Finally, They Get A Wolverine Film Right
'Logan' is the Wolverine film we have been waiting for
“Logan,” the designated final chapter in the Wolverine film franchise, opens this weekend and seems poised to set some records for R-rated action films.
As a film critic, there are warning signs that a film will be bad, such as when the studio refuses to screen the film in advance. Or screens it the night before it opens and places an embargo for opening day on when you can publish a review, or even comment on social media about it.
So when 20th Century Fox decided to screen “Logan” weeks in advance of its March 3 opening date and to allow critics to start talking about the film the next day, well, that got me pretty excited about the potential for the new Wolverine movie.
And my expectations were met. “Logan” is hands — or should I say adamantium claws — down the best Wolverine movie of the franchise and perhaps the best of all the “X-Men” movies (only “X-Men: First Class" or "Days of Future Past” come close because of Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy).
I have to confess upfront that I was never a big fan of the “X-Men” movies. I did love the “X-Men Animated Series” (celebrating its 25th anniversary this year) that I used to watch with my son. I still love those old cartoons because even though the animation looks like crap by today’s standards, I still think the scripts were solid in addressing the issues that the comics wanted to deal with about prejudice and racism, themes that prove eerily resonant today. (The first “X-Men” comic appeared in 1963.)
But “Logan” steps away from the “X-Men” film franchise to tell a more personal story. This isn’t really a superhero film and the key themes of the “X-Men” take a bit of a back seat to Logan’s solo outing.
As with some of the recent “Star Wars” franchise films, “Logan” feels in part dictated by the fact that its stars are aging along with the characters and they are feeling a bit of fatigue returning to the roles. That’s as close to a spoiler as I will get in this review but I think most people can figure out where “Logan” is heading in its narrative.
The film opens with a weary and most decidedly older looking Logan (Hugh Jackman returning yet again). He’s driving a limo and gets into a dispute with some hoodlums trying to steal parts of his car. He dispenses with them in a fairly efficient (he’s definitely not at the top of his game) and brutal manner. The film wants to announce right up front that it is a hard R rating — and quite pleased to be.
We discover that Logan is caring for an ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in an isolated and abandoned looking compound on the Mexican border. Logan is obviously trying to distance himself from his Wolverine image and to hide from the world. He has a plan to take Charles and escape on a boat somewhere out in the middle of the ocean. But those plans are thrown into disarray when he’s forced to take care and charge of a young, mute girl named Laura (Dafne Keen).
That’s all you really need to know. Logan is on the run and people are after him.
James Mangold is the director credited for that hot mess “The Wolverine” and “Logan” feels like his vindication. He was credited only as director on “The Wolverine” but for “Logan” he took more control and served as writer, director and executive producer. The increased control has resulted in a better film.
Mangold gives us a lean, focused story that doesn’t involve any convoluted plots about evil global plans.
Instead it’s an elegiac tale about a man coming to terms with his life and deciding how he wants to go out. The film gives us some time to get to know Logan and to understand what it means to carry the legacy of Wolverine. There are some nice scenes where Logan addresses the Wolverine legacy and tries to point out how the comics got it all wrong. His relationship with Charles is also effectively developed.
This time out Mangold knows the story he wants to tell and seems to have the power to tell that story as he intended. He pairs Logan up well with the savage little Laura and allows them to develop a bond and to slowly see their similarities.
Keen is amazing as the feral and ferocious Laura. She is forced at one point to make a sudden leap in maturity dictated by the needs of the plot, but even with that somewhat unmotivated character turn, she delivers a wholly believable and riveting performance. You just can’t keep your eyes off her.
And Jackman, even through the bad films, has always been a perfect Logan/Wolverine. He looks the part, he has the right blend of seriousness and humor, and he just seems to inhabit the role. And Stewart is lovely as Charles in his twilight years. Stewart finds such humanity in Charles that it proves to be quite poignant.
The villains here are less memorable (actually downright forgettable) but it doesn’t really matter because the film is not about them.
As I mentioned, this is a hard R rating for violence and the action is fairly graphic and it results in real pain, which is not usually the case in comic book movies. Logan is older and not in peak physical condition any more. He gets hurt now and he has to suffer physical consequences for his actions. All this makes the action scenes in the film more intense and effective.
And the diminutive Laura (not sure how much was done by Keen and how much by a stunt person) proves quite lethal and fast in her battles.
“Logan” tries to be a comic book film for a slightly more mature audience. It’s not really groundbreaking but it does break out of the rut most of the “X-Men” movies were in to deliver something streamlined and well executed, and something that’s willing to slow down in place to let character and story develop.
“Logan” (rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity) is a great final entry in the Wolverine film saga, and kudos to Mangold for proving that when given the control needed a filmmaker can deliver a good film. It just sucks that it took three films to finally get Wolverine right and now they are done. Or are they? If "Logan" does the box office the trades are predicting it may be hard for Fox to resist finding a way to bring Wolverine/Logan back for another film somehow or some way.