Article by: Anthony Florez
The first film in the X-Men franchise came out 17 years ago and was, at the time, considered one of the most mature entries in the superhero film genre. It took its themes of exclusion and metaphors for racism and homophobia as well as an open disregard for yellow spandex pretty seriously relative to the rest of the field. X-Men 2 took that earnestness and depth even further and was widely regarded, along with Spider-Man 2, to be one of the best superhero films of all time until the Marvel Cinematic Universe came along and elevated the genre and concept of franchise to an entirely new level, at the expense of some of that depth. As successful as the MCU continues to be its broad financial reward and accessibility has come at the cost of some originality, some unique director’s voices, and a complete absence of risk-taking with respect to narrative. And while Warner Bros. and the DCCU continue to play catch-up and Sony keeps hitting reset, 20 Century Fox has been quietly adapting to the changing superhero cinematic landscape. Although, X-Men: Apocalypse is easily one of the weaker chapters in the saga it’s still head and shoulders above BvS: DoJ or Suicide Squad and, in an attempt to break out of the middle of the pack, Fox released Deadpool, what is now one of the most financially successful R-rated film of all time. Further than that, FX debuted Legion a few weeks ago, easily one of the most unique and eccentric entries into the X-Men film/television canon. So Fox’s greatest weakness, a lack of a fully integrated cinematic or television universe, is actually its greatest strength in the sense that they have a flexibility that Marvel will never have to allow true experimentation with genre within its properties. Which brings us to Logan.
Jesus Christ on a hot tin roof, is this a departure from mainstream comic book movies and not just because of the gore and the language. Logan is a loud and angry meditation on the devastating effects of violence and the ravages of time on the soul. It’s a haunting and prescient vision of the future that’s suddenly too relevant for comfort. And it manages to be uplifting and beautiful in that bittersweet way you know comes right before the final heartbreak. It is light years away from the first X-Men film, particularly in the sense that for the last 17 years we have grown up with these characters, Wolverine and Professor Xavier, they are familiar faces in the way that only television audiences usually encounter over a decade or two, and seeing them brought so low, so far away from the ideals and hopes that they have fought for, is a sobering, stark experience. More than that, it’s heartbreaking. This time around there is no Kitty Pryde to send someone back in time, there is no team to recruit, no one to rescue. Things fell apart, the center did not hold. The world of Logan is what it will look like when the blood-dimmed tide is loosed.
It would have been a futile effort given the high-brow standards of the Academy but Logan absolutely should have been released in time for awards season, so affecting and powerful are the performances. Hugh Jackman has always owned this role, even in bad iterations and if he has ever been the anti-hero barely hanging onto a single shred of hope after several lifetimes of violence and horrors, that shred is a distant memory in his final turn as Wolverine. He carries every scene from the first to the last with what I can only describe as a perpetual mortal wound that, even when it isn’t an actual physical one, is buried behind his eyes. The man’s soul, or whatever remains of it, is worn down to the bone and you get the sense that his incredible healing factor is now the actual bane of his existence. Patrick Stewart, as a 90+ year old Charles Xavier who is now no longer fully in control of his immense psychic abilities, is a Patrick Stewart that I never want to see in real life. The man has been the absolute height of dignity, confidence, and integrity since I was old enough to sit still in front of a television set. And seeing him, even if it’s just the character, reduced to an addled, bitter geriatric was and, still is at this very moment, so completely crushing. Anyone who has had any experience with a grandparent or adult with Alzheimer’s or dementia is going to find the authenticity in the performance tragically affecting and I’d argue that Stewart has been a father-type figure to his audience for almost 30 years now.
Rounding out the principals is Dafne Keen, a newcomer to film who acquits herself well enough to make Hit Girl look more like a Power Puff Girl, this girl has an evil eye vicious enough to peel paint off a building. The rest of the cast is undeniably excellent, with Boyd Holbrook as a prototypical Man In Black who is immensely easy to hate as well as a totally random and great dramatic performance from Stephen Merchant who arguably looks a little bit like a mutant without any make-up or special effects. Also special mention to Eric La Salle (just let your SOUL GLO) and Elise Neal for turning what could have felt like a throwaway scene into a truly charming and much needed moment of levity in what is otherwise a pretty dour film.
In its DNA, Logan is a chase film and a Western with noir influences and James Mangold makes its influences apparent throughout. In fact, the film that Charles and Laura watch together is a classic in the genre that is almost certainly going to go over a younger audience’s head but it’s a lovely and effective reference that eventually comes full circle. Speaking of circles, I’m reminded again of X-2 and Spider-Man 2 and the eventual Golden Age of Marvel domination. The Dark Knight also keeps coming up in comparisons and I won’t debate that Logan is going to be held up alongside those other films as the gold standard for superhero movies. But I will argue that it should stand separate from pack. To risk the pun, the genre has now evolved into something adult, something not reliant on being entirely commercial, something new. It is fundamentally a character piece that happens to have superpowered humans in it, with an emphasis on the humans and will ideally encourage the major studios to continue taking these kinds of chances and moving in different directions. Lastly and above all, it’s just a great story. It is, in between shootouts and vicious hand to claw combat, ultimately about finding family in the dark and crowding around those warmly lit moments for as long as they last. And then carrying on to the next until there are no more guns in the valley.