MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Logan’ is one of the finest superhero films to date

Beautifully resonant and wonderfully realized by director James Mangold, Hugh Jackman's last R-rated hurrah as Wolverine is the best chapter yet

| February 17, 2017

At this point, it can be argued that everything that the light touches is Marvel Studios’s kingdom, and any other company seeking to emulate their success with superhero films will just have to take a number, this includes Fox’s collaboration with Marvel that is completely separate from Marvel Studios. While there have been some wonderful strides for the company, its two biggest struggles recently were in 2015’s god-awful “Fantastic Four” and in the underwhelming “X-Men: Apocalypse,” that failed to generate as much critical or financial buzz as its previous installment, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” did. Luckily, in the mist, a new savior arose for Fox: “Deadpool.” Made on a smaller budget than most superhero films did, this was the rare occasion of a superhero film donning an R-rating, which would’ve ruined the film had it not been taken on. Continuing the success of the R-rated superhero flick, Hugh Jackman was determined to make an R-rated Wolverine film before retiring the character after 17 years. After taking a significant pay cut, Jackman and the team began work on “Logan,” but is this just riding the coattails of “Deadpool” too closely?

Not a chance in hell.

Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) lives a somber life in El Paso in the year 2029. The only mutants on earth that remain are Logan, Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who all live south of the Mexican border in hiding, due to Prof. X’s violent seizures. After being approached by a nurse with a child named Laura (Dafne Keen) demanding the Wolverine’s help, Logan soon finds himself followed by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a mercenary looking for the child. After reluctantly agreeing to transport the two to North Dakota, Logan learns that there’s something very special about the child that he could’ve never imagined. Together with Prof. X, Logan must avoid the brutal forces on his tail while protecting the volatile child.

“Logan” is not only the finest “X-Men” movie to date, but it’s one of the finest superhero films to date. My biggest fear going into “Logan” is that its R-rating wouldn’t find as much of a true statement as “Deadpool” had, but if anything, “Logan” finds more use in this restricted rating than “Deadpool” did. Even during the opening credits, we’re exposed to the level of shocking violence that pervades “Logan” like blood flows through our bodies. This is far from any other type of superhero film ever made, because it’s hard to even go so far as to call it that. Sure, the film features classic Marvel characters in accurate depictions of their comic counterparts, but “Logan” feels entirely different.

From the start, it’s clear that Wolverine is not a hero anymore, not if you could ever consider him to be one. He is a weathered, angry old man who constantly picks fights at the world until it beats him down hard enough to feel pain. He finds himself in a vicious cycle of alcoholism and self-harm, and we get a heartbreakingly brutal look at rock bottom for a typical “superhero.” Wolverine is not a man bitter about his past experiences, he is a fucking angry man furious at the entire world for his existence. While Ryan Reynolds did pick up some awards consideration for his role in “Deadpool,” even snatching a nomination at the Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Leading Role – Comedy or Musical, but if any performance in a superhero film truly deserves awards recognition, it’s Jackman here. Having played this character for over 17 years, you feel this accelerated, dismal sense of aging personally, as if we’ve grown on the sidelines, watching this man grow himself into the grave. This makes his state in “Logan” so incredibly jarring, it includes lots that we’ve come to know from the character, but from a completely new place at the bottom.

Meanwhile, Patrick Stewart delivers his best performance as Prof. X since donning the character back in 2000 alongside Jackman. We get much of the background on Xavier in the prequel films, but we never got much in the way of Patrick Stewart. Having always been some sort of omnipotent being in the “X-Men” film series, to see him so broken down and vulnerable here gives Stewart the power to bring just as much emotional resonance to the character as James McAvoy did, if not more. Alongside Stewart lies a newcomer that not only matches the broken charisma of our two leads, but paves a way past them to instant stardom. Dafne Keen’s take on the initially mute mutant, Laura, is a beauty to behold. Like Wolverine and Prof. X, we meet Laura at her lowest moment, but the beauty of the performance lies in her ability to match everything Wolverine throws at her with an almost depressing ease. The experiences of this child lies in Keen’s eyes, and you feel these atrocities committed against her in full effect. It’s beautiful work.

Going even further on great performances in “Logan,” perhaps the only true fun to be had in the film is Boyd Holbrook’s performance as Pierce, our repulsive villain. This Southern gentlemen is magnetic and charismatic, but still manages to be a completely horrific human being, more so than the usual comic book villain. He finds a way to make himself charming and funny, while still keeping that distance of being a truly evil person.

Returning from his previous directorial work on 2013’s “The Wolverine,” James Mangold makes a complete 180 when it comes to the tone of the films. While “The Wolverine” was a darker, if still stylized and occasionally cheesy action film, “Logan” could not be any different. The key component in “Logan” that differentiates itself from anything with the Marvel brand (Studios or otherwise) is its staging. “Logan” contains no big catastrophic finale that destroys cities and causes glorious amounts of 3D destruction. This is a slower, drawn out film that seeks to find the root of each of the characters in their lowest moments; at humanity’s lowest moment. This film is depressing, which might just be an understatement to how thematically dark “Logan” actually is. “Logan” is bleak, but somehow beautifully resonant. It shows the power of strength in pain, fear, sorrow in a way that many dramas can pull off effectively, let alone an action film.

Don’t think this is some “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” moment where filmmakers added a few drops of blood after shooting to grab the film an edgy R-rating, “Logan” is sometimes shockingly brutal. Over the years, we’ve become accustomed to seeing Wolverine hack and slash his way through villains with no bloodshed whatsoever, to preserve a PG-13 rating, so to see his actually rip through the face of a villain after 17 years does come across a bit jarring, but this feels like the only way to get a true Wolverine film that’s actually respectful to the comics it comes from.

Even better, “Logan” feels like a real labor of love from a lot of people that love and respect the character and franchise more than anyone. “Logan” is meticulously staged, darkly funny, incredibly emotional and psychologically engaging, with quite a bit of heart, despite much of the bitterness of the humans remaining on Earth in 2029. From Jackman’s performance, to Mangold’s direction, to Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green’s clever, yet exceedingly simple screenplay, everything feels satisfyingly in place or missing.

Unlike the previous film in the “Wolverine” series, Fox and Mangold ditched the idea of a 3D conversion to release the film in IMAX, a move that I was initially surprised by, but was sold on when I saw exactly what type of film this was going to be. Free of spectacle, this is a film that takes the aesthetic of something like “Hell or High Water” more than it does “X-Men: Apocalypse,” making calling “Logan” a superhero films inaccurate in itself.

When everything in a film goes right, it creates a strange feeling upon leaving a theater, as you actually find yourself unable to create the initial thought on a piece of work. Leaving “Arrival,” I didn’t know it would turn out to be my favorite film of the year immediately, nor did I leave “La La Land” skipping from the masterpiece I had just seen. Films like this take time to absorb before any judgments can truly be made against them. When discussing a superhero film that does everything right, the main criteria typically consists of “Was it awesome?,” but “Logan” is a completely different breed of superhero. This is a bleak, beautiful, dark and sometimes incredibly depressing film that utilizes human emotion better than any superhero film has done to date. “Logan” might just be the first truly great film of 2016.

5/5

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Directed by: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, and introducing Dafne Keen.
Runtime: 135 minutes
Rating: R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and brief nudity.
Also available in IMAX.

Twentieth Century Fox presents, in association with Marvel Entertainment, a Kinberg Genre/Hutch Parker/The Donners’ Company production, a film by James Mangold, “Logan”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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