As a life-long fan of comic books in general, and X-Men comics in particular, I have been constantly disappointed in the misguided ministrations of 20th Century Fox and Bryan Singer when it comes to Marvel’s much-loved band of merry mutants. Prior to Deadpool, I didn’t think I’d live to see a good X-movie, much less one that did justice to the source material. Having now seen Logan, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed being mistaken quite so much.
Less a superhero movie than an ultra-violent neo-western road story, Logan wears its influences on its sleeve. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) references Shane overtly on a number of occasions within the film, but his story also brings to mind the classic westerns of John Ford or Clint Eastwood. A consistently impressive visual stylist with a penchant for western aesthetics both overt and implied, Mangold makes the most of his dystopian future setting and his hard-R rating, but never strays from his roots. The violence is more visceral than in any superhero movie to date, but it’s excesses are justified from a narrative logic and a solid grounding in character. This Wolverine is far more brutal and less polished than in any prior screen incarnation, an evolution fans of the character have been clamoring for since Hugh Jackman first popped his claws seventeen years ago.
Much has been said of dark, gritty takes on superhero properties in recent years, but unlike the strained self-seriousness of someone like Zack Snyder, Mangold actually makes the grit (and the gore) palpably believable in every frame.Yes, the f-bombs are as frequent as the dismemberments, but the grit here comes from the narrative. Set in the not-so-distant future, Logan finds our protagonist’s healing factor dulled by age, the Adamantium that rendered his bones unbreakable slowly killing him from the inside out. Logan’s world revolves around caring for a decrepit Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), now a threat to everyone around him as a result of an unspecified degenerative brain affliction. Based very loosely on Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan storyline from the comics, in which Wolverine has retired from heroism after a particularly egregious bout of mass-murder, along the lines of Eastwood in Unforgiven. Mangold and co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green creatively sidestep the rights dispute which make filming that story as it appears on the page legally impossible — and the results are, in some senses, better than the source material.
Principal among those changes is the incorporation of Laura, a young clone of Wolverine whose introduction to her “father” incites the protracted chase sequence that provides the film’s narrative momentum. Played with stellar savagery by newcomer Dafne Keen, Laura grounds the film’s emotional core in a story about surrogate families and the adoptive bonds that can keep even a loner like Logan from being able to truly turn his back on society. This is a film about relationships, and there are few things more entertaining than watching Stewart and Jackman bicker with a virtuosic level of profanity, uninhibited by studio obligations to appeal to kids. The only thing more impressive than Logan’s bodycount is the degree of emotional resonance a film about a guy with knives in his knuckles can attain in the right hands.
I was vehemently opposed to Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, as much for the liberties taken with the character’s depiction in the early franchise installments as for the casting of a 6’3” Australian with a background in musical theater to play a 5’3” Canadian with a background in brutality. Now, I’m sadly surprised to find myself saying that I’m sorry to see him go. Even when people were lauding Mangold’s last solo-Wolverine film for being closer to accuracy, I was firmly in the ‘too little, too late’ camp. But with Logan, Jackman and Mangold have redeemed themselves in my eyes by delivering what amounts to not only the most accurate X-Men film to date, but also the best. Rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity. Now Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.