While May and June are historically known for some of the year’s biggest movie releases, 2017 is jumping the gun and is giving us a slew of blockbusters all this month, starting off with one of the most anticipated releases of the year, James Mangold’s “Logan.”
As much of a fan I’ve been of the X-Men for most of my life, the movie franchise hasn’t quite lived up to my expectations over the last 17 years. Sure, I thought the prequels were very well done and a necessary turn, given the bad taste “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” left in many of our mouths, but for the most part, there were no home runs being knocked out of the park. Even my own personal favorite installment, “X2,” was above average at best. But it’s Hugh Jackman’s swan song as Logan/Wolverine that finally gives us all not only what we’ve been wanting out of an X-Men film, but out of superhero films all together. “Logan” is a fantastic blend of western and action genres, and is the most emotionally provocative film of the franchise. It diverts the audience away from the over-done fantasy spectacle that we’re used to seeing from the X-Men movies, and tells a personal story about the very character that kicked off the superhero genre craze back in 2000.
The immediate intrigue for me was seeing the fall from grace from two of the most formidable characters in the X-Men franchise. The film takes place in a future where not only are the X-Men gone, but where mutants are close to extinct, as no new mutants have been born in 25 years. An aging Logan is taking care of an Alzheimer’s-stricken Charles Xavier on the border of Mexico, while at the same time, his own mutant healing factor has diminished significantly and is now allowing the adamantium fused to his bones to slowly poison his body. But as a young mutant shows up at their door with many similarities to Logan, they find themselves on one last mission to protect her from a team of cybernetically enhanced soldiers chasing after her. Seeing just how far Wolverine and Professor X have fallen only makes the story that much more grounded, as it is the only logical way to show these legendary characters in the twilight of their lives. Logan no longer feels a sense of duty as a “hero,” and now finds himself looking after the first person to have taken him in when he needed it. Xavier’s fall is the most gut-wrenching, as he was (and to a certain extent still is) the most powerful mutant in existence, but finds himself barely remembering who Logan is at times. This sets up a story wherein I found myself caring about these characters more than I have in previous installments, as the aura of invincibility has been taken away. They are more vulnerable in this final mission, making me much more invested in it’s completion.
Mangold’s style and tone in the film is reflective of such classic westerns as “Shane” (which is used and shown in the movie), and “Unforgiven,” as we see a hero who is trying to escape his former life, but is roped back into the fray by a sense of duty. I also found the themes and style very reminiscent of 2008’s “The Wrestler,” which Mangold has also named as an influence. But it’s the gritty realism that really takes charge, as we finally get to see something we’ve been clamoring for since Wolvie’s big screen debut- the uncensored, gory full utilization of his claws. Between the limb-losing opening scene, and Professor X dropping F-bombs left and right, this was hard R-rating that was earned. The departure from fantasy was never more apparent.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention how much Daphne Keene stole the show as Laura/X-23. As an 11-year old actor not only holding up next to seasoned veteran like Hugh Jackman for 2 1/2 hours, but who also out-Wolverined Wolverine, this is a breakout role that I hope to see more of in other spin-off installments. The on-screen chemistry brought out the best in both actors, and also gave us some of the more emotional scenes of the film. It was refreshing to see her character evolve throughout the story, and how she doesn’t back down from the legendary X-Man, giving him his truest test to date. Stephen Merchant’s portrayal of mutant Caliban is a very welcome departure from the comedic roles we’re used to seeing from him, while Boyd Holbrook convinces me he’s the real villain of the film as Donald Pierce (as opposed to Richard Grant’s Zander Rice, who was criminally underutilized), as his non-chalant yet menacing Southern charm gives chase to our heroes, who just can’t seem to lose him.
While Mangold’s previous installment, “The Wolverine,” started off with a classic Wolverine story that looked like it would deliver us from typical superhero movie fatigue, it eventually ended on a third act that that pulled us right back into a CGI-fueled cartoonish showdown with a silly villain. “Logan” would make no such mistake, as it is an intimate story with characters that the audience truly cares about. Throw in the violent, yet crowd-pleasing action sequences, and James Mangold gives us Wolverine’s final masterpiece, and quite possibly one of the top superhero films of all time.