Sam Reynolds ’18/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
In 2008, Christopher Nolan revolutionized comic book movies forever with his depiction of Batman in The Dark Knight. It was a film grounded in realism, gritty crime and epic philosophical and moral battles that of which had never been remotely explored to such depths in a mainstream superhero movie before it. The astronomical success of the picture ushered in the era of the “serious” blockbuster. What Hollywood clearly took away from The Dark Knight’s success was that audiences craved the same brooding, self-serious tones that had become synonymous with Nolan’s style, resulting in a string unbearably dark and dull misfires that failed to come even remotely close to reaching the heights of its originator. What Hollywood failed to grasp is what made The Dark Knight such a milestone was not it’s unconventionally gritty atheistic — though that certainly did contribute to it’s unique story. No, The Dark Knight worked so well because at it’s core it did not feel like a superhero film, but instead a compelling crime drama full of vividly fleshed out characters and intoxicating conflict that just happened be presented as a Batman film. Because of this gross misinterpretation, The Dark Knight remained arguably the only superhero film for nearly a decade that truly transcended its genre.
It took almost nine years, but it would appear that Nolan’s masterpiece has finally found it’s rightful successor in Logan, the final installment of Hugh Jackman’s 17-year run as notorious anti-hero mutant Wolverine, and by far the best. It is the film that both fans and Hugh Jackman himself deserve after being imprisoned by PG-13 ratings and generic action films for over a decade. Logan serves as a vehicle for filmmakers to finally explore the truly tortured nature of The Wolverine that past films have only been able to allude to — but never fully capture. It is the wish fulfillment of faithful comic book and film fans everywhere, yet does not feel as though it is pandering to anyone. There is violence. There is gore. There is (a lot) of swearing. And above all, there is heartbreak.
Set in a near future in which no mutant has been born in 25 years, we find Logan a shadow of the man he once was. He works as a limo driver in order to get by, while secretly taking care of the mentally unstable Professor Xavier (a thoughtful and heart wrenching performance from the great Patrick Stewart). Logan clearly wants nothing to do with his past heroics, but trouble inevitably comes knocking on his door when a woman comes seeking help from the Wolverine, begging him to transport a mysterious child, Laura (a fantastic introductory performance by Dafne Keen) across the country to safety. Despite his best efforts, Logan, Professor X and young Laura partake a perilous cross-country road trip while being hunted by a mysterious organization led by the ruthless Donald Pierce (a delightfully villainous outing from Narcos star Boyd Holbrook).
From the opening shot of Logan passed out next to an empty bottle of booze, followed immediately with a graphically violent and profane gang fight (there are at least three F-bombs in the first five minutes), Logan clearly presents itself not as a superhero movie, but as a Western. Logan takes on the quintessential role of the washed up anti-hero, and much of the tension comes from wondering if he is still able to redeem himself by caring for those around him. The plot takes its time in unraveling, and moves at a comfortably slow pace, never shifting it’s focus far from Logan’s internal anguish. The movie takes risks not by aiming for the epic and extreme, but by daring to focus solely on the personal and intimate. Director James Mangold never gives the audience the comfort in thinking that Wolverine is going to overtake and destroy the entire evil organization hunting him, as would be the goal of any other X-Men film. That kind of escalating storyline is a pitfall lesser Wolverine stories have fallen for in the past, and the creative forces behind Logan know this. Instead, the camera turns it’s thoughtful gaze to the characters and the relationships between them. The story wastes no time in trying to explain any more backstory than is needed, and intelligently looks for ways Logan might still be able to find meaning in such a broken world. As the similarly groundbreaking X-Men movie Deadpool broke conventions by blatantly mocking familiar tropes of the superhero genre, Logan subtly acknowledges what the movie would be expected to do with such material, and turns it back to those expectations without saying a word.
Hugh Jackman’s final portrayal of the character is his best yet, as he is presented as a worn down shell of a man, broken physically and mentally. His facial expressions alone reveal a pain buried deep within Logan’s soul; the entire performance a true testament to Jackman’s incredible acting abilities and respect for the character he has embodied for over a decade. It is a career-defining performance for a career-defining character.
The violence in Logan is something to be commended as well, as it allows the audience to share in Wolverine’s pain and guilt like never before. As past X-Men outings have shied away from the obvious gruesomeness that would come with having sharp claws protruding from one’s hands, Logan never lets you forget it. The way Wolverine slices and stabs through countless villains is full-on graphic violence – unrelentingly gory and real in the way the blades go through men’s heads like a hot knife to butter. This not only provides outstanding action sequences and horrifying brutality, but also enhances the misery and savagery that Wolverine must personally endure every time he takes a life. Logan knows how to creatively use action to give the audience deeper insight to the character’s pain and suffering, as it is rooted in the Wolverine’s DNA. An extensive amount of the film is also dedicated to Logan’s sheer exhaustion and physical recovery from gruesome fights that other films normally take for granted by having character’s recover instantly. While Hollywood has made audience numb to intense battles, Logan wakes viewers up by having them share in Logan’s pain. Here, the battles have a true gravity that many other films of any genre would not dare to consider.
There are small faults in the film that can prove bothersome if one is really looking. These mainly arrive through a few minor shortcuts Logan must take to keep the plot alive that are not consistent with the film’s gritty realism. But Mangold knows to move right past these moments and almost always justifies them by delivering fresh content and heart-wrenching character dynamic that are told in truly original ways.
Logan is a carefully crafted story that fans have been craving for years. It stands out as a genre-defying superhero film by scaling everything down instead of taking the constant temptation of escalation. It is an entirely stand alone story that still benefits from its extended universe only because our countless experiences with Wolverine in the past are able to add an immediate investment in the character that the film utilizes fully. This is how it should be done. If Hollywood is smart, they’ll finally learn what creates a successful blockbuster is a complete story with fleshed out characters and plot-enhancing action. Though I’m not holding my breath.
Either way, we’ll always have Logan to serve as a shining example as well as a pitch-perfect send off for Hugh Jackman’s incredible run as the Wolverine. What a ride it was.
Overall Grade: A-
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