Synopsis: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces. (Source)
Time has not been kind to the X-Men film franchise, but there’s no denying its impact on the medium, pop culture and comics. After a series of shoddy half-reboots, chintzy costumes and awful retconning, Logan is a crowning achievement that gives the series’ biggest star, Hugh Jackman, his due. What writer/director James Mangold and Jackman have pulled off for the latter’s final film is nothing short of breathtaking, an oft-times oppressively bleak look at mortality that is dripping with savagery and a mature examination of primal instincts. Mangold keeps this film as grounded and intimate as possible, but the approach actually fits, unfolding like a western that feels like Fury Road by way of Cuaron’s Children of Men. As a goodbye to Jackman’s tenure in the role, this is the film that makes the character finally lock into place, ensuring that both Jackman and Logan go out in the best way possible.
Taking place sometime in the future, the story imagines a world in which no mutants have been born in over two decades, and the remaining few are all but extinct. When we first reconnect with Logan (Hugh Jackman), he’s going by his birth name, James Howlett. The old man can barely take on a group of young men, walks with a limp and is perpetually inebriated, a limo driver by night, and caretaker to Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) by day. The two have seen better days, and their low key existence can be attributed to a horrific event that no one dare speak of. A sliver of hope comes by with the discovery of a young girl, a mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) who shares Logan’s abilities, including his misguided rage. Tasked with transporting the girl to a secret location, and on the run from a sinister corporation who seeks to obtain her, Logan, Xavier and Laura fight for their lives while learning the value of family.
What makes the film so gripping is Mangold’s commitment to keep things small, and never shy away from the brutality of the story. Logan has always been a violent character, and the film finally unleashes this aspect to its unflinching fullest. It’s worth noting, however, that the savagery on display never feels like pandering, but instead a sobering look at the implications of such a tormented character. Nothing is wasted, with each character playing off each other and every action beat holding weight in service of the rage that Logan carries within. Through it all, Mangold creates a piercing portrait of a man finally coming to grips with who he is, for better or worse. It’s here that we finally address that Logan is his biggest enemy in more ways than one, with his animalistic rage constantly battling a good man who has had everything taken away from him. By focusing inward, Mangold is able to make broad, human observations, mining how our past shapes who we are, and that in the end the only thing that matters is what we leave behind and whether we did right by those closest to us. The story also touches upon the nature of hate, fear and love, and how each can be learned, nurtured and amplified, but that everything comes down to choice – we choose the paths we take, and every decision has consequences.
With such razor sharp focus on character, the cast shines, with a two career bests from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, but also a star-turn from the young Dafne Keen. It’s no secret that Jackman was born for this role, and this is the film that takes the training wheels off, not only unleashing him at his most ferocious, but also his most understated and affecting. We can visibly see Logan’s torment through Jackman, making every scene hit that much harder, and there’s not one who could’ve pulled of the complexity of his character the way that he does here – he’s perfect. As for Stewart’s Xavier, this is the more heartbreaking that you’ve ever seen him. Initially medicated and suffering from a brain disorder, Stewart plays up the character’s manic sensibilities while showing us that the kind, gentle man who could never hurt anyone is still buried deep down within. He has some of the film’s most wrenching moments and they will leave you stunned. As for the newcomer, Dafne Keene, this girl is poised for BIG things. She barely speaks in the film, and yet she doesn’t need to, with a presence that hangs over every frame and an invigorating sense of predatory aggression that gives way to blinding innocence. Boyd Holbrook oozes menace, Stephen Merchant’s fragile Caliban is stellar, but Jackman, Stewart and Keen are the trio of perfection.
There’s so much I want to say about Logan, and one review simply isn’t enough. Still, the film’s biggest testament, is that it isn’t about what is said, but what isn’t, focusing on life’s impermanence, the nature of time and the parts of ourselves that never change. By that respect, this isn’t an easy film to watch, but it’s one that understands its full-bore examination of violence, guilt and anger like very few before it. To say that I was floored by this film is an understatement, and there’s no way I was prepared for the emotions that I felt. Logan is about the animal that grows unchecked within us, but also the good that each of us are capable of. After all is said and done, the film ends with a powerfully quiet moment of grace, searing our minds with an unforgettable image and an uncertain future that fills us with hope.