Logan, the latest Wolverine movie, is getting a lot of media attention for marking Hugh Jackman’s final outing as the title character, whom he’s portrayed in 9 different movies now over a 17 year period, but it also marks a turning point for the X-Men franchise as a whole. That is because Logan is easily the best X-Men movie there’s ever been and also hands down one of the greatest comic book movies of the last decade. It’s hard-edged, brutal examination of a hero’s decline but also a heartfelt depiction of family and how to stay true to oneself in the face of overwhelming odds. Simply put, it’s excellent.
Here’s why Logan is a significantly better film than previous entries in the X-Men franchise.
Less Characters = More Time To Focus
From a narrative perspective, it’s easy to see why there are very few mutants in Logan: most of them are dead. But as director James Mangold admits, limiting the character count offers more time to focus on the characters that are there and boy does Logan ever take advantage of this. The X-Men films by their very nature have always featured large ensemble casts, but this has often meant that certain characters get short shrift in favor of others (ironically, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine was one of the characters that most benefited from this format.)
While Logan represents the third movie dedicated solely to the most popular X-Men character, it’s just as much X-23 and Professor X’s story and the movie spends a lot of time just letting these characters hang out together and talk. With Avengers: Infinity War set to deliver the largest cast of characters ever assembled for a superhero movie next year, it’s refreshing to see a movie like Logan be so economical with its characters and not waste time on underdeveloped ones. Future X-Men movies would do well to pay attention.
It Makes Wolverine More Vulnerable Than Ever
To be honest, I was a bit disappointed when the concept of Logan was first revealed, as I really didn’t feel like watching a movie about Wolverine being a physical and emotional wreck. It turns out that this was a very stupid opinion, as Logan delivers exactly the kind of Wolverine story we need after years of having the character depicted as a nigh-invincible killing machine. Make no mistake, Wolvie is still very much capable of putting the hurt on people in this movie, but he’s definitely not having an easy go of it.
With a sickness eating away at him from the inside and wounds that no longer heal like they once did, the mutant formerly known as Wolverine spends much of this movie just struggling to stay upright. While I love seeing Wolverine effortlessly dispatch his enemies, Logan’s writers understand that the character is much more interesting when he’s vulnerable and in that regard, Logan delivers the most relatable and interesting depiction of the character yet.
It’s Surprisingly Funny
Don’t worry, Logan doesn’t have any of the family-friendly wisecracking found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but it does have its fair share of humorous moments, in case you were concerned it would be nearly two-and-a-half hours of abject misery. Surprisingly, it’s Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier who gets the most laughs, as the actor plays the mentally-ill professor as a sassy old geezer who is always calling Logan out on his crappy excuses for not wanting to help people.
It’s a tough job trying to add levity into a film as dark and adult-themed as Logan but whereas the humor (what little there is of it) that exists in something like Batman v Superman feels inauthentic and more than a little cringe-worthy, here it seems to spring organically from the situations the characters find themselves in. Logan is a prime example of a serious comic book film that is in no way made silly by its moments of much-needed levity and is just one of the many little surprises that make it such a great film.
Investing In Good Directors Pays Off
Logan represents director James Mangold’s second crack at making a Wolverine movie after helming 2013’s The Wolverine and it’s safe to say that he has crafted something vastly superior here. The thing is, Logan probably wouldn’t be half as good without Mangold’s involvement (he also developed the story and co-wrote the screenplay) and its success only helps lend further weight to the idea that investing in good filmmakers is how you get exceptional comic book movies.
The X-Men franchise owes a great deal to someone like Bryan Singer, but Mangold is simply a better filmmaker and Singer’s shoddy work on X-Men: Apocalypse reinforces the argument that the X-Men franchise either needs someone like Marvel’s Kevin Feige overseeing everything and keeping a consistent thorough-line with each movie or adopt the auteur model and let filmmakers like Mangold approach the material how they see fit. In other words, stop letting directors like Bryan Singer or, in DC’s case, Zack Snyder, near these things.
It Trusts Its Audience
One of the most refreshing things about Logan is that it doesn’t over-explain anything, almost as if it realizes that its audience has seen a whole bunch of comic book movies by this point and don’t need to be spoon-fed information. This is all the more commendable considering Logan sets up quite a few things that absolutely demand answers and the film only vaguely hints at what those answers might be. For instance, a character at one point makes reference to Professor X’s brain, riddled by dementia, as now being classified as a weapon of mass destruction and then pretty much just drops the subject. There’s no long-winded explanation of how Professor X’s powers work because we’ve already seen him in action in multiple previous films and are perfectly capable of understanding the gravity of such a statement.
Likewise, the calamity that killed off most of the mutants is brought up several times but only details are only thinly-sketched out, which could very well frustrate some viewers, but actually helps reinforce the film’s post-apocalyptic world, which bears more than a passing similarity to the one depicted in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Newcomers will probably be a bit perplexed by a lot of this but let’s be honest: if Logan is your first X-Men viewing experience, you probably deserve to be befuddled.
X-23 Is A Total Beast
As already mentioned, both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are in top form in Logan, but that’s to be expected. What is surprising is just how good their young co-star Dafne Keen is as Laura/X-23, who very nearly steals the show. Not since Chloë Grace Moretz’s Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass has there been a performance from a child actor this good in a superhero movie. Keen is an absolute force of nature as X-23 and feels in some sense like Logan’s id incarnate. She’s all latent fury, a mutant raised in captivity who sees everything as a threat and is uncomfortable with concepts like love and family.
Ironically, Laura is much like Logan in this way, but what really stands out about Keen’s performance is just how much emotion she is able to convey without saying a word, instead relying on facial ticks and body language to get her point across. The father-daughter-like bond between Logan and Laura is the heart and soul of this movie and thank goodness they found an actress as capable as Keen to act opposite Hugh Jackman. It would be such a shame if we don’t see her reprise this character in a future movie.
Unsurprisingly, people die in Logan and although most of these deaths happen to faceless mercenaries, it feels like they all mean something. Much of Logan’s conflict in this movie revolves around his collective guilt over the many lives he’s taken over the years and that weight seems almost physical as the film gets closer to its conclusion, as Logan bears the scars that come with a life filled with violence.
Logan’s battle-weary attitude and struggle with his sins is contrasted expertly with X-23, who is still too young to fully grasp the repercussions of her actions or the mental toll they will eventually have on her. Of course, it’s immensely satisfying to see these two characters rip apart the evil men they encounter over the course of their journey, but as the body count rises, it becomes clear that Logan is simply exhausted by it all and the film as a whole makes attempts to engage with the nature of heroism and how to stay true to what is “good” in the face of overwhelming violence.
The Action Scenes Are Viscerally Intense, But The Character Drama Is Even Better
Thanks to its R-rating, Logan delivers some of the most brutally violent action ever depicted in a superhero film, to the point where I lost count of how many people were stabbed in the head with adamantium claws. Taken as whole though, there aren’t really all that many action scenes in Logan and none of them feel like they’re there just to satisfy the audience’s bloodlust. Really, it’s the movie’s quieter moments that are its greatest achievement, as the action often feels like it’s there to get the characters to the next scene where they’re able to take a reprieve and chat (it helps that most of these quieter moments are directly caused by a need to get Logan out of combat before he gets killed).
Even though it has plenty of unique action beats to deliver (you’ve never seen Wolverine fight like this before and it’s truly a sight to behold) Logan is a movie that understands that the novelty of seeing superheroes fight in live action has lost much of its luster and that superhero films can’t simply rely on scenes of Captain America fighting Iron Man anymore to pull audiences in. Going forward, the best comic book movies are going to be judged by how well they deliver on character drama and this is something that Logan absolutely nails.
Different Genre Influences
Some of the best superhero films of the last decade all share one important characteristic: at their heart, they’re just as much genre films as they are superhero ones. For example, X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are arguably two of the best superhero movies ever made and each one wear their genre influences on their sleeve: First Class is structured to feel like a 60s era Bond movie at times and Winter Soldier is like a throwback to 70s political thrillers.
Logan is much more overt in its influences, as it’s not only structured similarly to a Western — in some ways, it feels like a spiritual successor to James Mangold’s 3:10 To Yuma remake — it literally shows its characters watching the 1953 Western Shane, which is about a gunslinger who saves a farm from outlaws and must leave afterward despite the protests of the little girl who loves him. Logan is a movie that wants to be compared to great Westerns and it’s to the film’s credit that it feels like it’s right at home in that genre, the only different being that its gunslingers are replaced by mutants with superpowers.
Hugh Jackman Goes Out On Top
Hugh Jackman has made no secret that Logan will be his final time playing Wolverine and my goodness does he ever go for it in this one. Jackman has long been the X-Men MVP alongside Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (the latter of whom is also in fine form here) but he somehow finds new layers to the character here and delivers what may be his finest Wolverine performance, which is pretty incredible considering Logan marks his 9th franchise appearance. We’ve certainly seen Jackman play Logan as a reluctant hero before, but his motivations here are significantly different. Depicted as a man full of regret who has lost so much, he simply doesn’t want to care about anything or anyone anymore.
Put it this way: late in the movie, there’s a scene where Logan lets out a feral roar that literally stops all the other characters in the scene in their tracks and it’s in that moment that the finality of Logan really hit me. When Jackman started playing Wolverine more than 17 years ago, people said he was tall or too handsome to do the character justice but by the time Logan ended, I was contemplating whether or not another actor should ever even touch the character. This is how you go out on top.
It Breathes New Life Into A Franchise That Was Treading Water
After the mediocre X-Men: Apocalypse last year, I was ready to write off all future X-Men movies, as that movie made it clear that Fox really had no idea what they were doing with the franchise anymore. Admittedly, the Wolverine spin-offs have always sort of done their own thing, so it wasn’t exactly fair to write off Logan too, but it’s not like either X-Men Origins: Wolverine or The Wolverine were especially great either.
And while Logan — an R-rated sendoff to one specific character — is still very much a separate entity from the mainline X-Men movies, it’s so good that it arguably elevates the franchise as a whole. Logan proves that there is still plenty of life left in the X-Men franchise if done right and while it’s hard to say how much it will influence X-Men: Supernova or other future films, it could convince Fox to take more interesting risks with the franchise if it ends up being financially successful.