I’m a fan of comic book adaptations but haven’t read a single comic since 1996. I was never on board the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight train. I find The Avengers and its subsequent spin-offs to be entertaining and well-made yarns but little more. Until today, my favorite comic book adaptation was (like with many people) Spider-Man 2. It was the only film that made me invest emotionally in the characters to a sufficient enough point where they were moving me. That all changed with Logan. It shook me. It destroyed me and put me back together. It did what few comic book adaptations are able to do, despite their efforts – it gave its heroes humanity.
In terms of the adaptations, the X-Men franchise has always been my favorite, even though it feels like Marvel sort of gave it the short shrift with it being at Fox and all. Apart from X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins, I’ve enjoyed all of the various X-Men adventures. Bryan Singer just had a firm grasp on the characters and what made them so exciting. His films felt confident and assured, and the drama was Shakespearean at times. He knew how to get gold from his actors. And no one made their character come to life quite like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. We’ve had multiple Batmen, Superman, and Spider-Men. Can you imagine anyone else playing Wolverine? I sure can’t. Jackman just fits the role like a glove, and Logan is his perfect swan song.
Drawing primarily from the Old Man Logan story line that began in 2008, Logan takes place in the year 2029 and finds an older, slower, more broken down Logan working as a limo driver just north of the border. He doesn’t heal like he once did, and sometimes his claws don’t extend as far as he’d like, but he still has flashes of the old ferocity. Mutants have been all but completely wiped off the planet. He lives in an abandoned factory with his mentor, Charlies Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a former mutant hunter now turned nurse. When he’s not drinking his pain away, he’s making sure Xavier (whose brain has been classified as a weapon of mass destruction) takes his pills to keep him from doing major damage.
Everything changes for Logan when he’s introduced to a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), whom Xavier claims is a mutant. Logan doesn’t believe him because there hasn’t been a new mutant born in over 20-years. But Laura (aka X-23) is certainly not an average little girl. Almost immediately they are under siege from Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a bounty hunter with a robotic hand who wants to take the girl back to his employer, Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), the man who created the girl in a lab. What results is a road trip to North Dakota, as Wolverine, Xavier, and the girl fight for survival. I won’t go much deeper as I don’t wish to spoil the film for anyone. If you know the Old Man Logan story line, and if you’ve seen the trailer, you can probably figure out what happens. What you won’t figure out is just how invested you’ll be by the time those credits roll.
Like 2013’s The Wolverine, Logan is helmed by James Mangold, a director who has tackled everything from the horror flick, Identity, to the Oscar nominated, Walk the Line. Mangold loves Westerns. His remake of 3:10 to Yuma clearly shows this, but that love is dripping from every frame of Logan. This was his chance to make both a classic road movie and a Western, under the guise of a Marvel superhero flick. Complete with enough references to Shane to fill a reservoir, he never squanders his opportunities. Logan is a Western, through and through – part Shane, part The Searchers, part The Wild Bunch. And, in a career that has spanned more than a couple decades, I think it’s safe to say that, with Logan, Mangold has given us his masterpiece.
I know, I know – all this love for a comic book movie? You’re damned right. Here, Mangold didn’t just make a ‘comic book movie’ – he made a movie with a capital ‘M’. This film feels gritty and raw and uncaged. Part of that can be attributed to the R-rating, which affords Wolverine the chance to devour some obscenities and do what Wolverine does best – destroy. The X-Men films, as fine as they were, never gave us a real chance to see what Wolverine could do. Logan never lets you forget that – at one time – this was the most dangerous mutant in the world, regardless of how limiting his powers might seem. But it’s not just the rating. Jackman and Stewart are turning in their finest performances of the franchise here (award worthy performances, to be exact), mining every ounce of pathos and pain we expect from two men who have seen so much darkness. Their fragility and that sense of dread turn Logan into this beautiful pierce of melancholy mayhem.
I’ve heard some complain that there are either too many antagonists in the film, or not a single one that poses a real threat. I would argue that the combination of the villains in this film pose the greatest threat of any X-Men film, given the scope of what is happening and the abilities of the protagonists to stop them. In the earlier films, you knew you had countless mutants to go into battle or come to the rescue. Here, there is such a finite number that you really feel that sense of hopelessness from time to time. For a while you wonder, “Is this the X-Men movie where Wolverine bites it in the first act?” Credit Mangold for not shying away from the harshness of the reality of the characters, which is far more painful that the actual violence they endure.
There is a moment – at the very end of the film – when I just started crying. OK – weeping. That has never happened to me in a comic book adaptation. I came close in Spider-Man 2. Close, but no cigar. Here, it just came. You’ll know the moment when you see it. It’s one simple act that says so much about this film, this franchise, and what we might expect going forward. And then it went to black. I was relieved there wasn’t a post-credits sequence because I didn’t want to step outside of that moment for anything. I had spent two plus hours watching them earn that moment. So I sat there, I watched the credits roll, and I thought back on just how much I have enjoyed this franchise and, particularly, the character of Wolverine. It’s rare when a character gets such a fitting, loving, and bad-ass ending to an already remarkable screen career.
I cannot recommend Logan highly enough. You like the grittiness of The Dark Knight? It’s here. You like the adventure of The Avengers? It’s here. But there is no extended universe. There’s three mutants, a mission, and just a great God damned picture.