On the surface, "Logan" is a superhero movie featuring the return of two of movie-dom's most beloved and venerable mutants. Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman were both on hand when Bryan Singer's 2000 feature "X-Men" blew open the doors to modern motion picture superhero movies, allowing Marvel to challenge DC's previous dominance. Now, 17 years later, Stewart and Jackman are back, playing the characters they have repeatedly returned to over the course of this century. Barring a change of heart by one or both actors, this will be the last time we'll see this Charles Xavier and this Wolverine.
"Logan" is about mortality. We all grow old. Everyone reading this who saw "X-Men" theatrically in 2000 has undergone a major life shift during the intervening years. Grandparents and parents age and die. We see their strength diminish as the years pass. It's as melancholy as it is inevitable. For superheroes, however, there are no "golden years." Reboots and remakes are common. If an actor gets too old to play a role, the part is recast. That's why Superman circa 2017 is about the same age as Superman circa 1950. "Logan" changes this up with a simple premise: What happens to superheroes when they get old? In this final Wolverine movie, Professor X is in his 90s. He is afflicted with some form of degenerative brain disease which has sapped his powers and made him prone to violent psychic seizures. Logan's strength is diminished and his healing powers are waning.
The setting is vaguely dystopian. It's 2029 and Mutant-kind has been all but eradicated. No new mutants have been born in 25 years and the existing ones have been hunted to extinction. Except for Professor X, Wolverine, and the bald-headed tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant), there may be none left. The screenplay, credited to Scott Frank and James Mangold and Michael Green, doesn't provide much background. Although "Logan" is technically the conclusion of the so-called "Wolverine Trilogy" and is the ninth film focused on X-Men characters, this is designed as a stand-alone. The story is less interested in canon and continuity than establishing a framework for a tale about love, guilt, responsibility, and redemption. There are traditional bad guys in "Logan"—a mad scientist type (Richard E. Grant), a cock-sure henchman (Boyd Holbrook), and a next-gen killer (Jackman) - but the true villain is one that no one, not even the great men of this piece, can overcome: mortality, the robber of virility and strength, the crippler of all.
The movie introduces us to Logan the caregiver. Along with Caliban, he is watching over the terminally ill 90-something Charles Xavier, who even at his most lucid isn't the man he once was. Charles has no future and, to prevent him from harming others with his occasional mental meltdowns, he is kept in confinement. The job suits Logan, who wants no part in interacting with humans and whose legacy of death and violence weighs heavily on his conscience. That's when Laura (Dafne Keen) enters his life. Not only is she the rarest of rare—a young mutant—but she has been genetically engineered using Logan's DNA. She's his daughter and she is being hunted. That sets the stage for a chase, a road trip, and a final confrontation. This is like no superhero movie we have ever before seen. Nor is there likely to be another one of this sort anytime soon. It will be interesting to assess how enthusiastically those who enjoy the over-the-top spectacle of typical comic book fare will react to "Logan." Will this be seen as too grim and joyless or will it be a much-needed antidote to the blasé blandness that has overtaken a once vibrant genre?
"Logan" isn't the first superhero movie with a dark tone. Batman has lived there for decades and Zack Snyder did his best to pull Superman into the abyss. For a Marvel character (even one being produced outside of the MCU due to the X-Men's rights having been parceled off to Fox), this is new territory. In his Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan discovered the magical formula that makes dour superhero movies work; it has to do with the melding of tone, atmosphere, and emotional content. Snyder didn't understand this and made it all about the aesthetic. James Mangold, who was also responsible for 2013's "The Wolverine," returns to what one might call the "Nolan basics." It's therefore no surprise that (excepting "Deadpool," which was an entirely different sort of movie) "Logan" is the best superhero film since "The Dark Knight."
Dir. James Mangold
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX, Redmond Cinema, Sisters Movie House