The first word in Logan is “fuck,” and if it bothers you to read that in a review, then I can say with some certainty that this isn’t the superhero movie for you.
Perhaps you’re thinking that sounds somehow in the same tonal wheelhouse as say, Deadpool, but in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. What Logan is defies easy categorization. I struggle to even call it a “superhero movie,” or an “X-Men movie.” If it is one, then it’s quite easily the most uniquely disparate X-Men movie ever made, and it asks you to quickly cast away any expectations you might be harboring of how an X-Men movie might look, sound and feel. Yes, one might call it a “superhero movie” in the sense that it, you know, has superheroes in it, but it would be similar to describing Saving Private Ryan as “that movie where Tom Hanks plays an English teacher.”
In short, this is quite the departure for Marvel’s first family of mutants; a film that occasionally feels aimed more squarely at the film critics sitting in preview screenings than the popcorn-munching multiplex crowd. It’s difficult to predict how that mass audience will even process Logan. Will they be wowed by its ultra-gory, visceral action and supremely gritty, nihilistic vision of a future where entropy has seemingly conquered all? Or will they be unnerved by its often oppressive dourness, humorless nature and patience in lingering in the quiet moments? The differences between this film and the tone of The Avengers could scarcely be more profound.
We rejoin Logan, and yes, he is as old as you expect him to be—older even than a now 48-year-old Hugh Jackman, who (clearly) intends this to be the character’s final bow. The story takes some very minimal cues from the “Old Man Logan” comics storyline of 2008, but it’s really in tone only. The 2029 of this film’s Wolverine is largely obscured, and we never get a good feel for how the average person lives or what society has become, aside from some Blade Runner-style billboards. What we do know is that the mutants have largely died out, with no new mutants having been born naturally for several decades. That leaves only a few living on the fringes, such as Logan and mutant-tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant), who work in shifts to take care of an ailing, Alzheimer’s-ridden Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, wonderful as ever). Fun fact: My math estimates that Professor X would have to be more than 90 years old in this movie—probably 92 to 94—to fit the timeline established by X-Men: First Class and all the other films to follow in this series. Which is to say, it’s no surprise he’s having trouble controlling “the most powerful brain in the world” at this point, wheeling around and quoting what sounds like both Shakespeare and Taco Bell advertisements.
Our Logan is thrown back into the fray by the discovery of a young girl named Laura who is—surprise—a mutant “very much” like Wolverine, complete with her own adamantium-tipped claws in both her hands and feet. Eleven-year-old Dafne Keene, who plays her, seems to have studied at the Millie Bobby Brown school of child-acting, all scowls and scrunch-faced silence, having been badly scarred by whatever process created her and turned her into a weapon.
From the trailers, it’s obvious that Logan is taking itself more seriously than other X-Men films have ever attempted to do. Degradation and entropy are its core themes, as Logan’s body and mutant healing factor begin to fail him and it becomes quite obvious that his days are numbered. Even his claws don’t want to extend properly. If it was a comedy, he’d be popping little blue pills to make them work, but Logan holds itself more like Oscar bait than a crowd pleaser. It really, really wants to be taken seriously, which can clash at times with the hyperkinetic action of Logan or Laura sticking their claws through people’s faces, which might normally draw a laugh via the absurdity of its ultraviolence.
At the same time, though, it’s hard not to be swept up and entertained by the sheer brutality of the action sequences, which bring to a “comic book movie” the kind of bone-crunching excess one might expect from another sequel to The Raid. When I say “sticking claws through people’s faces” in the paragraph above, I’m not talking about an isolated incident. I’m talking about graphic portrayals of said action in nearly every fight scene. This film is not screwing around, and it works hard to earn its “R” rating through language and violence alone. Sex is patently unnecessary, and utterly ignored.
Ultimately, Logan’s ambition is to present itself with a weight of gravitas that isn’t entirely earned, considering the history of the character. It will doubtlessly frustrate some of the Everyman cinema-goers who perceive its middle chapters as slow, or who criticize the 135-minute run-time, but I expect patient viewers will appreciate the way it allows its characters to breathe and wallow in moments of vulnerability. It’s not a film calculated to be a people-pleaser, but it is an appropriately intense end to a character defined by the tenacity and ferocity of a wolverine.
Director: James Mangold
Writer: Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Stephen Merchant, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keene
Release Date: March 3, 2017
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and he’s OK with claws stabbing through faces. You can follow him on Twitter.