for.
This is art.
Directed by: James Mangold
Screenplay by: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, and Quincy Fouse