It seems there may be no stopping James Mangold’s Logan, smashing its way through the March box office record books with some $88 million domestically to date and nearly $240 million worldwide. Given the critical and fan consensus, it seems like it will ride some strong legs into the rest of the month’s box office, giving Kong: Skull Island a serious contender for #1 next weekend. Hugh Jackman returns one final time to play a role that began all the way back in 2000’s X-Men and every single film in the franchise that followed, for a staggering 9th appearance as the character; Patrick Stewart returns here as Charles Xavier for his 7th appearance in that role. Love it or hate it (and there are plenty of great arguments on both sides of the aisle), FOX’s X-Men franchise has been a colossal juggernaut (no pun intended). What Mangold manages here in Logan is a quieter, more reserved finale to the X-franchise that is as thrilling as it is (at times) underwhelming. Spoilers will be in the last paragraph only, after the rating.
Make no mistake, this film is Jackman’s. He owns every single moment of the runtime with a performance better than any superhero movie expects or deserves. In a franchise known for absolutely phoning it in at times *cough*Apocalypse*cough*, Logan manages to up the ante considerably and set a new standard for excellence in terms of acting in a comic book movie. The film is the second in the X-Men universe to get an R-rating after last February’s Deadpool, and right from the get-go, Mangold makes sure that everyone understands that this will be a visceral, gut-ripping experience. The violence on display here almost plays out as 17 years of pent-up PG-13 rage and aggression. Almost everything about the film is an utter delight, from the beautiful cinematography from John Mathieson to the keep-the-story-from-going-too-dark performance of Patrick Stewart as the aging patriarch of the X-Men, barely whispered about or mentioned in the film. Mangold is on record as stating that Logan is not beholden to either X-Men timeline and really serves as a stand-alone film, and he’s right on that account just in terms of the tone, but it is impossible to see this film as stand-alone given the complex history of the X-Franchise, especially given that Jackman and Stewart reprise their roles.
Along with what can absolutely be considered an awards-worthy performance as the titular hero (though it won’t merit a mention by the time next year’s Oscars roll around), the film includes a haunting performance from first-timer Dafne Keen as Laura, the young X-23, who shares more than a few commonalities with Jackman’s Logan. She manages to shoulder most of the emotional weight of the film on her tiny shoulders while simultaneously channeling the rage and violent anger that the Wolverine himself displays throughout. Boyd Holbrook gives a particularly menacing performance as the story’s most-prominent villain, and the script takes an unexpected twist or two along the way that will genuinely surprise most people in the audience.
It is sad given the caliber of acting and the level of artistry on display here that the material does so often fail itself, though. The film lines up at least one colossal exposition dump that could and should have been handled in a drastically better fashion. It is Mangold’s refusal to be beholden to the rest of X-canon that hampers the script from time to time, as it has to set up a series of plot points to explain itself, and the rest are questions that it raises that would’ve arguably made an even better film (and will be touched on in spoilers). Suffice to say that Logan hints at numerous story beats that got these characters to this specific place, but never bothers filling its audience in on exactly what those are. The score from Marco Beltrami is all over the place, at times fitting perfectly with the atmosphere of the film and at others standing in stark contrast to it, which left some scenes a little muddled in their tone.
Still though, for any faults that can be laid at its feet, Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine- unless FOX and Marvel can work out some kind of issues to get him into the MCU- is refreshing and beautiful. It doesn’t try to placate its audience by holding back with the character and, yet again, an ‘R’ rating is a great fit for a genre that seems hell-bent on delivering PG-13 popcorn fare. Logan is absolutely anything but, and for this it should be applauded. FOX continues to be a tale of two studios, one that can produce red-hot dumpster fires like Apocalypse last summer but utterly enthralling, deeply emotional and smart R-rated blockbusters like this. It is a testament that studios should embrace and trust in their creative teams and their stars to deliver a worthy product and let quality truly shine through. Logan is (mostly) every bit as good as you’ve heard; don’t wait another minute and catch it in theaters while you still can. Eight out of Ten stars.
******* SPOILER REVIEW *******
Every single aspect of Logan absolutely deserved better. Mangold’s script repeatedly makes mention of events that happened prior to the film without fully explaining said events, while simultaneously dumping exposition by the truckload at a couple points in the story. Either the events that occurred prior to the film’s beginning need to be explored and mentioned, or don’t mention them at all. Numerous times, it is evident that Logan has some kind of illness and that his healing factor is no longer working the way it once did, but this is never elaborated on except in grumpy, short-answer replies by Jackman as the scene brushes it away briskly to move on to the next point. The script also repeatedly makes mention of some tragic event in Westchester- one can assume, based on what Mangold does give, that it resulted in Charles Xavier having a psychic episode that killed the X-Men completely- but every time it is mentioned, it distracts from the plot at hand. After more than a few mentions one starts to wonder why we’re not seeing that movie instead of this one. It adds a tragic footnote to the X-Men story wherein it is simply the aging Xavier’s mind escaping his control that does them in. Stewart sells this perfectly in his performance, but it completely distracts from the plot of Logan every time it pops up and raises questions that will never be answered.
The film is fraught with other issues as well, such as the eleventh hour when Richard E. Grant’s Doctor Rice shows up to reveal he’s the reason that mutants had all died, but how he managed this task is absolutely anyone’s guess. Mangold, you can’t have it both ways; either this film is about the X-Men or it’s about the end of Wolverine’s journey, or make it about both. In an interview with Coming Soon, he talks about why the Westchester scene was cut from the film, and in part it was, “It also made the movie about that. It was really interesting. It suddenly made the movie about X-Men dying, as opposed to allowing the movie to be a kind of unwinding onion, like allowing you to kind of enter the story and go, ‘Where is this going?’ It was so large and loomed so large, and I felt like it also was still falling into the formula of the movies, with the big opener, that is setting up the mythology first.” In cutting Westchester he was trying to set a tone and make the film more about Jackman and Wolverine specifically, at which he succeeds, and yet his script repeatedly dwells on the incident and then ends with Rice’s last-minute (almost literally) revelations. The world of the story is either what it is or it’s not; either the death of mutantkind and the X-Men is important to the story or it’s not. Logan tries to have it both ways, and the film suffers just a little bit for it.
Charles Xavier dies unceremoniously as he is stabbed by X-24, also played by Hugh Jackman, in a quick bit of misdirection that is as underwhelming as it is un-befitting the character. The film’s inevitable ending is 100% predictable as Jackman “roids up” with a quick injection that gives his character his powers back long enough to have a decent final action scene before it wears off just as quickly. This story and these characters just deserved better. The film clocks in at an overlong two hours and fifteen minutes, and just by shaving away the unnecessary references to events that the audience has no context for, it could have improved itself that much more. It is still a wonderful, must-see film that has more beauty in it than one could possibly expect, but go into the theater with expectations firmly checked.