If 2013’s The Wolverine is a film about Wolverine reclaiming his place as a warrior, reclaiming the animalistic title he was given, 2017’s Logan is about him reclaiming his humanity and his real name.
Logan depicts the unapologetically dark, emotionally heavy, and violent story of Wolverine and his young charge Laura, the first in a new generation of mutants whose powers and upbringing are very much a reflection of Wolverine’s. He is tasked with keeping her alive as he transports her to safety; but together, they are both forced to find their own humanity.
Hugh Jackman plays Logan as unbelievably grizzled, someone who barely has the patience to even try to exist in the world without violence. In The Wolverine, Logan was animal, feral and unhinged. In Logan, he’s not even that – he’s just tired now. Hugh Jackman has always been praised for his work in the X-Men universe, but this might be his best performance yet. Hugh Jackman is just 48 years old, yet Logan has an unspeakably world-weary look to him. He’s no longer as spry as he was before; once, the mere threat of Wolverine bearing his claws was enough to scare off even the toughest foes, now he seems credibly mortal, fighting with a kind of brute force and savagery.
His young charge, Laura, is played by Dafne Keen in her debut role, and it’s an incredible debut. There’s a breadth to the performance Keen is asked to play, and she proves up to the challenge. At times, Laura is ferocious and feral, as animalistic as the Wolverine at his peak; other times, she’s shy and quiet, an 11 year old out of place in the world; and still more, she’s asked to be the conscience of the movie at times, a reminder of Logan’s humanity, the background he came from, what he might have been, and what could still be.
Accompanying Logan and Laura on their journey is Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor X. Charles Xavier was once world’s greatest mind, both literally and figuratively; now Xavier can no longer even take care of himself or control his abilities, and the sheer misery he is in because of this aches off the screen. Cared for by Logan and Caliban (Stephan Merchant), at his best he is a mere fraction of the paternal, benevolent presence that was Professor X; at other times, he is an incoherent mess, unable to even go to the bathroom by himself. Logan is as much the tragedy of aging, as exemplified by Charles Xavier, as it is the story of Wolverine and his young charge, Laura.
Also worth mentioning is Boyd Holbrook as Donald Pierce, the villainous pursuer of Wolverine and Laura, who seems to revel in his villainy; it’s an inspired performance, with Holbrook simply chewing up scenery; the choice to go “big” may seem at odds with the low-key style of Logan, but instead it presents a compelling contrast.
Logan is a reflection of Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 sci-fi masterpiece, Children of Men, through the lens of the X-Men superhero universe. In particular the 2013 film, The Wolverine, also directed by James Mangold, laid much of the groundwork that Logan picks up on. Like Children of Men, Logan challenges its protagonist and characters to question the value of humanity before allowing the protagonist to attempt to reclaim it. While these similarities in plot and theme cross a broad spectrum of parallels, overall Logan still manages to present a fresh spin on themes presented or visited in Children of Men.
Unlike many-a-recent action movie (films with apocalypse-level events – Ghostbusters, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse, Indepence Day: Resurgance – I’m looking at you), Logan has a real understanding of how to humanize the stakes of the film. The action is grounded in real fight choreography that has a real understanding of the impact and violence of a weapon like Wolverine’s claws, and Logan is never fighting for the sake of all humanity – he’s only ever really fighting for his own soul. Logan is also unspeakably violent not just in the sense of the graphicness of what’s depicted, but also in terms of the violence of the world as a whole. The world of Logan is such that anyone who crosses paths with Logan is at risk – nobody is safe, for good or evil.
Logan also has a bit of a socially conscious side to it. Nothing explicit, of course, in a film designed for mass audiences, but it’s hard to watch agents in trucks chasing brown children across the border, and not at least see something of our current political struggles with immigration enforcement reflected. There are other reflections of a social consciousness throughout Logan, sprinkled throughout a film that, like Children of Men, imagines the future as a dark reflection of the present.
Interestingly, neither The Wolverine nor Logan are really properly “X-Men movies”, and even the label of superhero film doesn’t properly describe the pair. We never really see characters in comic book style costumes duking it out in either film, never really see the usual hallmarks of modern superhero films. They are unmistakably a different breed of film, taking their cues from a lineage of samurai and western films, respectively.
Logan is a breathtaking film, serving as the end of an era for the X-Men franchise, with the (as of now) retirement of both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart from their respective roles. While it remains to be seen what the future of the X-Men franchise is, with Logan, it’s clear that these actors are going out on a high note.