In the future, mutants are dead or dying, the X-Men reduced to a series of comic books. But things from Logan’s past can’t leave him, as he finds another mutant with eerily similar powers.
It’s the end of an era: Hugh Jackman has portrayed Logan, or the Wolverine, for nearly as long as Wolverine was on screen. Smashing into the scene as the feral rogue in X-Men (2000), Jackman then earned a smattering of independent spin-offs, such as traveling from New England to Nagasaki, Japan in The Wolverine (2013), all while shaping the gruff, lovable, foul-mouthed underdog with Adamantium claws we know and love. Some say the X-Men cinematic series has been milked to the point of excess, and the film panthology boasts 10 films and counting. But the fact is Logan is nothing like any of its predecessors, or any Marvel movie to date. After the surprising success of the Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool in 2016 received rave reviews despite its relentless F-bombing. It inspired producers to plunge ahead with Logan: and like the poster, the film is simple, raw, and filthy, bloody in the mouth. It’s also brilliant.
We’ve never seen Logan like this, even if we have seen him all over the globe, across centuries, struggling with his fellow mutants to save humanity. But what hardly needs to be said, and only seen, is that Logan is inherently a western movie, at points a western noir. While other films were packed with mutants with all kinds of powers, Logan is strikingly spare. Set in the cracked, baked sunscorch of the American-Mexican border, it really does look like The End. The year is 2029, and Logan is struggling to make ends as a limo driver, hoping to save enough money for him and Professor X (played by Sir Patrick Stewart) to get away and live off the ocean on a ship called the Sunseeker. They have it all planned out, as Logan repeatedly refers to the newspaper ad selling the boat. Something has happened to mutantkind, and we only get a taste. Professor X is much older, and suffers from delusions enhanced by his mutant powers, where a seizure can kinetically freeze people for a mile’s radius. Logan looks older than we’ve ever seen him, and feels older, too: his famously dark hair chopped and peppered with white, his face in a constant grimace, his ability to heal no longer as sharp as his claws. We watch him repeatedly washing off bloody knuckles that will not close.
But death and danger follow, as a woman out of nowhere besieges him to help her. He doesn’t know why, and she won’t say: until he finds her murdered, and Logan is left with the glaring young girl the woman was protecting, a girl with strikingly similar powers to his own. Sporting two razor Adamantium claws in each fist, one on her foot, and deadly trained in combat, Laura is a weapon walking. She can heal just like Logan, and it’s good she can, as scenes of brutal fighting make you openly wince. It’s a kid, and a harpoon goes right through her, the eleven-year-old roaring to rip it out. The X-Men’s theme of outsiders being treated as sub-human has never felt keener, more real. Laura’s also his daughter: a cliché by now, but Logan pulls it off, demonstrating how the same horrific facility that made Logan the Wolverine still had his genetic code that contains the “X” gene for quick healing and protruding claws. They’ve kept the code of all manufactured mutants, and use them to impregnate poor Mexican girls to produce children bred to be killers. But the experiment falters, as the children unexpectedly despair and withdraw. People at the top, such as the soft-spoken, disgustingly justified Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), realize you can’t teach rage. Even if Laura, mutant X-23, is plenty wild.
Laura is one of the greatest jewels of the film, played by breakout star Dafne Keen. Both feral and subtle, animal and human, Keen is extraordinary for her age, which is about the same as her character. Laura lashes out in rage at any attacker, a suspicious creature molded from a train of abuses. She has the flipping karate of Black Widow, Wolverine’s gleaming sharp claws, but also the unintelligible screeching of a small deadly animal. And for someone who doesn’t talk for half the movie, Laura is amazingly sensitive, spirited, and deep. She immediately trusts frail, telepathic Professor X, and begins to trust Logan too. Only towards the end, heartbreakingly, do we learn she has knowingly been searching for a father figure in the reluctant, aging, literally dying Logan all along, as she cries Daddy, Daddy, kneeling by his decimated body that has finally been ripped beyond repair. Laura, all of eleven, is more than skin deep, which is more than many female superheroes are allowed today.
There’s a lot to love about Logan, which critics and audiences alike have. Though it’s well earned it’s R-rating, as we witness every single grisly way claws can rip through the body. Characters doesn’t hesitate to drop dirty words, in English and in Spanish. But in the end, it’s a closely, finely tuned film, bordering on horror, with shocking action and great, great characters. As many have noted, Logan completely changes the game when it comes to the go-to superhero movie model. For even the most dedicated of fans, the new slew of superhero movies can get a little frustrating, echoing each other’s origin stories and increasingly unfunny lines. Instead, Logan is just what it is: and it’s not shiny, or forced, or overdone. It recognizes Logan had to go sometime with the brilliant Hugh Jackman, both who receive a deserved, respectful end. The rapport he has built with Laura is truly special, and not without its flaws. He allows some brutal lessons about living with killing, that you’ve done and forever will have done. At the end of the movie, still donning grim plastic pink sunglasses, Laura shifts the cross at Logan’s grave. It goes from a T to an X. X, the unknown variable, the shadow in the equation, the strange human gene. For now, it means Logan.