It’s official kids, the R-rated superhero film has arrived and is here to stay. Teed-up last year by Deadpool and knocked out of the park by Logan, Marvel’s final film with Hugh Jackman as The Wolverine not only legitimizes an adult brand of storytelling within these newfangled cinematic universes, without having to resort to juvenile, off-color humor, it returns the genre to the artistic heights of Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man. Through great attention to character and detail, director James Mangold brings mythology and reality together in a way not previously seen in a comic book film, orchestrating a synthesis of opposites of human and mutant, age and youth, good and evil, forgiveness and vengeance, where light can only begin to permeate the darkness at its most oppressive and bleak. Logan is that different breed of superhero movie that fans have been clamoring for, that both Marvel and D.C. have so far failed to deliver, an adult fantasy that deals with being an adult, one that faces changing responsibilities that come with age head-on and one that wallows in extreme, graphic violence. Logan earns its R-rating proudly, and through its exhaustive 140 minute running time, becomes the most deeply human mutant film ever made, and one that should not be missed at any cost.
The year is 2029, and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine has taken his self-destructive nihilism almost to the brink, wasting what remains of his life, which is ever slipping away through age and a debilitating illness inside his body, as a limo driver in Arizona, occasionally ferreting pills to Professor Charles Xavier, who lives in a shack with the albino Caliban somewhere across the border in Mexico. Logan picks up our heroes not long after a catastrophic event has decimated the X-Men, leaving the three of them on their own. One day a woman requests his assistance taking a young mutant girl across the country to North Dakota to meet up with what remains of her kind, and what follows is a journey not only in physical distance, but in psychological torment as the past and present demons collide within Wolverine and the pull of oblivion brings him further to the brink of humanity, while pursued by a gang of villains led by an evil scientist who stakes a claim on the mutant children.
Logan is exceedingly violent, refusing to look away from any opportunity Wolverine has to bury his claws in someone’s face or throat, and the film relishes many scenes of disembowelment, decapitation, evisceration, and literally exploding heads. At other times it is heartbreakingly genuine and melancholy, as in the film’s pivotal set piece at a farmhouse somewhere between Arizona and North Dakota, where offering assistance on the highway to corral some runaway horses is met with an invitation to dinner and to spend the night, an opportunity Professor X admits is the finest night he’s ever spent, bringing the two of them, along with their new, young charge, as close to normalcy as could ever be possible. These two extremes are heavily exploited by director James Mangold, hitting excruciatingly hard on both fronts, and finding meaning and resonance somewhere in the middle. We want our heroes to succeed, but we want them to do so at a great price, and Logan thrives within the idea that only on the brink of death can true life be found.
Hugh Jackman delivers the performance of his career so far as Logan, surprising in itself because superheroes are rarely thought of as a thespian’s dream role. He invests everything in his portrayal, doubling down on the sarcasm and rage and self-deprecation touched on in every one of his Wolverine appearances over the last thirteen years, and its nothing less than Oscarworthy. Patrick Stewart does likewise, and as both of them have professed Logan to be their final forays as X-Men, I can not think of a more graceful and heartfelt exit from the franchise for either of them. Newcomer Dafne Keen, as Laura, the young mutant girl bearing more than a few similarities to Logan, is a phenomenal force of nature, attacking her role in a similar way, but replacing the defeatism with hope and passion, creating a distinct opposition that makes for many a great scene together.
Logan is ruthless and brutal and dark and beautiful. There is simply no other superhero film like it in existence. It corrects all the mistakes of Mangold’s and Jackman’s previous collaboration four years ago with The Wolverine, mostly because it does not have to be concerned with constantly juggling the longevity of a franchise. Logan is a film that can only arise out of pure artistic freedom, and a great chemistry between actor and director. Having directed Joaquin Phoenix in the performance of his career as Johnny Cash in 2005’s Walk The Line Mangold is no stranger to getting the absolute most out of his actors, embodying characters cast against a dark cloud of impending annihilation. Logan, like many surprising genre films in 2017 so far presents a perfect marriage of style and substance, capitalizing on the newfound niche of hard-R-rated action films long thought dead, and certainly among the superhero film, reinvigorated as an endless string of PG-13 formula pictures by Marvel Studios over the last ten years. The artistic and commercial success of Logan should bode well for similar films in the future. Although it will be very hard for any of them, even Deadpool – especially Deadpool – to top the pure level of cinema achieved with Logan.
The Verdict: Rave