Written by David Holland
Since the days of Christopher Reeves as Superman, there’s been a pretty consistent standard for comic book movies: Superhero movies are for everyone. That means they need to be kid-friendly, or at least PG-13. Sure, we’ll let Tim Burton make a creepy Batman, every Punisher reboot can be an occasional exception, and Chris Nolan can haunt our nightmares with the Joker, but at the end of the day, comic book movies are PG-13. This is because in conventional wisdom, comic book movies are for kids and teenagers and so the movies should be made with those audiences and mind. Oh, and PG-13 is the sweet spot for making the most money, the driving factor behind every blockbuster film.
(I realize Deadpool did the rated-R thing first. We’ll get there when we get there.)
Basically everything about this movie worked. The opening scene alone accomplishes so much for us in a short period: Logan’s healing factor isn’t working as well as it used to, he isn’t hanging around with the X-Men, his ride is a rental, and this movie is gonna have blood and “F” words. His claws draw lots of blood, chop of limbs, and go through skulls in the first few minutes. This ain’t X2 anymore.
Over time the continuity of “Logan” – which has been vaguely described as an “alternate universe”, one possible direction the X-Men franchise could go – is slowly filled in. Logan and Professor Xavier are hiding out in Mexico with Caliban, played by the incredible Stephen Merchant. None of the other X-Men are around – something tragic has happened, and apparently it has to do with Charles Xavier’s declining brain function. We are told in passing conversation that no new mutants have been born for decades. Logan is just trying to scrape out a living, keeping the Professor drugged enough that his seizures don’t threaten to kill everyone around him. That’s when X-23 is dropped into Logan’s lap.
I have written before about how much I love taking a lead character’s support team away and forcing them to act alone. It’s The Winter Soldier, Jason Bourne, and Die Hard. It’s the reason Agents of SHIELD got way better after the Fall of SHIELD. “The Wolverine” dipped its toes into that tone. “Logan” canonballs into the deep end. There’s no Cerebro in this movie, no X-Mansion or Quinjet, no cavalry riding in with shiny new powers. The movie is oppressively desperate. Charles Xavier, the world’s most powerful mutant, is unpredictable and dangerous. X-23/Laura is on the verge of feral. Logan is hurting, physically and emotionally, being hunted by people who are better resourced and better equipped.
I realize that I am gushing about this movie, but I just genuinely love it. Like “The Wolverine”, in a way it is one long trope – The Gritty Cowboy’s Last Ride – but it works. Every once in a while, a comic book movie comes along that completely changes the conversation. Certainly, “Iron Man” did that to set up the MCU. “The Dark Knight” did it too, setting up the “darker, grittier” tone that DC movies have been trying to replicate ever since with middling success. “Logan” did it again. It taught us that sometimes its okay for a comic book movie to not be for everyone. And sometimes it’s okay for comic book movies to not have neat endings in which good guys clearly win and the world is made right. Sometimes the hero fights, and suffers, and faces tragedy, and loses and then… dies. And sometimes that story is more meaningful then a milquetoast, generic, happy ending or introducing the next movie’s bad guy in a mid-credits scene.
What didn’t work:
I have never done this with one of these reviews before: I went to Rotten Tomatoes to see what people complain about when it comes to “Logan”. Basically, if you think you’re too good for comic book movies then (surprise!) you won’t like this one either. I guess you can argue that it drags a little in the Second Act? But that’s after over an hour of intensity, so I think the audience has earned a breather by then. I don’t know, I really wracked my brain trying to complain about something because I don’t want to just give up and declare this a perfect movie, but I just like it a lot. You should really watch it.
I don’t think I would call “Logan” fun, but that’s not what its for. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are acting powerhouses and they genuinely flex in this movie. It’s a top tier comic book movie, put it toe-to-toe with any other.