Finality. It’s a scary word.
It means the end of things. Lives, relationships, purpose. It’s sobering when it happens to others, devastating when it happens to us. We are all intimately acquainted with the concept of finality, for we are all mortal. And for mortals, endings are almost always permanent. That’s what makes it so scary.
In the comicbook world however, nothing is ever truly final. Superheroes can die and be resurrected when the demand returns. They can lose their purpose or relevance to a certain generation, only to bounce back when times change. As cyclical and sometimes cynical as it can all get, there’s something comforting in the knowledge that these characters will outlive us. After all, superheroes inspire us. They embody values that are meaningful and transcendent. They are the stuff of myth, and myth is rightfully meant to live forever.
But what happens when someone as endless as Wolverine actually has to confront The End? What happens when you give an immortal an inescapable sense of mortality? You get a film like “Logan”.
And it is one hell of a film.
This film is about the ravages of time, both physically and emotionally, and how no one is safe from it. Not even a mutant who never ages and can heal from any wound. In a bleak future almost devoid of mutants, Logan is now slowly, painfully, ungracefully edging closer to the end of his days. In the process, he has long outlived his purpose and the loved ones in his life. And it is heartbreaking to witness. The film does it so well and so subtly too. It’s terribly upsetting to see the once-invincible Wolverine needing to wear reading glasses, or struggling to get out of bed.
Here’s a film that knows that we as an audience know the superhero tropes all too well, and slyly uses this against us. It forcefully yanks that safety net from under us, by attaching our inherent fear of finality to a character who has never been bound by it. It is an incredibly ballsy move, and it is what gives the film a potent emotional power that few films — superhero genre or otherwise — achieve.
In fact, this is a “superhero” movie only in the loosest sense of the term. “Logan” really is an intimate character drama set in a world where some characters just so happen to have special abilities. Yet it never disrespects or undersells its roots. The film even features actual “X-Men” comicbooks, and they’re treated as embellished retellings of historical events.
Going into this, I was worried about the future setting the filmmakers had settled on. I could get past the distinctly non-high-tech drabness of it all, seeing as how director James Mangold’s intent was for this to be a Western in both tone and style. And I wasn’t even taking into consideration how it pretty much ignores the timelines of previous “X-Men” movies. What did bother me was that it’s set in 2029 — just over a decade from today — yet we’re to believe that mutants are nearly extinct. As it turns out, my fears were (mostly) unfounded. Why this “X-Men” universe is missing most of the X-Men is cleverly and concisely addressed, and the best part is, it serves the characterisations of this film in a poignant way.
Without getting into spoilers, this has to do with Professor Xavier. Here, he is painted as equally tragic a figure as Logan, and perhaps even more pitiful. Honestly, I’ve never been pleased with the way Prof X has been handled in the movies. He keeps getting relegated to a plot device or worse, rendered useless. This time, the irony is that by intentionally making him weak and useless, they’ve given us the best Xavier yet. He is a far cry from the distinguished gentleman of prior outings. In his place is a broken, foul-mouthed, dementia-ridden old man, a sadly fitting reflection of Xavier’s ruined dreams of a brighter tomorrow for mutantkind.
Yet in his fleeting moments of lucidity, he is still a man who cares deeply for others and believes in the better parts of humanity. I’ll admit I got choked up over a number of Xavier’s scenes, especially one where he confesses his failures.
Patrick Stewart is simply phenomenal. Whether or not he knew this would likely be his swansong in the role, Stewart gives it his all, more than matching the nuanced writing with some beautiful shades in his performance. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this much for the character in 6 movies, or gotten this much insight into him as a person, and that’s largely down to the actor finally being given material that is worthy of his talent.
Speaking of talent, young Dafne Keen is a minor revelation in the role of X-23/Laura. At once fierce and vulnerable, she is unsettlingly convincing as a feral child with a traumatic past. It says a lot about her screen presence that she can hold her own in scenes with accomplished actors like Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. Stephen Merchant is also great as the mutant Caliban. He is a little underutilised, but whenever he is on screen you feel for him.
As good as the cast is, this film ultimately belongs to one actor alone. After playing Wolverine for close to 20 years, Hugh Jackman absolutely owns the role. He is not just our Wolverine, he is the ONLY Wolverine there’s ever been, so his ownership is a given. The thing is, Jackman earns it through and through. Even in the worst outings (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), the guy’s been totally committed.
So after all these years, a natural bond has formed between audience and star. He’s said many times that this will be his last time in the role, and that informs our viewing experience of “Logan” with a certain bittersweet melancholy. Even if you didn’t know that going in, the film makes you keenly aware that Logan’s time has finally come. By the way, this is not a spoiler, as the tagline on the poster literally says “His time has come.”
Jackman isn’t content to cruise on audience goodwill. He puts on what is arguably a career-best performance in a career-defining role. This is from an actor who’s done some excellent dramatic work before, like in “Prisoners” and “The Fountain”. He plays Logan with all of the weight of the character’s turbulent history bearing down on his world-weary shoulders, as if waiting out an inevitable, self-inflicted fate. It’s agonising to watch, but for all the right reasons.
The other central theme of the film is family, and what it means to those who’ve never known the love that comes with it. This puts Logan right in the centre of some family dynamics he’s ill-equipped for. He’s both a son (to Xavier) and father (to Laura), and the film explores this in wonderfully sensitive, touching, and sometimes amusing ways. It’s juicy dramatic stuff for Jackman, and he gets us to care for Wolverine — traditionally a standoffish persona — like never before.
And at long last, we get to see what Wolverine is truly capable of when he unleashes his infamous Berserker Rage. Sure, we’ve had glimpses of it before, but nothing close to this. Freed by the R rating, the movie demonstrates exactly what happens to those on the wrong end of razor-sharp Adamantium claws. Hint: it is unflinchingly violent. Anyone squeamish at the sight of blood and gore will find themselves horrified. The rest of us will be left grinning at the copious dismemberments and decapitations.
Mangold shoots the action with a steady hand and a directness that lets the onscreen brutality really sink in. Somehow, none of the violence feels gratuitous. If anything, it feels more honest when presented this way. More mature. It’s very much in keeping with the rest of the film. 20th Century Fox, encouraged by the huge success of “Deadpool”, has to their credit given the filmmakers the freedom to make the kind of movie they wanted. But where the R rating gave “Deadpool” permission to be thoroughly juvenile, here it has allowed “Logan” to be the adult-minded film Mangold and Jackman always felt was necessary.
They pulled it off way beyond anyone’s expectations. Not only is this the first franchise to get exponentially better with each instalment, it’s also the only one (I can think of) that has progressively shrunk the scale and the stakes. From huge, world-changing spectacle to a small, personal story. That’s unheard of.
While “Logan” may wear its influences on its sleeve, be it Westerns (“Unforgiven”) or dystopian science-fiction (“Children Of Men”), the film is every inch its own thing. Mournful yet hopeful, thought-provoking yet visceral, it’s an anomaly in the superhero genre and I suspect that’s going to catch audiences off guard. But in a good way. It has some noticeable flaws, like inconsequential villains (Boyd Holbrook’s cocky charm aside), and a pace that’s a tad lethargic in spots. Even those flaws however, are in service of the hero’s journey. And what a journey it is.
What a journey it has been for Logan/Hugh Jackman. His final scene in the film is as perfect a goodbye as any character/actor could ever hope for. Although I am going to miss him terribly when he’s gone, as a fan I am so happy that he’s leaving on such a high note.
Maybe finality isn’t so bad after all.