Of all the superhero franchises going these days, the X-Men have consistently been the series of movies that feels like they are most about something, which makes sense because the X-Men comics have always been the book and characters that are most obviously a metaphor. The X-Men are a stand in for every minority you can think of whether it’s a racial minority or members of the LGBTQ community. In a world that hates and fears them, the X-Men are able to stand up and fight for a better world. Logan is not about that per se, but it still is about something a lot more than your average superhero movie; in this case, it’s disappointment.
It has been seventeen years since the release of the first X-Men movie which began the current era of movie making we are in where superheroes are dominating the multiplex in a way that is kind of hard to fathom. It’s been seventeen years and nine films of Huge Jackman doing an incredible job of bringing our favorite Canadian mutant badass to life and on his last film as the character, he and we the audience finally get a truly great film (though X2 and The Wolverine are both pretty good movies that old up well). Set in a rough, slightly rundown near future, Logan gives us an older and much more run down Logan who has given up the life of a superhero and is an Uber driver of sorts who is trying to earn enough to take care of an elderly Professor X (Patrick Stewart) whose advanced age has led him to become a severe danger to others; he experiences seizures that unleash his physic powers in an uncontrollable way that paralyzes and even kills those around him. Logan has given up on the world and Professor X has forgotten it. Logan eventually meets Laura (Dafne Keen) who escaped from a facility that was experimenting on mutant children and turning them into weapons. Logan, Xavier and Laura must than take a road trip to get her to safety. Violence, sadness and maybe one last shot at being a hero ensue.
As I said, this movie is about disappointment and the movie is basically a nonstop bummer. With very few exceptions, everything in the world has fallen apart. Mutants are going extinct, the X-Men were disbanded and no longer exist, Logan is dying from adamantium poisoning and Xavier can’t control the most deadly and powerful force in the world; his own mind. Before the movie ends, both men are dead and Logan only got a few short days to be a father to Laura, who is biologically his daughter as she has his power set and penchant for berserker rages where she murders anybody standing in her way. And in maybe the biggest bummer of them all, and one that you might have missed if you weren’t paying attention, Xavier is the reason the X-Men no longer exist. He had an incident sometime before the movie that killed several X-Men and ended the dream of his school in Winchester. That right there might be the saddest thing about this movie. Xavier, the man who built so much for the world and mutant kind, destroyed it all in his old age.
Good grief man.
But that doesn’t make this movie an actual disappointment, because as a whole, it’s great. The performances of the main cast are fantastic. We have been blessed with some amazing actor/character combos these last seventeen years. Heath Ledger and the Joker, Anne Hatheway and Catwoman, Robert Downey Jr and Iron Man, seemingly every other Avenger and Marvel movie has had the uncanny ability to match a great, interesting character with an amazing actor who capture something truly at the core of the character. Even the Marvel/Netflix shows have really nailed it. I think that in light of all these amazing performances and movies, it’s easy to forget how great Jackman is as Wolverine, in part because his movies have not always been as great as he is, but he so fully realizes Logan as a living, breathing person in all his complicated glory that it really is amazing to watch. This movie rests on his shoulders and it’s such a great pay off because of Jackman’s commitment and brilliance with the character. When he finally dies from his injuries after saving Laura and her friends, you feel it so much more than you would otherwise because we have been with this character and actor for almost two decades. It’s really kind of remarkable.
Equally impressive, thought usually much quieter about it, is Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier. In most of the X movies Xavier has had to stay rather stoic and in the background due to the physical limitation of the character and the nature of the character. But here we get to see Stewart really act. This is an Xavier I don’t think I’ve ever really seen in the comics or elsewhere; he is broken, he has lost most of his mind and he is guilty of betraying the very men, women, and children he spent a life time protecting. It’s almost unrelenting sadness when you really think about it. Even his death sucks because he thinks Logan betrayed him (it’s actually an evil clone… comics!). This movie pulls no punches and it punches hardest with Xavier.
You know, for a mostly mute, psychotic little ball of fury, abuse and resentment, Laura is really the light in the darkness that is this movie. The movie rests on Jackman’s shoulders, to be sure, but the movie would be a failure if Dafne Keen didn’t pull this role off. She is simply spellbinding. Besides screaming in rage, she does not talk for much of the movie but she I still able to convey so much depth and emotion with just her body language and eyes. Early in the movie the bad guys, Reavers from the comics, come for her in a big barn out in the middle of nowhere. She’s eating cereal while watching them on a camera and when one of them enters the building she looks back at where he must be coming from, stops chewing and has this amazing look in her eyes as she sizes up her foe. It’s, frankly, one of the coolest little moments of acting I have ever seen in a film. While she is equally as violent as Logan at every turn, director James Mangold and his team do a great job of infusing her violence with joy and power while Logan’s acts of violence feel somehow sad and somehow more tainted. It’s oddly powerful to watch her give back to these men who have taken so much from her and when she faces off with the Logan Clone at the end, the movie gets a thrill and excitement it avoids everywhere else. With the power of her performance, and just how good this movie is in general, I hope that she becomes a touchstone for a whole generation of little girls who get to see this movie; everybody needs a first R film and if your daughter is on the brink of that, make it this one. And frankly, I don’t care that it doesn’t make sense, but her in upcoming X movies. Just do it Fox.
Not that I don’t have quibbles with it. I would have liked a bit more sprinkling of the bigger X-Men movie franchise in it, even if they were just touchstones for the audience. And I have mixed feelings about the end of the movie. Real quick, Logan dies saving Laura and her friends from the company that was experimenting on them and they successfully escape to Canada, because even in movies Canada is the place to be. I knew Xavier was going to die, I’m no fool, but I really hoped that Logan would make it. But he doesn’t and that kind of sucks. But in a movie like this one, I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised. Still, I just wanted him and Laura to walk off into the woods together and if not happy, because I don’t think either character can truly be happy, at least content and able to keep on living. The ending is quite good, when Laura changes the cross over his grave to an X, you will cry, it’s just not what I wanted.
I was disappointed.