Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine was there, in the early 2000s when a new wave of superhero movies broke through. Now, almost 20 years later, his story reaches a culmination in Logan. And the whole history of those two decades of comic book movies can be read in the way this film is set up. It has rings like a tree if you squint your eyes.
To illustrate how Logan has become the film it is, please let me give a short a reminder of the baggage and heritage it carries. The X-Men franchise has been under the supervision of 20th Century Fox and director Brian Singer, who put the mutants on the cinematic map but many of the X-Men films were messy. They had potential but often lacked focus; and kept going over the same ground. Last year’s X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) was a bit of a let-down in that regard.
Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan showed that you could take a comic book hero and make a very dark, serious film if you take the right character. His batman films changed the way we looked at comic book movies. And Wolverine is like Batman in some ways: full of dark emotions. Brooding and moody. Troubled; detached from the world. Naturally, there were some efforts to produce a standalone Wolverine film, but they just didn’t really hit the spot. What we needed was something harder. Something grittier. And then Deadpool (2016) made Hollywood realize that there is an eager market for r-rated comic book movies.
And thus we come to Logan, the gritty standalone that Wolverine deserved. Instead of a sprawling, messy film as the last few X-Men movies, director James Mangold gives us a tight, focused film that has more to do with a Western than a SF story. I also hope, for everyone’s sake, that this will be the final Wolverine film. Not because they are bad, but because the time has come to give it a fitting conclusion, and Logan offers us this. Also, both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Steward look ready to give these characters a fitting conclusion.
What Logan is most of all, is appropriate. The short focus on a just a few characters is fitting for Logan, who has always been a loner. The story is almost relentlessly bleak, with only a few short moments of beauty that are quickly undercut by something horrendous happening. And poor Xavier doesn’t have the strength to direct his own life. He is sucked into Wolverine’s orbit and his life choices. He can advise Logan if he is willing to listen. Bless Patrick Steward, who repeatedly lifts the X-Men films to a higher emotional level.
I’m not as invested in Wolverine as I would like to be. After 20 years, Jackman’s grumpy, snarling portrayal has lost its freshness and Logan as a character never presented anything truly remarkable. It’s the characters around him, Xavier, Caliban and the young Laura who keep pushing the reluctant hero to go forward. I wish Logan had a goal, but for much of the film we are just running. Logan the film is still one of the best comic book movies of the past years and perhaps the best X-Men movie to date, but it doesn’t reach the strength of the Nolan batman movies.
So yes, Logan is lost, and the film Logan is about him finding himself again. A lot of tragedy has to happen to get to this point. It’s fun to dissect the story to see all the symbolism about fatherhood and fighting your own past, but that would be spoilers, so just keep these themes in the back of your mind to spot them. This may be the least superhero-y superhero movie so far. It’s a quality character study about a lost man who happens to have adamantium claws. And as that, it’s pretty good.