The X-Men films have always held a pretty weird position in my mind for comic book films. Aside from First Class, none of them have been really exceptional films, they’ve all had good elements and I’d only consider two of them to be outright bad films (Apocalypse and Origins: Wolverine). The most intriguing aspects of the X-Men films though are when they do something different. First Class acting as a throwback to the roots of the X-Men and the irreverence of Deadpool (even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of that film) were the previous standouts in that regard, but now we have Logan, as big a departure from the traditional formula of the X-Men films as you’ll get, and probably the best X-Men film that’s been made.
The film takes place in a future where there have been no mutants born in the past 25 years, putting mutants on the verge of extinction, with some event leading to Logan and Charles Xavier being the only surviving members of the X-Men, living in isolation in Mexico with fellow mutant Caliban, Xavier hidden away due to his suffering from a neurological condition that’s affecting his psychic powers. Logan meanwhile, has a job as a limo driver, hoping to save enough money to buy a boat for him and Xavier to spend the rest of their days at sea. One day however, Logan is hired by a woman, Gabriela, to take her and a young girl, Laura, to a site called Eden in North Dakota. On the way to pick her up, Logan finds that Gabriela has been killed, with Laura stowing away in Logan’s limo. Following this, Logan, Xavier and Laura are attacked by the Reavers, a private security firm looking for Laura, who is revealed to be a mutant, bred by Transigen Labs from Logan’s DNA, making her technically Logan’s daughter. After they escape, Logan and Xavier go to take Laura to Eden, whilst being pursued by the Ravagers. The main thing about the film that works is the tone. Right from the start we know that this is a depressing world, one where the heroics of the X-Men no longer exist and where the characters are waiting for the release of death as it will end their suffering, both on a physical and psychological level. Logan and Xavier are so broken at the start of the film, shells of their former selves that you kind of want them to die so they won’t suffer anymore, wracked with the guilt of their actions making them feel that they deserve death. As the film goes on though, and as they interact with Laura and other people they meet on the road, Logan and Xavier start to see the value of life again, that there are beautiful moments worth living for and regaining the elements of community and family that they lost with the X-Men and that there is heroism in the world and that they can embody it, that they can represent the embellished versions of the characters in the pages of the X-Men comics. This works so well because of the context of the other X-Men films, we’ve seen the ways in which the characters can act as heroes and the good that they have done but which they have forgotten about, believing that everything they did was in vain, but throughout the film, we see that it wasn’t in vain, that it gave people hope and this hope is more powerful than any weapon. This helps to make Logan the rare superhero film that is actually adult and mature, oftentimes these films are fun with some mature elements added in, but never have these moments felt so natural and so earned as they have with Logan.
This maturity extends into the subtext of the film as well as the text, mainly in relation to Laura. There are a lot of elements of the control of minority populations throughout her character arc, which I won’t go into detail about here for fear of spoiling the film, and elements regarding the persecution of minorities by white authorities and corporate interests, not only with Laura but with a family the characters encounter later on in the film. The film shows the danger faced by minorities in America, particularly those from Mexico (as Laura is from Mexico) and that safety for these people lies outside America, either at sea or in Canada, and also helps to reinforce the themes of the power of escapism.
The performances meanwhile add to the maturity of the film. Hugh Jackman gives his best performance as Logan. Throughout the film we see how broken he is, the failure of this healing factor putting him in constant agony, needing alcohol to dull the pain, his sight slowly failing him, we see him as a man filled with pain and anger, completely understanding why the character is having thoughts of suicide. This version of Logan is more alone that any other, making his pain and anger more powerful and his growth through his relationship with Laura more impactful. Patrick Stewart is excellent as Xavier as well, showing the damage done to his mind through his neurological condition, the grouchy relationship he has with Logan, the fatherly aspect of the character with Laura and, most powerfully, his growing sense of guilt over prior actions, which I won’t spoil here. Dafne Keen meanwhile makes an incredible debut as Laura, her not speaking for most of the film adding an imposing nature to the character, giving her a strong presence, she does great work showing the badass nature of the character (along with the stunt team) and does a brilliant job selling the power of escapism and hope later on in the film. When I first heard that Stephen Merchant would be in the film, I was a bit worried that he wouldn’t fit into the film, having previously only been familiar with his comedy work with Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington, alongside his work on Portal 2, but he really surprised me with his performance as Caliban. There’s a dry, sarcastic nature to the character that Merchant brings across brilliantly and he has some great dramatic moments later on in the film. On the villain side, Boyd Holbrook gives a fairly generic performance as Donald Pierce, but this is more than made up for by Richard E Grant as Zander Rice, although to explain why his performance works so well would spoil the film so I won’t go into detail.
The technical side of the film is very impressive as well. The direction and cinematography helps to establish the tone of the film, being filmed more like a Western than a superhero film, highlighting the barren landscape, scorching heat and the isolation faced by the characters, with the music helping to further establish this more Western like tone. There are a lot of great background details that help build the world of the film that you wouldn’t notice, but it’s nice that they’re there. The action scenes though are where the film shines. With it being rated 15, we get to see Wolverine and Laura use their claws in a way that doesn’t shy away from the damage they are doing, people being dismembered, gored, just really nasty deaths, but the film doesn’t glorify them. Instead, the film shows the brutality and messiness of the fights, there’s no glory in any of them, every death feels painful, both to the audience and to the characters, and there’s a sort of anticlimactic feel to some of the action scenes that works to show the pointlessness of it all. Special attention has to go to the make-up department for the work done to show the injuries on Logan, every punch, every stab, every bullet that Logan takes feels painful, working well with the story element that Logan is losing his healing factor to show the physical strain that all the fighting is taking out of him, how exhausting it all is, adding to the overall feeling for Logan of exhaustion in his life.
Overall, Logan is easily the best X-Men film and will rank as one of the best comic book adaptations ever made. The maturity that is present in the film is a rare sight in comic book films and something that cannot be replicated. Without the past 18 years of context through the other X-Men films, particularly through the performances from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart the film would not have it’s emotional weight. The film shows that there is pain and darkness in the world, but through Laura there is hope that the world can be fixed, that the family of the X-Men that was lost can be regained. It’s clear that Logan is the film about the character that James Mangold wanted to make since he signed on to direct The Wolverine and the passion that everyone involved in the film has shows, creating one of the most powerful, unique superhero films that’s ever been made.
My Rating: 5/5