WORDS: Patrick Kolan
If there wasn’t another superhero movie after Logan – if Logan was the swansong for not just Marvel’s fan-favourite Cannuck but for all superheroes on celluloid, I’d be absolutely fine with this. I think, with Logan, we’ve now seen the upper limits of what comics-on-film can achieve. It won’t get much better than this. By all rights, Logan shouldn’t really be as good as it is.
Maybe that’s unjust, but this film truly surprised me with an affecting and sincere story that is heads above Marvel’s back catalogue. James Mangold manages something quite –and quietly- extraordinary in Logan.
How? Three big reasons.
Mangold is a filmmaker for adults, firstly. He balances character drama with smart action. Walk the Line, Girl, Interrupted, 3:10 to Yuma—these are heavily emotive films, painting characters and drama with thick brushstrokes. To take on Logan is surprising in some ways, but absolutely makes sense, as this is less an action film, more a backdrop to tell the story of what happens with your favourite heroes get old, get sick, are forgotten or remembered by the wrong people for the wrong reasons.
The second reason it works? Hugh Jackman. Under a steady hand, patient editor’s eye and a smart and very adults-only script (the film opens with a casual “fuck” and keeps the pace up), he finally presents Logan, the Wolverine, as human more than superhuman. There are shades of award-ready performance here. There is subtlety and sadness and explosions of violence that his bulked-out frame carries so naturally.
This is all offset by the third reason Logan excels: Daphne Keen as the ferocious but vulnerable girl under Logan’s protection. Her filmic debut, Daphne is note-perfect throughout in a role that surely challenged her to explore some very dark places. She matches so naturally with Jackman – and almost outshines a great support cast, including Patrick Stewart (who is also restrained and remarkable – with bursts of unexpected and disarming humour) and an almost unrecognisable Stephen Merchant.
Under Mangold, this story carefully toys with the throttle. It is at times patient – wisely drawing out cuts and lingering longer than typical action fare. He is disciplined about his action – sudden bursts that are short enough to be impactful and sometimes drawn out to ratchet up the suspense. Maybe that’s pure directorial competence – doesn’t sound that special—but man, it’s such a change from the genre norm.
The film is excellent; it’s very rare for comic book fans to be treated like they have brains and can stand cuts that last more than 3 seconds. If you’ve read this far and snuck a glance at the score, you might be expecting a perfect five stars here – but Logan isn’t flawless.
Logan’s final act stumbles when it reverts at times back to the patent silliness of McGuffins. The “X” in this film’s plot is a substance that you’ll groan at when it’s introduced. It’s not needed. It’s there to keep the action high and solve some very basic problems that the writers needed to overcome when working with a hero that’s an arthritic, broken, bleeding mess.
Likewise, the villainous characters ultimately lack logic in their actions. There are some dumb turns in that final act that bring the stratospheric and engrossing first two-thirds back down to earth. However, the ending stabilizes the plane and brings it back up again with a final sequence that is almost assuredly going to divide fans as much as cap off Wolverine’s story arc as it always should have.
Logan had me revisiting defining moments in Leon: The Professional and Terminator 2: Judgment Day – two films that remind me of the power of age and duty as a motivating force. Old Man Logan is so painfully constrained by his age; it’s doubly highlighted by his young partner. It’s a dynamic that is drawn from concepts in the comics – the Wolverine/Jubilee duo for one – but it’s given a solid original context here. Most importantly, it’s a bitter joy to watch.
Logan is a success on so many levels that the critiques only slightly detract from the whole. Mangold and Jackman bring integrity and ability to an increasingly stale and pandering genre, closing out Jackman’s Wolverine with dignity and poise. That’s more that most of us can hope for when we’re 170-plus years old, right?