You can’t run away from your past, especially if you’re a killer with a heart.
That’s the theme which runs through LOGAN (2017), the latest Marvel superhero movie about everyone’s favorite X-Men, the Wolverine, and it’s a theme that’s backed up by frequent references to the classic western SHANE (1953) starring Alan Ladd as a former gunslinger also haunted by his past.
And in the case of LOGAN, it’s more than just a figurative canker, as in this movie Logan’s murderous past is literally poisoning him from within.
When LOGAN opens, a gang of thugs pick the wrong limo to car jack, because resting inside the vehicle is Logan (Hugh Jackman) and he doesn’t take too kindly to people messing with his property. But we quickly see that this is an older and weaker Logan, and where in the past his alter ego Wolverine would have made quick work of these thugs, now it’s a much more difficult job. Wolverine takes care of these baddies, but it’s more of a struggle than we are used to seeing.
That’s because the story takes place in the near future, in 2029, a time when all the mutants are now a thing of the past, and Logan is trying his best to live out his life under the radar. He’s living in Mexico, in very poor conditions, and with the help of fellow mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) he’s caring for a very fragile and elderly Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart). This is no easy task, since Professor X is prone to seizures, and when he has them, his extraordinarily powerful mind becomes a dangerous weapon and disrupts the world around him. So, Logan has to keep the professor constantly medicated to prevent him from having seizures, and a lot of the money Logan earns running his limousine service goes towards purchasing these meds.
One day, Logan is approached by a woman Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who begs for Logan’s help. She wants him to protect a young girl Laura (Dafne Keen) who she says dangerous people are after. Logan isn’t interested in helping and tells her to go away, but later he is approached by a man named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) sporting a powerful mechanical hand who questions Logan about this woman, claiming he needs to find her because she stole something from him. And when Professor X tells Logan about a young girl who is a mutant, Logan ignores him as well, telling the professor there simply aren’t any mutants being born anymore.
But Logan is wrong, and when Pierce and his men locate Gabriela, Laura escapes in the back of Logan’s car, and suddenly it’s up to Logan and the ailing Professor X to protect her. And while Logan initially is not interested, Professor X tells him just who she is and who her father is, and that point, for Logan, there’s no going back.
I really enjoyed LOGAN, so much so that’s easily my favorite of the Wolverine movies.
The first thing that stands out about LOGAN is that it is Rated R. As such, there is a lot of language and bloody violence throughout, things not typically found in a superhero movie. I’m sure this movie was able to be made as an R rated vehicle because of the extraordinary success at the box office of DEADPOOL (2016) which was also rated R. And while the language in LOGAN is nowhere near as raunchy as the language in DEADPOOL, the film certainly earns its R rating.
The violence and the language both work here because they are integral to the story. It’s the way Logan talks, and anything less wouldn’t have seemed as realistic. Likewise, the violence reflects the ugliness which Logan is trying to forget. LOGAN is an adult tale, and as such, is completely at home with its R rating.
At one point in the movie Professor X and Laura are watching SHANE (See my review at this site) on TV, and the professor tells her that they are watching a very famous movie. More than that, SHANE with its story of Alan Ladd’s gunslinger Shane trying to forget his past serves as a backdrop to the main theme of this movie. Logan wants out, but he finds he cannot turn his back on the people who need him. In an interview, writer/director James Mangold cited SHANE and Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN (1992) as inspirations behind LOGAN.
I enjoyed the way Mangold directed this movie. The action scenes work, and the pacing is good, until the end, when things definitely slow down. The most exciting sequence in the film is probably when Logan, Professor X, and Laura befriend a farming family— another SHANE reference— and later that night they are attacked by Pierce and his men and their new “secret weapon.” It’s the most intense sequence of the movie.
The violence is effective and fits in with the story being told here. It also looks a bit more real here than in other R-rated action movies. Often an R rating means nothing more than the ability to show blood, and in this day and age, the blood is CGI -created and very fake looking. The violence in LOGAN looks real.
There’s also a seriousness to the movie that sets it apart from a lot of the other Marvel superhero flicks.
Mangold also directed the previous film in the Wolverine series, THE WOLVERINE (2013). LOGAN is a much better movie than THE WOLVERINE and plays more like another Mangold movie that I really liked, the western remake 3:10 TO YUMA (2007) starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe.
The screenplay by Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green is also very good, which comes as no surprise since all three of these guys have extensive impressive writing credits. In addition to the theme of trying to forget one’s past, the story also deals with getting old. Both Logan, and to a greater degree, Professor X, are nearing the end of their lives, and to watch them at this stage of their life journeys is interesting.
Like the rest of the world, I’ve always enjoyed Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and while he can play the character in his sleep by now, his performance here in LOGAN is a step above his usual work because of the added element of the age factor. In the very first sequence of the movie we are introduced to an aged Wolverine. In previous movies, Wolverine would have made short work of the men attacking him, but here, it’s a major struggle for him. It’s a cool scene, a neat way to open the film, and it sets the stage for Jackman’s superior performance.
And not only is Logan dealing with the normal aging process, but he’s sick. The years of having metal inside his body have been slowly poisoning him to death.
Equally as good as Jackman is Patrick Stewart as Professor X. In fact, probably my favorite part of LOGAN is the chemistry between Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Their banter is a highlight of the film. They are both terrific actors, and they really work well together.
It was a lot of fun to see Patrick Stewart playing Professor X again. He’s been sharing duties with James McAvoy, who plays the character in the rebooted series featuring younger X-Men. As such, the character of Professor X has struck gold in these movies, as he is portrayed by two top-notch actors, Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy. You can’t go wrong with either portrayal.
While I liked Dafne Keen as Laura, she didn’t blow me away. Part of it is the writing of the character. She doesn’t say a whole lot, and a bulk of her scenes are strictly action scenes where she’s helped out by some CGI effects. As such, she is less effective than she might have been. Laura reminded me a little bit of the character Eleven played by Millie Bobby Brown in the TV show STRANGER THINGS, but ultimately was not as interesting.
The supporting cast was okay. I found Stephen Merchant rather blah as Caliban. I liked Boyd Holbrook as Pierce, but ultimately, he just becomes a glorified henchman. As the movie goes on, there’s less and less for him to do.
Like other Marvel movies, LOGAN struggles with its villain. As much as I enjoy the Marvel movies, you can pretty much bank on it that the villain in the film is going to be sub-par, which I find really puzzling. You’d think more effort would go into creating memorable villains in these movies.
The main villain here, the man Pierce works for, is Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) and he’s as dull as they come. He pretty much put me to sleep.
And as good as LOGAN is, it doesn’t sustain its excellence all the way to the end. It starts off great, and up to that farmhouse scene, about two-thirds of the way in, it’s firing on all cylinders, but then it just fizzles out.
The final act is a letdown, and nowhere near as compelling as first two-thirds of the movie. And this is where not having a formidable villain really hurts, because you don’t have that to fall back on. If you have a memorable villain, then you are locked in until the end because you are waiting for that final confrontation. Without the villain, you’re not really waiting for anything, other than for the movie to be over.
LOGAN runs for two hours and seventeen minutes,and it could have easily been about 20 minutes shorter.
And while the final act is much less interesting than what came before it, the ending of the movie, the final frame, is a good one. So, you have an excellent superhero movie that runs a bit too long and forgets itself for its final 30 minutes or so before ending with an exclamation point.
All in all, LOGAN is a fine entry in the Marvel superhero universe, a more adult tale than usual, and a fitting final chapter to the Wolverine story.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.