Logan is a movie 17 years in the making. Hugh Jackman has been playing Marvel’s clawed mutant Wolverine for nearly two decades, a tenure that’s remarkable for any movie series and only moreso when one takes into account that there have been two Batmen and three Spider-Men in that interval. Logan, Jackman’s last foray in the X-Men series, is the culmination of his years in the role and a series fraught with commendable highs and baffling lows, and as such it is a movie tailor-made to a performance. Eschewing most of the franchise’s confusing mythology, Logan is a brutal, pared-down send off for Wolverine that never pulls its punches or mops up the blood it spills. It’s a powerfully acted superhero western that speaks to the vitality of the genre while parting from any of its conventions.
The year is 2029 and an older Logan (Hugh Jackman) is working as a limo driver on the Mexican border. With the aid of albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), he takes care of an ill Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is unable to control his powers in the wake of an accident that has destroyed Professor X’s school and the X-Men. When Logan is offered millions to escort to safety on the Canadian border Laura (Dafne Keen), a young girl with powers and temper similar to his own, he and Professor X set off for an uncertain safe haven, grappling along the way with Logan’s guilt over past failures, and a ruthless corporation that will stop at nothing to capture Laura.
Like last year’s Deadpool, Logan is a story that could not be told without its R-rating. The combat is bloody, visceral, and at times hard to watch. Deaths, as a result, are weighty and have consequence atypical of the genre. A central conflict of Logan is between the comic book hero Laura needs him to be and the reality of the violent life Logan leads. While heightened, the violence isn’t cartoonish and Wolverine’s choreography is less that of a superhero and more enraged animal. Violence follows him wherever he goes, and similar to movies like Drive, Logan ultimately argues that there can’t be any happy endings to that sort of life. In many ways, it’s the sort of Dark Knight Returns story DC has been chasing in print and on screen for 25 years. But where Dark Knight Returns rises to operatic bombast, Logan is ultimately a quieter, and much more somber tale of an older heroes last ride.
At the center of the long, bloody ordeal is a family. While a precious handful of movies have successfully captured the family aspect of the X-Men, Logan puts family front and center. Logan, Laura, and Professor X have a wonderful chemistry which imbue the film’s quieter moments with much needed heart and levity. Jackman and Stewart build upon the foundation of previous movies, even as Logan sees their roles change from unwilling student and patient mentor to bickering son and father. Laura –performed nearly wordlessly until the final act by Dafne Keen– is a child raised in isolation, with violent tendencies a little too similar to her father figure. With the aid of Professor X, Logan tries to be a positive figure, protecting her and trying his best to shield her from the sort of life he leads. Moments in which the three find peace, however briefly, in a hotel room or at a dinner table, are some of the most rewarding, and the moments when that peace is broken are heartbreaking.
What makes Logan unique among superhero movies (aside from its violence) is the role comics play within the story. Laura, you see, if an X-Men fan, a few issues of a comic series recounting (if embellishing) the exploits real X-Men giving her and her fellow captives children some semblance of hope for a better life. While Logan dismisses the comics out of hand, the act of reading comics, and the hope they inspire, have tremendous bearing on the movie. There’s a world of difference between the more traditionally heroic Wolverine of the comics and his real-world equivalent, but each are equally important. Not quite meta-narrative, the placement of comics within the movie’s universe, and their significance within remain a novel concept within the world of comic book movies.
To say that Logan transcends the superhero genre would be to miss its point (and be unfairly dismissive). Logan uses the tropes and language of the revisionist western to tell as story from which superheroes cannot be removed. It’s a summation of a long, shaggy series of movies and its most stalwart returning character. Logan is a harrowing family drama. It’s a western in the style of Shane and Unforgiven. But more than that, it’s a passionately made superhero story.