We have spent nearly twenty years watching the time-traveling, claw-heavy exploits of the X-Men, and Logan proves a fitting conclusion to many of these characters. In a perfect world, this would be the last X-Men film for a while, allowing enough time to go by for the audience to warm-up to the eventual reawakening of the franchise with entirely new players. (Baring, of course, the fringe players like Deadpool or the in-the-works New Mutants and X-Force.)
Logan plays out like a gritty Neo-Western, Shane but with claws and a dementia-addled telepathic genius. It is unquestionably the best of the three solo Wolverine outings and in the upper echelon of the X-Men franchise in general. Not only for its bloodstained hard truths and emotional complexities, but also for the ways in which is finally engages with the darker impulses and heart of Logan’s character that the prior PG-13 films could only flirtatiously blush at.
It would seem that co-writer/director James Mangold learned from his few questionable choices in The Wolverine, an already solid and terrific Wolverine film, to make something greater. There’s still a problem of bloated running time, something that’s gotten a strange-hold on our modern blockbusters in general, and the comic book superhero genre in particular. Personally, I could have easily trimmed a few sections here and there, and cut out a couple of the facial stabbings, but Mangold’s generally onto some thrilling sights and sounds here.
Not only for the ways in which the carnage is liberally dished out, but for the ways that he makes sure we pull back and look at the physical and emotional cost it takes out on our characters. The best of these films, like the Nolan Batman trilogy, never lose sight of the people beneath the heroics and the moral, emotional, and physical dilemmas and traumas they encounter in their pursuits for the greater good. This is felt throughout the script, but given visceral life in Hugh Jackman’s strongest showing in the role up to this point, and if this truly is the end for him then he’s going out on a glory note.
Jackman’s long been a charm bomb in any of his projects, and he makes the odd sight of an elderly Logan wearing reading glasses while wearing blood stained clothing strangely hilarious and nearly poetic in its world-weary and battered heroism. He gets a rich symphony to play here, acting as both surrogate son to a sundowning Xavier and father figure to Laura, a young girl with similar powers, claws, and rage issues. If you stuck this performance in an end-of-year drama without the superhero sheen, he’d be rolling in awards considerations and hosannas.
While reliable players like Patrick Stewart and Stephen Merchant are invaluable to pull your emotional interest, and Richard E. Grant is reliably oily as the big bad, it’s newcomer Dafne Keen as Laura that’s the most unexpected performance. Of course, X-23 is one hell of a character in the comics, another lab experiment alternating between taking their rage out upon the world and finding a place of peace, be it inner or a physical location. Keen is charismatic and enigmatic in the role, having to convey complex emotional shifts in a primarily mute role through body language and non-verbal grunting. I want big things for her in the future.
Logan is the strongest showing for an X-Men film since Days of Future Past, and one of the strongest recent showings for a Marvel property in who knows how long for its daring to shake up the formula. That near two-and-half-hours runtime can prove a case of too much (the aggressive clone, the farm scenes, protracted scenes of ultra-violence), but there’s just too much that’s good, smart, and emotional engaging here. If this is truly how we say goodbye to many of these characters as played by these actors, then it’s a near-perfect and deeply satisfying way to say goodbye to old friends.