Movie Review: Logan
By Ben Gruchow
March 9, 2017
It feels like it's been leading up to this. Out of all the movies based on comic books or graphic novels, Marvel, DC, or otherwise, the X-Men series has always possessed the greatest potential as political allegory. Isolated other entries in the genre have dipped their toes in, usually in hesitant and superficial fashion (most recent example: witness the tentative but thoughtful “what-if”s about collateral damage and collective vs individual rationale, stapled to clumsy third-act plot mechanics and reset buttons, in last year’s Captain America: Civil War), but these movies about mutant causes and battles have worn their political inclinations on their sleeve right from the beginning, so openly that I suspect it's the main reason why they've mostly avoided being the subject of “but I don't want my movies to teach me lessons” carping that invariably pops up to varying degrees whenever a studio tentpole decides to reach a little further than expected.
The deficiencies that have made a showing in most of the sequels and spin-offs are undeniable and occasionally consequential to quality, but they're also specific (clunky dialogue, the wrong actors, bad effects, studio-mandated cuts) and the philosophy remains intact. I can recognize that the one-liners in X-Men: The Last Stand needed several more drafts, while also admire the straightforward way it sets up its conflict regarding a cure (which turns that final chess scene in the park from a blatant sequel hook into a ballsy-for-2006 statement about exactly how effective “cures” really are).
Still, consistency of tone has not been the franchise’s strong suit, nor an inclination to push its themes past the wide-but-shallow point, and there have been at least three instances where it’s been put on some version of life support because the storyteller ran in the wrong direction or returned to the same well one time too many. Thus does Logan arrive both uniquely burdened and uniquely unburdened by expectations. As the title indicates, we’re spending most of our time with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, returning to the series for the ninth and ostensibly final time), and we are aware going in that the same incarnation of the character has been introduced, reintroduced, retrofitted, retconned, and thoroughly explored half a dozen times now; what more is there to learn about him? The only answer, of course, is nothing; the only thing we have yet to see about this character’s arc is the conclusion of it, and this film gives off the weight of finality from the first scene.
This also means that there's been so much explicated about the character that there is no longer any need for backstory; whatever Logan was going to be, it needed only be concerned with itself, and a good part of the reason I've spent this much space on buildup is because there is little better way to express just how vast the gulf in tone and feeling between this film and the others in its franchise is. Logan isn't just different, it's downright shocking in how utterly unencumbered by its predecessors it is. Most of it feels like a referendum on the concept of the X-Men rather than a sequel or spin-off, simultaneously existing outside of it and as part of long-running continuity, mournfully looking backward at more optimistic times. In the process of manifesting this, it is not only the best of its series, but handily the best film in its genre since The Dark Knight.