Logan is to Wolverine what Deadpool is to Deadpool, significantly more faithful to the character than anything before it. Is it the best X-Men film? It’s weighty, weary, knee-deep in sacrifices, with fights so visceral I jerked my head along with the punches. It has little of the optimism you find in mainline X-Men films, in favor of a bleak Western-tinged story in which Wolverine tries to do the right thing one last time in his life. It is a beautiful send-off for Hugh Jackman, whose portrayal has been every bit as iconic as Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man.
Comparisons to Westerns are apt, as Logan is at home alongside other modernizations of the genre like Hell or High Water and No Country for Old Men. It’s set in a future where the X-Men have died and mutants have mysteriously stopped being born. Wolverine lives along the Mexican border where it’s safe, caring for an aging Professor X. Xavier manages to find a new mutant child, Laura, who seems very much like Wolverine himself in both powers and trauma. She needs someone to get her to Canada before the military force chasing her catches up. The last of their kind needs them.
But there’s a more profound influence here than Westerns. The film uses longer cuts, worn-down environments, and often avoids music to keep the tension in the air heavy in our ears. Even the dialogue is often delivered with a naturalism that superhero movies avoid. It feels like a rare superhero film made by adults. When Batman Vs. Superman went dark, it continued to feel trivial and contrived. In Logan, when a thuggish landlord pulls out a shotgun, there’s an anxiety for the lives of his targets that surely won't exist in Justice League or Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2.
There is nothing wrong with superhero popcorn films, but Logan hits dire points and emotional heights that they can’t by being different. It’s the same way the great Wolverine comics once diverged from the tone of average Marvel series.
Related to the tone, several people have asked if they should take their children to this movie. The answer: no. It’s rated ‘R’ in the United States for good reason, being both a bloody story, and a mature story about sacrifice that isn’t written for younger audiences. It also doesn’t hold back on violence against children. They are not plot-armored like they would be even in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series. The hunters will shoot and maim if they can. It all feeds into the drive for survival.
One of the best feelings was how much I hated the amputee character Donald Pierce. Typical movies are so sparing with their disability representation that I become protective of token characters. There was Mad Max: Fury Road, but it heaped multiple disabilities onto characters to mark them as villains and ultimately disgusted me.
So what’s different about Logan?
Wolverine has always been a trauma survivor, and in this film he’s suffering from both the aging process and something poisoning his famously powerful immune system. A doctor outright tells him the condition is killing him. In addition to our chronically ill hero, we have his only friends in the world: paraplegic Charles Xavier and albino Caliban. Xavier now suffers from seizures and bouts of dementia, causing his telepathy to endanger everyone around him.
That would be problematic if that’s all he was, but beyond this horrifying wrinkle in his powers, he continues to be funny, encouraging, and to try to reach out and find people to help. He finds Laura, the girl that Wolverine will help raise, who is another trauma survivor like himself. Caliban has an extreme Hollywood Albinism, not particularly authentic, but he too has a personality much bigger than the condition. He’s a caregiver, a fellow conspirator, resourceful and sometimes quite funny.
The cast has so much disability representation, much of it visual and none of it casually erased, that Pierce being an asshole didn’t bother me. He had a full and loathsome personality that has nothing to do with his condition, and having gotten a bionic arm, he uses it to assault the vulnerable. That those vulnerable people are often disabled or children crashes through any superficial problems. His actor, Boyd Holbrook, does a particularly great job making you want to see him punched in the face.
The best face-puncher is Dafne Keen’s Laura, that young mutant that Xavier and Wolverine take in against insurmountable odds. In trailers, we wondered how such a tiny girl was going to be presented as a threat. I watched it with a professional fight choreographer who could not tell if they’d used a world-class stunt team or if Keen was simply an uncanny actor. I’ve never seen a kid fight like this on film, being the perfect personification of Wolverine’s berserker rage, but younger. Keen carries plenty of scenes, often wordlessly. It’s a film of long takes, and she never feels out of place with the veteran actors. It’s the most impressive child acting I’ve seen since Hailey Steinfeld in True Grit.
I feel like an unusual nerd, vastly preferring Fox’s X-Men franchise over Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and DC’s latest attempt. That’s primarily because these movies embrace found families and socially relevant themes – since X1 and X2, they’ve happily played allegories for ableist prejudice, queer culture, and anti-blackness. Logan has the least inspirational message, but embodies one of my favorite themes in the X-Universe: that backed into a corner, even dying, Wolverine cannot help but help the helpless because he’s been there, too.
It hurts thinking that Wolverine won’t be there going forward. With Hayao Miyazaki leaving retirement again, do we really believe Jackman is done with the role? We’ll see. Good luck to whoever inevitably replaces him in a reboot. For now Jackman doesn’t have a replacement, though Wolverine does, in the form of Keen’s Laura. I won’t spoil their fates. Rather I’ll say that joke as we do, this can’t be The Last of X.