[This is a re-post of my Logan review; the film opens this Friday.]
Franchises should end more often. Freed from setting up the next installment or worrying about if an actor will reprise a beloved role, Logan isn’t constrained by rating, putting pieces in place for the next chapter, or keeping characters alive because they might be needed down the road. Logan is an ending, not just for its titular character and the actor who defined the role for a generation, but for how he defined the X-Men saga. While Fox will continue to make X-Men movies, Logan feels like the conclusion of a story that began back in 2000 and in the hands of director James Mangold, the film serves as a moving farewell to a unforgettable character and the franchise he defined.
Set in the year 2029, we enter into a world where there have been no new mutants for the last fifteen years. Logan (Hugh Jackman), going under his birth name James Howlett, tries to keep a low profile as a limo driver in Texas. After long days of driving idiots around, he crosses the border into Mexico and goes to an abandoned facility where he, with the help of mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), cares for an ailing Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Logan wants to put together enough money so he and Xavier can peacefully live out the rest of their days on the ocean, but his plans are upended when he crosses paths with Laura (Dafne Keen), a young girl with powers similar to his own. Forced to go on the run from military forces led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), Logan eventually discovers his purpose in life looking after the young girl.
Although Logan is unmistakably “R-rated” (the first line of the film is “Fuck.”) and at times seems to be proud of unleashing the character in his full violent, vulgar glory, it also serves to give the movie a unique tone that lets us know that this will be unlike any X-Men film we’ve ever seen. And while the violence is brutal (lots of people get stabbed in the head), it never feels like Mangold is pandering to adolescent boys who get their rocks off by watching mindless killing. If anything, the film eventually reveals a character (who I won’t spoil here) who is a rebuke to that characterization of Wolverine. Although there’s plenty of violence, the film constantly wants to show us the emotional and physical toll it takes on Logan.
While Logan is dark and gritty from the get-go, it never feels like its taking on that attitude in an immature way. Mangold confidently places the film in the context of a neo-Western, painting Logan and Professor X as two men who have been left behind by the world they once defined. The X-Men have descended into myth, and what remains is a world where two of the most powerful mutants are just scraping by to survive. It’s a bleak outlook, but one that’s buoyed by the freedom of the performances.