It’s kind of funny that the inferiority complex that has plagued comic books for decades has migrated on to comic book movies. Every time you read an article with the headline “Bam! Pow! Comics aren’t just for kids anymore” you get this kind of desperate need for some of the less secure in the industry to justify their life’s work when they really don’t need to. Good work is good work regardless of who reads it, and most importantly regardless what people who don’t read it think of it. Comic book movies are getting to the same place with this death spiral race to the bottom to make the movies more and more gritty to prove that they’re more and more adult. It made me nervous when I heard the final Wolverine movie was going to be rated R; that we would get a joyless slog of a movie more focused with blood and body counts than with making a good movie. Logan is a great movie, a violent movie to be sure but also a thoughtful one, it’s a movie that gives you time to think— and while it is bleak, it has joy and it has hope.
Logan has a thin story, but I mean that in the most flattering way. The whole movie is essentially a road trip where Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) takes an aging Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and a young clone (Dafne Keen) , that the film only refers to as X-23 once but we all know is X-23, looking for a mutant sanctuary in the North Dakota wilderness. The good guys are being chased by some awfully nebulous bad guys who never get much more motivation than wanting to mess with the heroes. I’m also not 100% sure that the emotional center of the entire X-Men franchise has been the relationship between Wolverine and Professor X, but it doesn’t matter. Jackman and Stewart have the chemistry and the sheer magnetism to drive the whole movie as long as you don’t stop and fixate on what happened in any of the previous films. Keen is a star in the making, she has a quiet intensity and seems great at ripping bad guys to shreds.
I’m thrilled that Logan is a superhero movie that doesn’t feel compelled to tell me that the world is ending or a city is in peril. The central conflict of the film is one with a very small footprint. That’s not to suggest I’m somehow okay with the corporate exploitation and then extermination of children— but there’s no ticking time bomb, no cosmic threat. I’m honestly not sure the wider world would have noticed if the good guys had failed in this one; everyone who seemed to know what was going on was either directly involved or dead by the end. This is just a character arc for Wolverine (and to a lesser extent X-23) and everything in the movie is just in service to that. It shouldn’t be every superhero movie (or even most; I bet this would get old very quickly) but it’s refreshing to see a movie that could be wall-to-wall action stop for a second and appreciate the quiet moments.
I know I literally just finished praising Logan for being willing to linger on quiet moments, but this movie is also just too damn long. I want small character moments, but I don’t need quite so many of them to be just another way of reinforcing the notion that Logan drinks too much, I got that pretty quickly. I also think a harsher editing eye could have been taken to some of the action sequences. I know the rule is an action beat every ten pages, but so much of the middle of the movie is different variations on Wolverine with or without X-23 just crazy murdering a bunch of evil redshirts, and what does that really accomplish the fifth time that we didn’t get on the third? There is nothing like seeing Wolverine go nuts on people, even more so now that we got an R-rated version of it, and the first few times seeing X-23 go at it is a delight— but at a point it’s just blood and falling bodies and isn’t revealing anything about character or pushing the story forward, it just seems to be there because that’s what a studio executive thinks good pacing is.
Logan is the end of an era— it’s supposedly the last time we’ll see Jackman play Wolverine or Stewart play Professor X. Stewart was the best casting decision in the 2000 X-Men film, and while they’ve been transitioning to James McAvoy for a while now it’s sad to see the actual curtain call. Jackman has been the bedrock for the entire X-Men franchise up until this point, and while it’s sad to see him go I’m sure he’ll appreciate being able to gain 15 pounds without it being a complete life-altering disaster. I firmly believe at some point someone will wonder why they’re giving up all the money they could be making by having Wolverine in movies and the part will be recast… and I’m both scared and excited by that prospect. Scared because Jackman leaves huge shoes to fill, but excited because I want to see more of these roles turn over as a matter of course. Actors should be able to leave these roles without needing giant continuity resets that tire out the audience. We should accept a new Wolverine or Iron Man the same way we accept a new James Bond or a new John Connor. The actors are important but the roles need to be timeless. There’s an exciting opportunity here, and I hope Fox does as good a job with it as they did in making a movie as brave as Logan.