By now, everyone knows that Logan is the final victory lap for Hugh Jackman after 17 years of playing Wolverine. Nonetheless, this is technically a misleading tribute, since the past 17 years never had Wolverine go to such R-rated, limb cutting and foul mouthed territory as he and others do here.
Still, Logan qualifies as the definition of better late than never, and backs up Deadpool in proving the R-rating is the best thing that could have happened to the X-Men cinematic universe. But although the concept of Wolverine and Charles Xavier cursing up a storm in a really violent superhero movie is its big selling point, just like with Deadpool, Logan ultimately has more on its mind than titillating us with f-bombs and severed body parts.
The last time the X-Men series went to the future in Days of Future Past, mutants were all but extinct thanks to killer robots. In this version of 2029, mutants are nearly extinct again, only this time Logan and Charles are living in hiding near the Tex-Mex border and are getting too weak to do much fighting. Yet a Mexican nurse with a little girl named Laura in tow tracks Logan down and pays her to drive them to North Dakota, although only Laura is left when a group of half-robotic soldiers named Reavers track them down. But when Logan and Charles see Laura fighting back with some very familiar powers and skills, it is up to them to keep her safe from the Reavers and the corporation that both employs them and created 'X-23'
The mission of Logan is pretty much summed up in the opening sequence, as it shows the rare sight of Logan getting beaten up by car thieves, and then the even rarer sight of him using non PG-13 level violence to win anyway. While Wolverine has been in a shambles before, it is nothing compared to seeing him worn down as 'old man Logan,' and none of his berserker rages on the big screen have ever looked like the ones in this movie either.
The building blocks of Jackman's Wolverine have been massive rage and rude one-liners, yet going multiple steps further here seems to be pretty freeing for him. In fact, he is so at home with these ferocious attacks, f-bombs and a barely active will to live, it is even more of a wonder why they waited until the very end to give him this parting gift.
The easy, if not somewhat misleading answer, is that Deadpool had to be huge before Fox could take a chance on an R-rated Wolverine film. Like Deadpool, Logan gets a lot of early mileage on the novelty of endless cursing and bloody violence in a normally PG-13 genre, with the added novelty of Logan and Charles getting fouler mouths to boot. Still, Deadpool being so naughty was pretty much the entire joke and purpose of that movie, and there is an early threat of Logan coasting on the same easy tactics.
Even Deadpool had a little girl getting in on the action, almost like Logan does. But while Negasonic Teenage Warhead was a supporting character with deadpan one-liners, Laura/X-23 doesn't talk for 90+ minutes and does much more than use supersonic energy. In fact, the build-up and the execution of her first real rampage will go down as an all-time highlight for the X-Men universe, if not the superhero genre.
For those who watched Netflix's Stranger Things in the last year, there is no getting around the comparisons of X-23 and fellow super powered little girl/government experiment Eleven, from their relative lack of dialogue to their capacity for killing and more. Yet Laura is on the loose over 35 years after Eleven was, has little sunglasses as her most iconic prop instead of Eggo waffles, actually speaks multiple languages and has most of her bonding time with two old men instead of fellow children.
Fortunately for Logan, a key similarity between these numbered, special children is that Dafne Keen is sure to break out as X-23 just as much as Millie Bobby Brown did as Eleven, if not more so. Yet as much as Keen shines more and more as things go on, she is just one of three transcendent performers in the film’s arsenal, along with traveling companions Jackman and Patrick Stewart.
Logan is designed as Jackman and Wolverine’s big goodbye, but it is also one for Stewart and his version of Professor X too. Although the kind of Wolverine in this film has always been under the surface and aching to get out, nothing in Stewart or James McAvoy’s Professors has hinted at the Charles we see here. Stewart has truly never come close to cutting loose in the X-Men universe like this before, and it isn’t just due to the f-bombs, the dementia or his devastating seizure attacks.
For this radical change of pace and poignancy, Stewart actually almost manages to upstage Jackman’s farewell tour, just as Keen threatens to. Stewart’s last supposed goodbye to the X-Men world was a giant mess in X-Men: The Last Stand, but that is far from the case this time.
This isn’t to say that Jackman doesn’t eventually take over like he’s supposed to, nor that it isn’t a grand sendoff for him when he does. In the modern superhero era, only the core Marvel Avengers have come close to creating such a long, massive legacy of super heroism, but even they haven’t reached Jackman’s longevity or last-minute graphic content. What’s more, even they haven’t laid their heroes bare at their best and especially their worst like Jackman does in Logan’s last ride.
Jackman’s raw, brittle final tribute to Logan, Stewart’s wilder than expected last send off for Charles, and Keen and X-23’s big introduction combines to make one powerful family unit, for reasons beyond superpowers. As such, director/co-writer James Mangold is wise to focus most of the real creative energy and focus on them, rather than letting the usual superhero spectacle take over.
Mangold has been insistent that this is more of a Western than a superhero movie, with Logan as the old gunslinger on a last round up. But while Mangold and Jackman recently cited Unforgiven as a prime motivation, the big parallels on-screen are made to Shane. It may fit more, as Unforgiven deconstructed Clint Eastwood and his Westerns into something uglier and more brutal right to the end, which Logan heavily flirts with but ultimately ends up in another direction.
In truth, Deadpool is also a big inspiration for reasons other than the language and violence. That film tried its hardest to parody and mock the X-Men and comic book movie formula, even if it ultimately gave into following it before the end. Logan also makes an effort to satirize the X-Men legend by actually using X-Men comics as a plot point, although part of the legend inevitably winds up real in this case too.
Nonetheless, Mangold waits as long as he can before he eventually has to play by the usual superhero rules. When that happens, one big obstacle winds up being the most indulgent part of Jackman’s farewell, and the introduction of more mutant powers in the final battle seems too much like the same old same old, especially after everything Logan does to be different beforehand.
As for the villains, Boyd Holbrook starts out being wonderfully smarmy as lead cyborg Donald Pierce before fading into the background, yet Richard E. Grant never really gets out of it as the scientist pulling all the strings. In comparison, Stephen Merchant winds up making more of a complete impression in support as albino nurse/tracker mutant Caliban.
But Mangold and Logan know that villains and the actual plot they represent aren’t the point at all. The real purpose of it all is to give Logan and Charles one last chance to be heroes, to give Laura her first chance to have anything beyond a life as an experiment, and for her older protectors and their long time audience to come to terms with the end of the line.
In devoting itself to all this and more, Logan transcends the limits of X-Men movies past in ways that go beyond language and gore. Technically, Mangold tried something similar in the last solo Wolverine film The Wolverine, which was technically erased from existence thanks to Days of Future Past. But this effort to show Wolverine facing his mortality and all his loss will stick better, both in the timeline and in the hearts and minds of viewers.
Both Deadpool and Logan have taken the X-Men cinematic universe to new places with their R-ratings, which is especially fortunate during the current struggles of the core PG-13 X-Men franchise. However, gore and curses are only part of these successes, as the willingness to experiment and take things in a new direction have created a breath of fresh air two springs in a row, for the X-Men world and for the whole genre. Combined with Legion’s acid-trip like early madness on FX, it seems the X-Men universe is branching out and getting more daring everywhere but with the main X-Men themselves.
Yet for all of Deadpool’s satire and extreme content, it was mainly used for laughs and shock value. With Logan, the shock value of dirty words and bloody carnage is just a Trojan horse for something more serious and gritty. In recent years, serious and gritty superhero stories have been something to fear thanks to the DCEU, but Logan also does that universe one better with a dark and dramatic tale that isn’t merely a vehicle for non-stop misery, countless destroyed cities and an aggressive distaste for actual heroism.
The balance of actual humor, serious reflection and predictable but moving bonding carries Logan to a place where it can stand alone beyond its blood and language. Even when it moves further from escapism in having a young Latina girl on the run from Texas-accented villains while looking for a better life beyond a border, in this case the Canadian border, it is a tonic that still goes down easy.
This may only have the feel of a true finale until Fox inevitably reboots Wolverine with a different actor, since they can’t leave well enough alone forever. However, Mangold leaves no doubt that he knows how to close the door shut with this era, right down to the poignant final gesture. Such a skill may or may not evade the core X-Men series and the MCU in the years ahead, so at least one major era is ending without any doubts or sequel/reboot friendly wiggle room.
17 years of the original Wolverine and Professor X have had major downs to go along with its ups. At the least, it will all be remembered more fondly for ending with an up, particularly the kind of up that Logan turns out to be.
When it hits its most dramatic and moving notes, not to mention its goriest and funniest, and when Jackman, Stewart and Keen get to cement their work in the X-Men/superhero pantheon, Logan hits nearly as hard as one of Wolverine or Laura’s bloody strikes. It may not reach that level at every turn, but no other X-Men movie has tried like this, and few if any superhero films for the rest of 2017 may attempt it either.
Jackman really isn’t going anywhere himself, while Wolverine will come back whenever it is safe to challenge Jackman’s legacy, Charles Xavier will still be around in McAvoy’s form, and Keen and/or X-23 may just be getting started. In this era of franchises and cinematic universes, nothing may ever truly end for good, yet Logan makes an often impressive good faith effort to make itself look like a real grand finale.