There is no post-credits scene after Logan. After 17 years of missteps and studio ineptitude, Hugh Jackman finally gets the Wolverine movie he’s always deserved, full of bloody action and incredible pathos, with a skilled director (in this case, James Mangold of Cop Land and Walk the Line fame) behind the camera, completely and totally free of the franchise obligations that have bogged down every superhero film in recent memory. This is the end of the line for Jackman’s portrayal of the character (and a pretty big deal), and it’s the best retirement present anybody could have asked for. Hell, it’s better than a gold watch, as watches very rarely redeem the entirety of your whole damn career. The latest installment of the X-Men franchise is a loose adaptation of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan comic arc from the mid-aughts, which loses a lot of the stupid shit from that comic (much of which is thankfully tied up in rights disputes with Marvel Studios) and keeps much of the stuff that works (the setting, the advanced age of the characters, the bleak tone).
This film is here to kick ass, take names, and make grown men cry like children; and it succeeds wildly on all of those fronts.
Logan opens with a drunken Wolverine sleeping in the back of the limo he drives for a living as gangbangers try to steal the hubcaps from it. It’s 2029, the X-Men are no more, the mutant population is mysteriously dying out, and his healing factor is failing, the adamantium in his bones slowly killing him. The (presumed) last three mutants in the world — Logan, who crosses the border to work so that they all potentially escape one day, the sun-sensitive mutant tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant in a pretty thankless role), and a dementia-stricken Professor Xavier, cared for by the prior two — are hiding out in a building adjacent to a toppled water tower in Mexico. A woman follows Logan and begs him for help in saving a young girl named Laura who may have powers similar to his. Of course, circumstance (in this case, an evil corporation and their cybernetically-enhanced hired goons, the Reavers) forces Logan and Xavier to embark on a cross-country journey to get her to safety, a mysterious place called Eden that may or may not actually exist. And to say any more would be an injustice. Hell, I kind of feel like I’ve already said too much.
The main attraction here is obviously the cast, and they’re uniformly fantastic. Jackman is finally given a chance to put his considerable talents behind the performance that made him a household name, and he doesn’t squander a minute of it. His Logan is a shattered, scarred man who numbs his pain away with drink, who is forced to confront his age in ways he didn’t expect (his reading glasses are the subject of some amount of humor in the film). He’s gruff and bitter to mask all the pain that he’s burying beneath it all, and the moments when that facade cracks and he expresses a genuine emotion — whether it’s through laughter, tears, or rage — it’s absolutely magnetic.
It’s a shame he’s nearly shut out of the film by Dafne Keen, who is a remarkable young talent and is absolutely fucking fantastic as X-23. Hell, she’s 12 and carries a movie without speaking for much of the runtime, and when she does it’s in two different languages. It’s hard to believe that someone got a performance this good out of a child actor, especially when Jackman’s in her face yelling for much of their time together as well. She’s Wolverine’s id personified (though she does have the playfulness and impulsiveness of a child), though a late reveal in the film helps to complicate this in a way that makes her so much more interesting. The rest of the cast is excellent, including Boyd Holbrook, who plays one of the most wonderfully irritating bad guys in recent memory as the leader of the Reavers, and I’d like to make a special note of Sir Patrick Stewart’s work in this film as well. His Professor X in this movie is absolutely heartbreaking, and painfully difficult to watch at times if you’ve known someone who’s suffered from dementia in your life.
Visually, Mangold’s choice to keep Millar and McNiven’s Western setting pays off a hundred times over — it plays to all of his strengths as a director and as a visual stylist, harkening back to his last truly successful pre-Wolvie work on the 3:10 to Yuma remake. His vistas are starkingly beautiful, capturing the American Southwest less as a place of classic vigilante heroism (like one might assume he’d use for a character like this) than as a completely desolate landscape. There are subtle notes to his choices of landscapes — odds are the amount of vegetation a setting has correlates well with the amount of hope the characters find there — and this is definitely the most beautiful and the most timeless film in the franchise by a country mile. Only occasionally does the cinematography remind the viewer that they’re watching something filmed on digital cameras, and Mangold’s made a work that can truly compete with any recent Western worth its salt. Perhaps owing to his experiences on The Wolverine (boy did that bullet train action sequence age poorly) or to the budget compromises that were to ensure Logan’s R rating, there’s not a whole lot of noticeable CGI aside from a few robotic appendages sported by the bad guys and the occasional “this would be child abuse if we actually filmed it” moment during one of Laura’s fight scenes.
Though they’re not the saving grace that they used to be now that the story’s solid, those fights are fantastically executed and brutal as all hell. For years, nerds have been bitching about how, on screen, we’ve never actually seen the true carnage that a man with six metal claws can unleash on the human body. Logan has heard your complaints, fanboys, and aims to make you wish you’d never left the safety of the PG-13 rating. In all seriousness, the violence is as bleak as the landscape — throughout the runtime, it’s never more than minutes away from someone getting killed in the worst ways possible, regardless of whether the victim deserves it or not. The choreography is fantastic. It’s great seeing Logan and Laura fight together, and their styles complement their skillsets nicely, and there’s some excellent justification for Laura having a flipping-around-and-wrestling style of fighting in her powerset (as opposed to every other recent action movie with women as combatants). It’s a kind of physical action that’s alien to a lot of superhero fiction and is incredibly hard to pull off and make palatable to the audience (see Man of Steel) and it absolutely works with these characters in this setting.
Though it’s not totally perfect — we don’t get to spend enough time with Laura to make her arc as complete as the movie wants it to be, and some of the circumstances of the final battle are plagued by the same kind of villain-revenge nonsense that’s plagued superhero movies since the ‘89 Batman — Logan is an excellent, heavy film, the first X-Movie to be both better than its source material and worthy of consideration come the end of the year. There’s a legitimately fascinating subtext to be teased out about the nature of mentorhood and the way our “fathers” define us by their mistakes — one that’s absolutely obvious when it comes to Laura, Logan, and the faceless company men hunting them, but another between Logan and Xavier that might be some of the most nuanced writing I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. It isn’t so much about breaking the cycle of violence than it is about learning to live with the consequences of your actions. Some are driven mad by what they’ve done, others are broken by it, but no matter what, it’ll never leave you. The film explicitly invites comparisons with George Stevens’ Shane, and complicates that relationship between the mentor and mentee in a number of innovative and interesting ways. It feels like a movie that really rewards those who rewatch it, and I’m planning on seeing it again soon so I can suss some of the extra details out of it.
Hell, it even helps redeem X-Men Origins: Wolverine somewhat, and I thought that would have been a Herculean task for even the most skilled of directors.
Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus.