(2017- Director: James Mangold)
(out of 5 stars)
Many have credited 2000’s X-Men for spearheading the second generation of comic book cinema that has largely taken over the entertainment industry today. Moviegoers acquainted themselves with other comic book properties arriving on the big screen while also making successful the eight succeeding X-Men installments. Then, when stars Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart declared that this year’s Logan (inspired by the 2008 graphic novel Old Man Logan) would be the last time they each would portray the popular Marvel X-Men mutants Wolverine and Charles Xavier respectively, the hype for the film increased ten-fold—something 20th Century Fox likely appreciated, since 2016’s Deadpool hogged all the success and X-Men: Apocalypse fell short of expectations. The result? Well, when the film begins with an F-word, ends with a somewhat sacrilegious final shot, and comes short in building up to a satisfying farewell for two popular actors playing two popular fictional characters, I am left wondering whether it was the Jackman-Stewart mutant swan song writer-director James Mangold and company had hoped to deliver.
The year is 2029 and the lack of new mutants born in the past 25 years have made mutants endangered. James “Logan” Howlett (Hugh Jackman, in his ninth and last appearance as the character), formerly known as Wolverine, goes about minding his quiet job as a limousine chauffeur around the southern U.S. border. Logan lives with tracking mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) in a decrepit smelting plant just past the border in Mexico. There, he and Caliban care for a senile Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, also playing the character one last time), formerly known as Professor X, whose mental instability leads to seizures that wreak devastation—a scenario Logan helps prevent by hustling for prescription drugs.
One day, Logan happens upon Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a nurse from a powerful biotechnological corporation, who begs Logan to chaperone an eleven-year-old girl named Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen). Laura, known as “X-23”, was one of a group of mutant children bred by the corporation as weapons, then deemed disposable once X-24 became the successful clone. Gabriela took Laura and helped free the other children before the corporation could terminate them. Now she begs Logan—who is actually Laura’s biological father—to see that Laura makes it to “Eden”, a mutant sanctuary in North Dakota, without falling into the clutches of Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), the corporation’s enhanced security chief, who tried coaxing Logan into bringing him Laura. When Gabriela is suddenly found dead, Logan hastily takes Charles and Laura with him, fighting their way through Pierce’s widespread detail and embarking on a long road trip north, while Pierce and his crew force the unlucky Caliban to track them. From there, it becomes a matter of whether Logan, Charles, and Laura can race to safety in time and with their lives, if that safety for mutants even exists at all.
Logan is a formidable superhero drama, easily one of the best of the X-Men franchise and even the superhero subgenre in general. Jackman and Stewart have spent the past seventeen years perfecting their iterations of the iconic Marvel mutants. Many have identified their faces with the characters to the extent that many wonder if any other actor could replace them. That Logan showcases both Jackman and Stewart’s final appearances as their respective mutants makes it worthwhile. Also worthwhile is Dafne Keen in her feature-film debut as Laura/X-23. Ms. Keen demonstrates a strong physical and facial commitment, despite acting mute for much of the runtime, to her budding mutant character who can barely resist lashing out like a diminutive killing machine.
However, much of my appreciation for writer-director James Mangold’s finished product starts to recede from there. Hugh Jackman reportedly took a cut in pay to ensure the film’s R-rating, and while the generous addition of blood certainly matches up to that rating, the laced profanity throughout feels unnatural and forced at times. Meanwhile, the villains are rather unengaging and forgettable, from the leaders (Boyd Holbrook and later Richard E. Grant as Dr. Zander Rice of the same biotechnological corporation) coming off as typical villain stereotypes to their underlings functioning as mere bullet-and-blade targets for both Logan and the surprisingly vicious Laura.
The weakness of the villains hints at what really keeps Logan from being “the next Dark Knight,” as many fans and even professional critics have already declared. Jackman and Stewart’s franchise swan-song performances are commendable, but they do not reach the heights of Heath Ledger’s Joker back in 2008. A key disconnect lies between the inner, age-related regrets of Logan and Charles and all the typical X-Men chaos taking place outside of those regrets. The villains have little regard for such turmoil; they just want the mutants caged and studied, like in most other X-Men franchise installments. A bolder narrative would have both heroes and villains reflecting on approaching possibly the post-mutant era of humanity. Instead, this story amounts to a bleak road trip in which our heroes escort a special passenger to a safe place and protect that passenger from the formidable, organized antagonists, with gratuitous amounts of blood and severed limbs incorporated to satisfy its R-rating.
In a sense, then, I cannot help but feel disappointed in the overall product. Last year’s X-Men Apocalypse failed to excite overall, but at least there the fun, the engaging, and the clumsy never mingled and fused together into a bland stew. Logan banked on the emotional sendoff for its lead actors and while it mostly succeeds in that regard, most other elements seemed to run parallel with that intention, thus coming off as solid but unspectacular action storytelling. Yes, the action sequences have a worthwhile, if immensely bloody and profane (and certainly not family friendly), punch to them, but for the overall product as a teary-eyed farewell, Logan should have been more. Instead of drying my eyes as I waved goodbye, I found myself shrugging and remarking, “Well, it was fun while it lasted,” before rejoining 2017 in cinema as it inches forward, anticipating that annual push of the summer blockbuster season that now looms on the horizon.