REVIEW: ‘Logan’ brings meaning to Wolverine

(Image; 20th Century Fox)

The very first word uttered on-screen separates Wolverine’s third solo outing from his previous two. It’s a four-letter word that he’s only spoken once before. It’s also then repeated several times throughout the film and makes up the bulk of the decipherable dialogue in Logan‘s opening scene. An assault of generic thugs who don’t know just how out of their league our hero is isn’t anything particularly striking in a superhero film. But a feral brutalizing of those thugs by a savage, rage-and-regret-filled former hero definitely is. In this way, Logan establishes itself as being unlike the Wolverine we’ve known before on screen, yet entirely like the Wolverine we’ve always known from the comics, and our own expectations.

Seventeen years after first appearing in theaters, Wolverine has finally gotten away from the sarcastic, cigar-chomping, “bub”-spewing, Jean-chasing loner-on-a-team which worked in context of the X-Men film franchise but was never able to stand on his own. Instead of over-the-top, nonsensical action cartoon of X-Men Origins: Wolverine or the mysterious and vital yet entirely inconsequential wander of The Wolverine, this Logan is a traumatized veteran of countless wars, the lone survivor of his group at last bearing the scars of several lifetimes of brutality. His greatest strength, the fabled healing factor which not only kept him alive but also became a fixture of almost every superhero since the 1970’s, has become his greatest weakness. Plainly put: Wolverine has no reason to live… but he’s unable to die. Sure, the cuts may linger, the claws may not zing as they shoot out of his bruised hands, the wounds may not close, but when the dust clears he is – as always – the last one standing, limping and sighing though he may be. Logan is a superhero movie where in many ways the hero’s enemy is what makes him a superhero.

Even Wolverine (and High Jackman) gets old.
Image: 20th Century Fox.

It’s easy to look at the Wolverine portrayed in Logan as the one we’ve always wanted, but without the different incarnations and mistakes this grizzled, reluctant, pained iteration would be robbed of exactly what makes him so powerful. Although never mentioned by name, the loss of the other X-Men – Jean, Rogue, Cyclops, Iceman, Beast – is a burden that Wolverine and Charles Xavier need to carry with them in order to understand how we’ve come to this desperate point. It’s also in freeing itself of these other characters, and the powers they bring with them, that Logan is able to take these characters in radical new directions. Whereas other X-Men movies, most notably last year’s X-Men: Apocalypse, clearly suffered from having to continue the franchise with new characters and greater stakes and bigger effects and more and more and more until it became meaningless, Logan is able to stand in stark contrast to all which came before it. While Logan obviously owes its entire existence to the success of Deadpool, the two have next to nothing in common with each other. And they shouldn’t. Deadpool is the unhinged parody that superhero cinema needs to keep it from becoming even more stale. Logan is elegant end that it needs to feel meaningful. It’s the coda the X-franchise never had before being reprised. It’s the loner finally being alone (kind of) with his actions, the last survivor copping with his guilt. It’s time catching up to the ageless and death coming for the immortal.

Charles Xavier feels like an entirely different character, in the best way.
Image: 20th Century Fox.

After the initial skepticism and disagreement, Hugh Jackman has become as synonymous with Wolverine as metal claws and closing wounds. While he’s played the character very well, to the point of over-exposure (just like comic book Wolverine), Logan feels like the first time he’s really been able to dig into who this man is (it should be noted that despite their faults, the titles of the three Wolverine movies comprise a brilliant progression). The same goes for Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier. Despite being iconic in these roles, the grit and pain on display in Logan allows them both to bring entirely new wrinkles to their characters, both figuratively and literally. Even with the grey hair and long beard, Jackman retains the intensity that has made his signature character. The film may in fact be a bit too heavy-handed it its parallel of Wolverine as hesitant gunslinger hired to save the local farm. Meanwhile, Stewart is near heartbreaking in his portrayal of the once most powerful mind in existence now ravaged by age, a theme which could be more fully emphasized. On one hand, it’s crushing to imagine that this may be how the X-universe unfolds. On the other, it’s a beautifully brutal, unflinching look at how violence, fear, hatred, and opportunism twist even the best of intentions into something disgusting and dangerous. Although very different characters, Jackman and Stewart both portray this result to near perfection. James McAvoy might’ve already given us a new and fine version of Xavier, but Jackman’s turn here makes it clear that unlike Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, or even Xavier, Magneto and Mystique, Wolverine is one hero who should not ever be played by anyone else. At least not as long as there remain people who remember.

Dafne Keen (X-23) absolutely kills it in “Logan.” And by “it” I mean “everyone.”
Image: 20th Century Fox.

And this is where Dafne Keen comes in. Whereas Jackman and Stewart, Wolverine and Xavier, are the headliners, Keen’s Laura is the opening act that steals the show. X-23 is savage yet oddly adorable. Her physicality is made all the more important by her lack of dialog, and carries the performance entirely. She is more fearsome than the man we’ve seen rip bodies apart for ten films, yet she’s still a little girl whose giddiness is tragic in this world. It’s almost a shame that she appears at this time, both in our world and in the fictional one, as Keen deserves to continue this character, but her presence would break the greater franchise even more than it already is. Plus, it will feel like a complete betrayal if this emotional, visceral experience turns out to merely be a way of introducing yet another X-Men offshoot/reboot. Sadly, it’ll be more surprising if Fox allows Logan to stand as an outlier than if the studio were to attempt building yet another universe around it. The entire reason Logan works is its contrast to other X-Men movies. Taking away that contrast, like taking the powers from a superhero, would make it ordinary. Removing this ending, removes its meaning.

Far as it is from the other films, Logan does share some of the X-franchise’s faults. Certain plot developments are entirely too predictable and seem to be there for no reason other than to add length and an extra action sequence. One point in particular wants to fit the overall theme, but is left too underdeveloped and is too quickly forgotten to remain resonant. Similarly, although various ideas are touched on (corporate control being the most obvious) they remain nebulous and inconsistent throughout. Personally, I’d hoped that there would be more done with the southern border setting (I can already see the Tr*mp administration using this film as anti-Mexican propaganda: “When Mexico sends people over, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing claws. They’re bringing metal skeletons. They’re mutants. And some, I assume, are good people.”). This lack of a resonant real world theme gives the film little depth outside of the narrative itself. Of course, social messaging isn’t a requirement to make a good movie, but it’s often required of a great movie. Without that, Logan feels somewhat lacking.

A few well-placed name drops remind us that “Logan” is still an “X-Men” movie.
Image: 20th Century Fox.

It’s not a spoiler to say that this is reportedly Hugh Jackman’s last appearance as Wolverine. It’s also not a spoiler to say that this should be the last Wolverine solo film, at least until Fox decides to completely reboot the character, a fact that is as inevitable as it is stupid. While even the studio may want to forget that X-Men Origins: Wolverine exists, and we may always lament that we never got the Darren Aronofsky-directed The Wolverine, Logan at least does one thing very, very few superhero franchises have been able to do: it ends. In fact, it ends with such quality, without the need to stretch into yet another sequel, that Logan highlights exactly why endings themselves are important. The end is when risks are taken, when adventures and plots pay off, when stakes feel highest, and when our connection with these characters whom we’ve seen (hopefully) grow and change are finally given meaning. As with life, eventually immortality becomes boring.

About Jess Kroll

Jess Kroll
Jess Kroll is a novelist and university professor born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and based in Daegu, South Korea. He has been writing film reviews since 2004 and has been exclusive to Pop Mythology since 2012. His novels include 'Land of Smiles' from Monsoon Books and young adult series 'The One' and 'Werewolf Council' from Epic Press.

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