The third act twist will not be spoiled in this review.
Well, this isn’t going to win any Oscars.
That’s a strange thought to have while watching a comic book movie, but the pre-release hype train on Logan has been so severe that some have deemed it Oscar-worthy, which would certainly give next year’s Academy Awards telecast the ratings-boost it so desperately needs. I’m not just talking about bloggers and YouTubers either. Ryan Reynolds thinks Logan might “break the glass ceiling” and earn a Best Picture nomination. Variety’s Jenelle Riley is already arguing for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor nominations for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart.
Perhaps we’re only thinking of Logan in these terms because we’re not even a week removed from the last Academy Awards. As such, our awards season glasses are still on. Plus, maybe we’re all still smarting over The Dark Knight’s snub even though that was a decade ago. Either way, we are in a rush to anoint Logan the savior of the comic book movie genre (just as we were last year with Deadpool). If not Oscar-worthy it’s at least the “Best Superhero Movie Ever,” as countless headlines have proclaimed. Who could disagree based off of Logan’s stellar Children-of-Men-meets-The-Road trailers?
And I fell for it. All of it. I wanted Logan to be amazing. No, I needed it to be. Hugh Jackman’s cinematic swan song as Wolverine deserves nothing less. After sniffing greatness with writer-director James Mangold for parts of The Wolverine the two were finally going to get there after Deadpool’s success allowed Logan to be rated R, a hard R at that. With the revered graphic novel Old Man Logan as inspiration and a mission statement from Mangold to turn this into the comic book movie equivalent of Unforgiven what could go wrong?
Actually, there really isn’t much about Logan which is wrong or bad necessarily. For the majority of its running time, it’s every bit as good as they say it is. But then we meet the villain in the third act, and this otherwise great movie doesn’t necessarily go off the rails but it comes closer than it should.
The story is set in 2029, a time when most of the world’s mutants have been eradicated and the exploits of the X-Men have been reduced to sensationalistic comic books as if they were dime-store pulp heroes. An older, crankier Logan has retreated to the shadows, making ends meets as a Texas limo driver, self-medicating with booze and painkillers now that his healing factor doesn’t work as quickly as it used to. He’s saving up to buy a yacht so that he and an ailing Charles Xavier might spend their final days at sea and, God-willing, at peace. Until then, he has Xavier stashed away (and heavily sedated) in Mexico where he is looked over by an albino mutant (Stephen Merchant) who is quick with a one-liner.
Then comes a mysterious young girl named Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen, who deserves to become just as big as Millie Bobby Brown after this). She not only seems to be the first new mutant born in a decade but also has the same abilities as Logan (as well as some of his more aggressive personality traits), and she needs a ride to the Canadian border (there’s a hot take about Logan‘s unintended echoes of Trump-era immigration just waiting to be written).
Cue the truly brutal fight scenes against goons (led by Boyd Holbrook) who are after the girl. Cue the car chase scenes, including a remarkably clever usage of a train as a dividing line. Cue more fight scenes, this time in an ingenious form of slow-motion which only Logan and Laura can move through. Cue more chase scenes. Somewhere in-between all of that, let the characters talk to each other, or sometimes talk by not talking. Ruminate on mortality and other such themes which are far headier than those you would find in your average comic book movie. Throw down some Terminator 2-esque bonding between Logan and Laura. Reference the western Shane one too many times.
Next thing you know, the movie’s over, and everyone around you in the theater is crying over the sudden realization that we’ll never see Jackman play this character ever again (same goes for Stewart and Xavier). Yet I walked away somewhat distracted by the film’s recycled story points. As FastFilmReviews put it:
A child in need of protection hits the road with guardians while being pursued by evil baddies. Midnight Special is the most recent cinematic example of this plot. TV’s Stranger Things is a current reference too in that Laura is a kindred spirit of Eleven on that show. Laura and her ethnically diverse mutant peers are like the women of Mad Max: Fury Road or the kids who survive Children of Men. If this was the 80s we’d be making comparisons to Drew Barrymore in Firestarter. If it was the 90s we’d be talking Edward Furlong in Terminator 2. It’s a recycled story. The difference is that superhero yarns don’t usually center on the portrayal of people at the expense of the extravaganza. Nor do they mine R-rated territory very often. Logan is for people who think the PG-13 rating is why the previous Wolverine installments weren’t very good. I only wish the script had done more than salvage a familiar trope. The story is functional and utilitarian, but it isn’t deep.
Logan does what Marvel Studios has long since perfected: it takes a familiar genre or sub-genre and layers a superhero narrative over it. However, in this case I found Logan’s more traditional superhero elements (i.e., Logan repeatedly going all berserker rage on nameless goons) and its aged gunslinger Unforgiven angle as well as its Midnight Special-esque elements (i.e., a touching examination of the parent-child bond in the face of extreme circumstances) to be somewhat in conflict with one another.
For example, the first instance of this new R-Rated Wolverine sticking his claws through some poor guy’s head elicited a delighted “Holy shit!” from me. The same goes for the first-time Laura showed her own equally formidable claws. Yet I grew to find the brutality surprisingly numbing. Instead, I wanted to see more of Logan, Xavier and Laura simply in that car together or at a rest stop, the former two bickering, the latter silently observing. I wanted to learn more about what happened since we last saw Logan to have left him such a broken man (the film argues it’s not any one thing but more the general accumulation of heartbreak over his long life which has broken him).
I wanted to feel Logan’s pain, and I wanted to feel Laura’s need for him to get his shit together because she wants/needs a dad. However, Logan’s inner comic book movie kept coming back out, particularly in the form of the aforementioned third act twist or yet another brutal beheading, likely pacifying those longing for Wolverine’s on-screen rage to finally match that of his on-page counterpart.
Perhaps it is actually a testament to Jackman, Mangold, Stewart and the rest that my chief complaint seems to be that I was sucked into the familiar story so much I grew to detest the routine reminders that I was actually watching a comic book movie, and the depth I wanted had to stop short to give us more of this:
THE BOTTOM LINE
Logan is the first major comic book movie of this current era to actually attempt a mature storyline unencumbered by a need to adhere to PG-13 four quadrant blockbuster concerns. James Mangold didn’t have to give in to short-attention span editing to keep kids entertained. The script has 7-page scenes where old men like Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart simply talk, and rather than take the freedom of an R-rating in immature and meta directions ala Deadpool Logan instead aims for both physical and emotional brutality. I definitely felt the former, but not quite enough of the latter, despite what might be Jackman’s best (and final) performance as the man who, as the comics so often tell us, “is the best there is at what he does, but what he does isn’t very nice.”
I am actually seeing Logan again this afternoon. A second viewing, free of any hype, might change my opinion. What about you? Have you seen Logan? And did you like/love/hate it?