Movie Review: Logan
By Matthew Huntley
March 13, 2017

Wolverine and mini-wolverine.

Logan sets out to be the black sheep of the X-Men franchise by being the first entry in the series to be rated R. And it's a hard R. This is an unabashedly violent, gruesome, raw and sometimes hard-to-watch action movie; it creates a world that's dark, dusty and inhabited by misanthropic characters who possess a bleak and hopeless outlook on life. It's not unlike (and probably drew inspiration from) Mad Max: Fury Road with regards to its tone, locations and depraved people.

But then, the X-Men movies have never been “upbeat.” The humor and playfulness found in other superhero movies like, say, Spider-Man, The Avengers or Deadpool was never really a staple quality for the X-Men, probably because these superheroes always felt especially marginalized; they're lonely, sad, fearful and angry, and Logan takes these qualities to the extreme.

However, it would be wrong to praise Logan just because it's dark, violent and disturbing. Being these things for their own sake doesn't accomplish anything if there isn't a worthwhile story being told, and indeed James Mangold's film often feels redundant with its brutality, almost as if its carnage is the story. How many times, for instance, do we have to see the bad guys decapitated or viscously stabbed through various parts of the body before we become desensitized to such imagery and it no longer carries any meaning? Logan reaches that limit by its end and the movie is ultimately longer than it needs to be, no doubt because of its excessive action sequences. So, overall, it's far from perfect.

On the other hand, the movie is often bold, exciting, well-performed and technically impressive. Mangold and his team have crafted a visually stirring action drama that sees its titular character finally come to terms with himself, and even though the plot, characters and atmosphere feel derivative of other dystopian movies that have come before it, collectively, they keep us engaged and get a rise out of us.

Besides its bloodshed, another way Logan sets itself apart is by operating mostly independently of its brethren. Yes, there are references to the other X-Men movies, particularly Days of Future Past, but because this one is more character-driven, we feel it tells us everything we need to know and therefore it's not imperative viewers have seen the original or other sequels to know what's happening here. This allows Logan to stand on its own and we simply follow its story about a troubled soul who never could shake his turbulent past or find genuine purpose in life. And now, Logan (Hugh Jackman), a.k.a. Wolverine, wants nothing more than to buy a boat, sail away and die. He assumes it's just the same, since the mutant population is all but extinct because of a virus. His body is already giving way - the adamantium metal that runs throughout his body, which gives him those extendable claws he's famous for, is now killing him and overriding his innate mutant ability to heal instantaneously.

He and another mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino with the ability to track other mutants, essentially squat in an abandoned plant near the Texas-Mexico border. They take turns caring for the ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has a neurodegenerative disease and unless he gets routine shots of a certain serum, he has a seizure and his brain sends out powerful waves that cause a paralyzing, pulsating environment for anyone in the immediate area. Logan knows this and works as a chauffeur, trying to earn enough funds to buy his boat and take himself and Xavier out to the middle of the ocean. In the meantime, he'll work, drink, smoke cigars and pretend not to care for others even though he does.

But Logan's plans to lay low get disrupted when he's approached by two different individuals with connected but very different agendas. The first is the obviously sinister Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a security agent for Transigen, the company responsible for destroying mutants out of fear they couldn't be controlled. In the time since the Westchester incident of Days of Future Past (it is now 2029), Transigen has overseen two different projects in which they've tried to breed their own mutants using preserved mutant DNA, including Logan's, all in an effort to turn them into weapons. The first project, “X-23,” failed and the company found the child mutants it fostered had too many defects.

With the advent of “X-24,” Pierce, who comes equipped with one of those bad guy mechanical claws, is rounding up all the “X-23” children to dispose of them. This is where the second individual who approaches Logan comes into play. Her name is Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a former nurse at Transigen. She now watches after a young “X-23” mutant named Laura, played with focused intensity by Dafne Keen and who was bred with Logan's DNA. Needless to say, she also has metal claws and has been genetically engineered to run, jump, flip and strike like a super solider and the movie isn't shy about showing off her abilities or willingness to kill anyone she deems a threat, which is many.

Gabriela beseeches Logan to take Laura north to a place called “Eden,” the supposed sanctuary for the remaining “X-23” kids. Though he initially refuses, run-ins with Pierce and an uncovering of Transigen's dirty laundry force Logan to act. Several bodies later, he, Professor Xavier and Laura are on a road trip from Texas to North Dakota, and so their survival adventure begins.

The screenplay by Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green uses the characters' journey as a platform for all the customary action sequences, but also quieter, more human, er, mutant, scenes. The best of each involves Xavier, who at one point goes too long without taking his serum and thus causes the crippling, vibratory effect I mentioned earlier. The scene happens in a hotel and it's a masterful example of timing and special effects. A more down-to-earth moment takes place when Logan, Xavier and Laura spend the night at farm family's house after helping them round up their horses. During it, Xavier makes a heartfelt confession and we feel the kind of emotion the movie is trying to convey.

Despite these scenes, though, at the end of the day, Logan is still a superhero movie and, as such, adheres to a tried-and-true formula that allows us to guess where it's going. And just because it's exorbitantly violent and gory doesn't mean it's any more admirable than if it wasn't; it just means it more exclusive to adults.

Still, the characters and their plight resonate with us and the relationship that develops between Logan and Laura carries weight. Jackman and Keen take their roles seriously and we empathize with them as they struggle to find peace, and even though it ends on a hopeful note, Mangold, to his credit, never makes this world out to be one we envy. Watching it is like experiencing a war zone, and perhaps Mangold's intention with the R-rating was to incorporate enough extreme violence in order to attack violence in general by showing just how unpleasant it can be.

Is that stretching it? Maybe, but whatever the case, Logan, as a movie, hovers between standard and effectively dark. It's not groundbreaking by any means and we've seen other, better movies like it, but for those who've stuck with Logan throughout the 10 X-Men films in which he's appeared (if only for a few seconds), this last one makes us feel like the character has finally come full circle. And for those who haven't, the film is still visually stimulating and emotional - not to the degree that it's violent, but high enough to be satisfying.