"Logan" isn't just a great superhero movie
Positing “Logan” as, “not just another superhero movie” does a disservice to both the film and to the genre. It also doesn’t mean a whole lot in an era where films featuring superheroes are becoming more diverse in storylines and cast by the year. The world “Logan” enters is much different from the one he entered way back in 2000. That’s a good thing, of course, but this film might not have the impact it does without the groundwork it laid way back when.
All that to say, “Logan” is one of the best films of the year, but not just because it is so different from the film trilogy Hugh Jackman appeared in when George W. Bush was in the White House. The movie, which stars Dafne Keen as much as it does Jackman, brings a brutalist, R-rated twist to Wolverine.
That’s nothing new to longtime fans of the character, but seeing it laid out on the screen is jarring. No, not because we know we’re watching a comic book character forcing blood onto the ground — we’ve seen that before. It’s because the film doesn’t pull any punches. Director James Mangold makes sure Logan feels everything. Every punch lands squarely, every cut goes deep and everyone dies painfully. That’s the world crafted in this film. It’s brutal.
For all the talk of the darkness in the DCEU, the X-Men films have taken on their fair share of doom and gloom in recent years. Between “X-Men: Days of Future Past’s” Sentinel-led alternate future, to the world we find Logan living in, it’s easy to imagine Zack Snyder feeling right at home on set. Logan is in hiding with Charles Xavier and another mutant with all their friends dead; and here we were upset that Superman doesn’t smile enough.
Logan has always been a reluctant hero, but never in such a painful way. For years he’s been played as comic relief up against a variety of straight-men (hi Cyclops!); the exception to the rule is “The Wolverine,” which found only marginal success thanks to a so-so script. That’s not a problem in “Logan.”
This movie gives Logan something interesting to fight for, or in Laura an interesting partner to fight with. Keen is absolutely electric every time she’s on screen, and not just in her array of dizzying action sequences. Let there be no doubt: she can carry a movie on her own, and there’s little doubt in my mind Keen will get the opportunity to do so. She matches Logan’s rage and intensity every step of the way, making “Logan” the X-Men road trip movie you didn’t know you needed.
That relationship ties together greater X-Men themes of family and belonging in an offbeat way. It also does so painfully, something “Logan” manages to do no matter what film he shows up in. Like Peter Parker and Magneto, it seems important for artists to remind you that Logan can not, under any circumstance, have nice things for too long. Such is this character’s lot in life.
Unlike the perpetual, played out suffering of Magneto, everything works in “Logan.” It helps that this is one of the most beautifully shot superhero films in recent memory. You can probably credit co-cinematographer Phedon Papamichael for the signature look (you’ll recall he also handled the cinematography for “3:10 to Yuma”). If there’s a flaw, it’s that the film drags a little towards the middle; but that’s small potatoes in what’s a bountiful feast for the senses.
“Logan” is not just one of the best X-Men films ever made (I’ll still take “Days of Future Past”), it’s one of the best films of the year. In a year with some fantastic movies, that’s a tall order, and Mangold knocked it right out of the park.