If you know me, you know that X-Men: The Animated Series was my first real introduction to superheroes. Yes, I had Batman in the beginning, but the X-Men were the first real team of heroes that got me into the comic book game and were essentially my gateway drug to Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Hulk; all the way to Namor and Luke Cage. Just like if it weren’t for X-Men: TAS I wouldn’t be into comic books today, comic book films (and you could argue comic books altogether) would not be where they are today if it weren’t for the success of Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000). At a time when comic book films were all but dead, thanks to the camp of Batman & Robin (1997) and Michael Bay popping the 90s bubble with The Rock (1996), Singer’s approach to the genre walked the line between grit and camp to deliver on a movie that includes a cold-open featuring a child being separated from his parents in German-occupied 1944 Poland and a teenage girl accidentally putting her boyfriend in a coma. This is also a movie with characters named Storm, Cyclops, Toad, and Magneto. Singer chose to take the Mutant experience and juxtapose it with his experience growing up gay and as a result we are given a modern take on what it means to be accepted and treated as family when the rest of the world lashes out at you in fear or hate. X-Men’s franchise has been through more peaks and valleys than any on-going film series, and through all of it there has been Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. No matter what time shift or alternate universe took place, the one constant through any X-Men Storyline was Wolverine – one way or the other.
Just like in the comic books, Wolverine has been there to witness the X-Men at both their strongest and their weakest. Now, after a botched prequel and a pretty good solo outing, Hugh Jackman gives his last take on the character with Logan (2017). The title certainly speaks for itself, as Hugh Jackman delivers a performance that puts the animal aside and makes room for the man who has endured the most out of any comic book character in both mediums. Taking notes from Mark Miller’s Old Man Logan storyline, director James Mangold drops his audience in the year 2029, in a neo-western setting where Mutants are as dead as disco and Logan is caring for a senile Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart back once again as “Wheels”) on the Mexican border. Logan just wants a peaceful life for what remains of Xavier, but one day Charles says he’s in contact with a mutant girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) who has some bad hombres after her; The Reavers. Logan earns its R-rating from the very first scene and introduces us to a weathered Hugh Jackman, who has traded in his leather jacket and motorcycle for a suit and gas station glasses, providing limo service to the terrible likes of El Paso. Times are certainly simpler, but Logan still wants nothing to do with the world. Meanwhile, Xavier is grasping at straws to remain a part of it, despite a degenerative brain disease slowly eating away at his wit and wisdom. Like an aging son caring for a dying parent, Logan now must take care of the only one who gave him a chance in the first place.
Logan’s focus on Xavier and Logan’s relationship makes the movie truly feel like the conclusion to a story that started 17 years ago. If there’s anything to take away from Logan for the comic book genre, it’s that it is alright for things to end. Jackman made it clear from the outset that this would be his last go at the character, and if he holds his word, this is a conclusion that not only fans of the franchise deserve, but one that Jackman deserves as well. The same can be said for Patrick Stewart if this is the end of his career as Professor Xavier. Stewart and Jackman essentially switching roles as caretaker-and-dependent was fun for both actors – especially Stewart as he perfectly nails the “I’m too old for this shit,” mentality and tells Jackman to f**k off every other scene. Swearing is certainly a reason for Logan’s R-rating, but unlike Deadpool (2016), the swearing seems organic. Profanity feels right coming from Hugh Jackman’s Logan, who wants more than anything to just leave the world behind.
Logan’s R-rating also succeeds in giving fans a much more real look at the violence Wolverine can cause when he goes full berserker mode. The carnage is as savage as the character himself, but it never feels like it’s there just for the sake of being there. There are plenty of violent Wolverine stories to tell, mostly because violence follows the man wherever he goes (a fact Logan mentions several times in the film). But while Wolverine was always the best there is at what he does, this isn’t the movie that shows that off. At its heart, Logan is a story of family and how one can define it. Deadpool scratches the itch for 14-year-olds to gawk at the fact that Deadpool made a dick joke, but Logan scratches the itch for the young adult who grew up with Hugh Jackman single-handedly defining one of fiction’s greatest characters, while also pleasing longtime fans of the comics who have bared witness to the atrocities that not only Wolverine was responsible for, but the atrocities that happen to those he loves most. When Laura comes around seeking Logan and Xavier’s protection, it could not be at a worse time for Logan – which drives the character to shine in his strongest moment.
What worked so well for this movie, and why I think people are jumping so quickly to call this “the next Dark Knight,” is that Logan’s complete disassociation with the X-Men – both film and comics – allows Jackman, Stewart, and director Mangold to perform and create with a sense of freedom not ruled by the financial demands of franchising. I think where Logan has the edge is that The Dark Knight (2008)’s most inspired element is that Heath Ledger’s Joker uses face paint instead of falling into a vat of chemicals. Logan chooses to ignore the “rules” that X-Men directors have been setting up for almost two decades. You’d think 20th Century Fox would want to create some nostalgia trip and have Logan say goodbye to every character he spoke to in the franchise. Nope, not here. Mangold and Jackman say goodbye to the character by cutting the cord almost completely and making a story that feels nothing like a comic book movie. If I had to pinpoint it, I’d honestly say this movie is Unforgiven (1992), Mad Max, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) starring Hugh Jackman as Logan, battling his greatest nemesis: Wolverine.
It’s everything a mature comic book adaptation should strive to be. I firmly believe Logan is a positive thing for comic book movies (despite its bleak outlook) and it is certainly a step in the right direction for the genre. Mangold isn’t restrained by some plot point from Days of Future Past or the fact that half the team dies and comes back to life two movies later. As Logan says so matter-of-factly, “In the real world, people die.” This movie’s action scenes will not only justify that, but they’re also some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in a long time. The action is contained, but the stakes can’t be higher for everyone involved. There is no infinite army, no beam in the sky, no aerial combat – just the characters on the ground, living and dying and feeling all of it.
There are certainly some faults present in Logan. I still firmly believe that there’s no such thing as a perfect movie. I’ll be the first to admit X-Men’s franchise is very, VERY flawed (it’s best just to leave time travel alone), but considering Jackman’s dedication to almost two decades of one character’s arch, Logan is a moving send-off for both the fans and the actor. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jackman defined Logan/Wolverine for an entire generation and his ability to not only single-handedly carry this franchise on his shoulders for two decades, but also to deliver on a comic book movie that can be treated as canon or completely on its own, puts Jackman in contention for the greatest casting in comic book movie history – second MAYBE to Christopher Reeves’ Superman. But the biggest difference for me is that Christopher Reeves didn’t get to go out on top.