The rule of thumb for many cinematic franchises has been that the third installment is one that must be survived. Terminator never successfully moved forward after Terminator 2: Judgement Day in 1991. Warner Bros attempted (with mixed results) to retcon everything after Superman II with 2006’s Superman Returns. X-Men, the once signature series of Marvel Comics, has run aground twice with both X3: The Last Stand and X-Men: Apocalypse. It now appears that one series has inverted that axiom. After a critically panned offering in 2009 and a mixed 2013 follow-up, the Wolverine series found its masterpiece with the neo-Western themed, Logan.
The movie is arguably the best character piece in Fox’s superhero universe. It serves as a finale for both Hugh Jackman’s Logan (Wolverine), as well as Sir Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier (Professor X). As a bonus to its great writing and thrilling action, Logan even manages to introduce a new possible class of mutants for the X-franchise. My only quibbles with the picture were minor, with one of them being more curious than troubling. All together, this edition certainly makes my Top 10 superhero films and will likely wear better over time. Below are my full reactions to the Jackman and Stewart send-off (WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!).
What Went Right
The first great attributes of this story are its acting and writing. It’s immediately clear how much Jackman has been wanting to see his character progress in the last 2 decades. Logan’s weariness, defensiveness and illness all come through forcefully. In many ways, the Wolverine is a wounded animal. Sir Patrick Stewart also cements a unique accomplishment with his performance. A beloved former captain within Star Trek, Stewart has fully portrayed a second indelible character of American fiction. The original Captain Kirk, William Shatner, eventually gave us the critically-acclaimed and Emmy-winning role of Denny Crane (2004-2008 Boston Legal). Now, the once Jean-Luc Picard of The Next Generation is, just as richly, Professor Charles Xavier.
In Logan, Stewart brilliantly plays a mentally and physically frail Xavier. Ironically, both Wolverine and Professor X have taken their greatest leaps forward by having their most powerful abilities degraded. Charles’ mind is unstable. Left unmedicated, he poses an existential threat to anyone around him. Wolverine’s healing factor is greatly diminished. His physical scars symbolize the emotional ones he’s carried for centuries. All of the preceding details, though, are the exposition of these figures. The variable that begins moving everything forward is a cloned descendant of Logan, named Laura, who is being ruthlessly hunted.
Pursued by Transigen Labs – her creators, Laura comes into the care of Professor X and a reluctant Wolverine after her nurse is killed. For Logan, she is the last opportunity for genuine connection. For Charles, Laura and her genetic father are his final integration project. Initially, it is Charles’ insistence that brings her into the circle. When Logan sees her brandish her deadly metallic claws and fight with a reminiscent wild abandon, he feels an impulse to accept her. In between sporadic moments of heart-racing and graphic action, these three form a troubled but touching family.
The writing of Logan soars with character interactions that are down-to-earth. Logan and Laura’s dysfunction is credible. Now in her early teenage years, Laura has never been a part of Logan’s life. He has no idea who she really is, nor does he have any concept of parenting. Instinctively he is drawn to her, yet he constantly battles his disposition to abandon and withdraw. Meanwhile, Charles is Logan’s exasperated parent. The professor dedicated his himself to an ideology of compassion and a responsibility of mentorship. They are ideas that never took to Logan’s war-torn life. Despite everything the professor has tried to impart, his pupil almost always falls short of his hopes. Both tension and affection imbue all aspects of this triangle. Their humor and love, particularly displayed when all three are given refuge by a model rural family, provide a needed break from the grizzly, tense getaway sequences.
The last triumph of this film was one I never expected. This picture is unmistakably about Logan, Charles and the mysterious X-23 (Laura’s lab name). Yet, added to this refugee story is the introduction of an entire group of Transigen survivors. Together, they are fleeing to a Canadian safehouse. The prior X-Men chapter, Apocalypse, struggled to balance plots that introduced a new archvillain along with the transition from the “first class” of mutants (Havoc, Beast, Mystique, Banshee) to an incoming one (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler and Storm). This edition hits the mark. The gravity of Professor X’s death is preserved, even though it comes with the reveal of an even more terrifying X-24 clone. Though we get to see many of these new mutants’ powers in the concluding fight, Logan’s heroic death in protecting his daughter keeps its emotional primacy.
What Went Wrong
If the writers of Logan are to be assigned any errors, perhaps the movie tipped its pitches on a couple of occasions. Though you likely suspected that something terrible would happen to that loving Kansas family…Logan still reiterated the danger they were in to the Professor. Sure enough, Transigen’s forces were unleashed on them just before dawn, killing Xavier and almost everyone else. The other piece of too-obvious foreshadowing came before Logan’s death. At the Eden hideout, Logan and the young mutant Rictor talk about managing doses of the Transigen’s healing serum the children stole. Piling on top of that exchange, Rictor leaves Logan an ALL-CAPS note reminding him to use the medicine in small doses. The bottle and syringe were the last things Logan grabbed before running out to save Laura from Transigen’s final attack. Predictably, the medicine wears off, leaving Logan at his most vulnerable just as he confronts the X-24 clone a final time.
Though not necessarily a story misstep, I found it curious that Logan made a number of allusions to the 1953 Western, Shane. Charles and Laura watch it together in their Oklahoma City hotel room. The professor even recalls his own memories of seeing it as a child. At the end, after burying Logan, Laura recites from memory the lines that Shane tells little Joey Starrett about there being “no more guns in the valley.” The emotion and poignancy of the moment is well-established without the callback. Yet, the speech is still added on top as a eulogy. I can’t recall another superhero film so strongly underscoring a meta-commentary about itself. The two features certainly parallel each other. Logan dies freeing the child mutants from Transigen, just as Shane bleeds out as he rides away from the last gunfight. The strength of Logan’s script and acting, to me, ought to merit serious consideration by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Whether emphasizing this comparison to the legendary Oscar-winner lends Logan any added weight will be interesting to see.
What I Took Away
The most powerfully moving reference for this X-fan, however, came in Logan’s own final words. He tells Laura that he finally understands something Charles had tried to teach him. Through her cries, all Laura can respond with is “Daddy.” The dialogue harkens back to the final conversation between Charles and Logan on the Kansas farm. Charles advises his former pupil to soak in what the atmosphere of that family is like. His point is that Logan still has the opportunity for something similar. At the time, Wolverine refused to see it. He believed that the world offering such contentment was forever lost. In his final breaths, though, he allowed himself to feel and receive the love of his grieving daughter. After a life of war, Logan died in peace.
Though viewers can see themes about the duty to care for refugees, or commentaries about the merger of big government and big business, Logan is principally about lost souls finding each other in family. It excels at this story in ways no other superhero movie has. It will be a challenge for those that follow in this genre to clear the bar Logan has raised. I can’t think of a finer tribute for Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart, who have done so much in their careers to realize the potential of comics in the cinema.