Directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, The Wolverine)
Written by James Mangold, Scott Frank (Minority Report, A Walk Among the Tombstones), and Michael Green (Heroes, Blade Runner 2049)
Cinematography by John Mathieson (Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven)
Music by Marco Beltrami (3:10 to Yuma, The Hurt Locker)
Produced by Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, and Richard E. Grant
In his early years, Logan (Jackman) was a soldier and a mercenary. Then he was an experiment. Then a confused drifter, who – after many years and the compassion of one Charles Xavier (Stewart) – eventually became an X-Man, a hero. Now, in the year 2029, he’s a limo driver in a near-post-apocalyptic world, where something tragic happened that led to the end of mutants, and that something may have had to do with Professor X.
Logan hasn’t much to live for now, except for a sick Professor X, who he hides and cares for in a makeshift shelter at an abandoned smelting plant south of the border. By day, Logan drinks too much and chauffeurs various people around some city in Texas as he tries to keep a low profile and still make money, which he uses to hustle for prescription drugs. By night, he still drinks too much and goes to Mexico, where he cares for the Professor, now a cantankerous and damaged old man, and gives him the drugs to keep him sort of well.
It’s sad to see these once great men in this degenerated state. Wolverine is still bad, but he hurts and aches, and he doesn’t heal as fast as he did. Something, too, is poisoning his body, killing him ever so slowly from within, and his eyesight is failing. Charles has a brain disease. The medicine Logan brings him keeps him from going into destructive episodes, but it also keeps him a blabbering old man. One of the world’s most dangerous bodies and the world’s most capable mind have both fallen into decay, and they can do nothing about it. They are helpless.
Amidst all this, a new problem enters Logan’s life, despite his efforts. Xavier’s compassion has drawn to them a child (Keen), a much sought after girl who is dangerous in her own right. Logan wants no part of her. Years ago, Charles had saved Logan, and now Logan wants to save Charles and feels he cannot be distracted from this task. Yet in the end, he may not have a choice. . .
There’s so much more about the plot that I’d love to get into, but I won’t. It’s best you know as little as possible going into the movie and can therefore be surprised, excited and heart wrenched more effectually. There aren’t necessarily any crazy twists in Logan, but the film is more enjoyable the less you know. Suffice it to say that this movie is very much a western and a character study of a man growing older, once invincible now vulnerable, his abilities deteriorating and his relationship with himself, the deeds of his past, the man who pulled him out of the gutter, and the world of which he is a part but does not wish to be, as well as his connection with the child who he doesn’t wish to admit is a lot like him.
Logan is a beautiful movie. Not only does the story reflect the classic American western, but the visual themes do as well, and no wonder, as James Mangold has shown himself interested in Americana, especially with a couple of his previous directorial efforts, the very good western 3:10 to Yuma and the great biopic of Johnny Cash, Walk the Line. As a side note, a Johnny Cash song does show up as the credits roll. It’s not “Hurt,” but it fits the movie’s finale just as well as “Hurt” fit the trailer.
The cinematography is also beautiful. Mathieson choreographs the action fantastically, and though it does use shaky cam, the only other times I’ve seen it implemented this well is probably the Bourne movies and Taken (only the first one). Often shot from low to the ground, but without as many frantic cuts as we usually get in this kind of action filming, you can see pretty clearly the good stunt work on display. When I say shaky cam, don’t assume this movie contains a migraine inducing blurfest for cinematography. It is just a well-made choice for the action, and most of the movie is not filmed in a shaky or handheld manner. There are many moments of excellently framed shots and gorgeous wides where the scenery, and the way our characters are framed against it, seems both beautiful and ominous. Mathieson’s cinematography portrays the emotions and themes excellently. Even the visual effects are incorporated well. A lot of practical stunts and actual, touchable things are used, and the CGI is sparse and effective when it is onscreen. My only complaint is that a bit of the CGI is not quite as polished as it could have been, but I guarantee this will be a detractor for very few people.
In the acting department, Jackman, Stewart, and Keen all turn in superb work. Jackman has always been perfect for Wolverine, but he is somehow even more perfect here, and he finally has a solo movie completely worthy of his performance. Stewart, of course, is great, but he really gets to you with his performance of Professor X as a helpless old man. That being said, we knew Jackman and Stewart would be awesome. What we didn’t know was if the child actor would be. And she is amazing. She plays her character as somewhat feral, animalistic, but with a touch of humanity inside. Holbrook and Merchant do fine jobs, too, as the second most-used characters in the film, and it is interesting to see Stephen Merchant in such a role. Usually he’s the nerdy, awkward guy, but he works well here as a capable mutant with a past of his own.
The pacing and plot structure are solid and effective. For some people, the pacing might seem a bit slow at first, but after awhile, you will realize that it adds to the story and its telling. The plot structure is a great three part act that marinates and pays off in spades. Mangold wonderfully spaces little moments of realistic humor throughout to keep us from getting depressed by the nature of the story, and there is enough action to keep the whole movie exciting. Yet that action always stems organically from the plot and never appears as just another excuse to show off Wolverine’s epic skills.
As for characters and character development, it’s top notch. Wolverine and Professor X are given fitting goodbyes, and that’s all I’ll say about that. Logan here is very much like the main gunman characters of Shane, Unforgiven, and The Shootist, a man haunted by the demons of his past, which come back to haunt him both figuratively and literally. A man stumbling through the present with little thought for the future and even, perhaps, something of a desire to die, to rid himself of the dreams that torment him at night and the pain of which he’s been a part and caused. It’s also interesting to see Logan and Xavier change places as protector and protectee, and even though Xavier has turned into a fussy old man, he retains much of his kindness and compassion. It is indeed his compassion that kickstarts the story and helps Logan find some redemption. By the end of the movie, Logan and Xavier have changed places in more ways than one.
The score, like the movie, is ballsy, at least in a couple musical choices that it makes, especially the way it uses piano in the climax of the film. I respect that it was going for something unique, but I don’t love it. I’m guessing that Beltrami wanted something different and original, kind of like how The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly‘s score must have sounded when it first came out, except Logan‘s is nowhere near as interesting. The score is good, just not exceptional or particularly memorable.
As for other complaints, I only have a couple nitpicky ones. I won’t describe them, because they’re on the edge of spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that they can both be chalked up to movie tropes that have been in all kinds of movies, including great ones, for many years now. Logan is as close to perfect as it could have been, and really all my complaints with it are extremely nitpicky.
Overall, Logan is a stunning movie – exciting, funny, and thoughtful. It isn’t just for people who like superhero movies. It’s for people who like westerns, great character studies, excellent performances, and good movies. It is certainly one of the best directed superhero movies ever made, and I can already guarantee it will be one of my top 10 movies of this year, currently at number 1. Go see it if you’re an X-Men fan. Go see it if you’re not.
I’m going to give Logan a 93%.
P.S: A word about this movie’s rating. You might have noticed it’s an R, and – if you haven’t heard by now – Logan deserves that rating. Wolverine fans, myself included, finally get the kind of Wolverine action we’ve really wanted to see. I mean, for pity’s sake, the guy has three daggers sticking out of each hand. There ought to be some blood and limbs flying, and there are in this movie. However, the violence never seems gratuitous and, just like the action scenes, the violence seems well-earned when it comes onscreen. There is also some language throughout and an unnecessary flash of female nudity. So, yeah, don’t bring the kids to this one. Oh, yeah, and there aren’t any after credits scenes, so don’t sit through credits unless you are just that committed, or you want to hear the awesome Johnny Cash song playing.