Okay, we’ve danced this dance before.
A new Wolverine movie comes out. The trailers look exciting—there’s plenty of Hugh Jackman with his patented Angry Face on, snarling and waving around his prop claws.
It all looks pretty impressive, but we’re aware by this point that things can go horribly, horribly wrong.
So much has been said about Logan that makes it seem different. Director James Mangold has been promising big things, and the trailers all look like a far more grounded, gruesome, emotional story than many of the cheesy pseudo cartoons we’ve had before.
But is this all just spin? Does the movie live up to the expectation, or is it just another forgettable comic book cash in?
I am very pleased to report that everything you’ve heard about Logan is completely true.
If you’ve seen the Johnny Cash trailer and you want two hours of that, then you’re in for a treat. Logan delivers on the promise of a grounded, dirty, heart-tugging piece of serious cinema, the likes of which we haven’t seen in this genre for a very long time.
It’s best not to approach this expecting a comic book movie. From the first scene onwards, it’s very clear that James Mangold isn’t interested in quips, explosions, and silly costumes.
That said, be prepared to laugh. This isn’t some grimdark “gritty reboot” which uses a grimy lens filter and moodiness in a desperate attempt to stay serious. Logan is packed with moments of levity—little instances of joy scattered throughout an emotionally troubling narrative that’s packed with some of the most nuanced, carefully balanced writing that’s ever graced an X-Men film.
First off, let’s talk action—this movie is incredibly exciting when things are moving fast. This isn’t the result of the higher age rating, though (although this does help), as most of the action scenes could probably have been handled with less blood, without too much detriment to the impact of the visuals.
What works, though, is the more grounded, dirt-level focus of the movie. Who would have thought that, by stripping away all the flying, electric, explosive X-Men characters, the action would feel more intense? Well, probably anyone would know that, after Apocalypse.
Because the movie is so grounded, there’s more weight to every punch, every bullet, every car chase. Mangold uses the environment beautifully in these fights, bringing a sense of atmosphere that’s not capable on a green screen, as Wolverine and his adversaries interact with objects nearby. There are some truly heart-stopping moments in here that will make audiences grin with glee—especially if you’re the kind of person who enjoys seeing Logan both taking and giving a beating.
I’ll admit to worrying, as I went into the theater, that this might not be for me. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of gratuitous violence, and I didn’t feel like listening to Logan’s enemies scream and wail in Dolby Surround Sound for two hours.
From the opening scene, though, it was clear to me that Mangold’s sense of storytelling—his use of humor and empathy in particular—really resonate with me.
You’ve probably heard reports that the opening scene is more brutal than anything you’ve seen from Fox’s superhero world before, and that’s definitely true. Mangold goes for shock value here, frontloading his movie with swearing and blood in order to prove that Logan is something new.
At the same time, though, this scene, which has been described in detail online if you’re interested in spoilers, is hilarious and a little touching. You feel Logan’s earnest regret at everything that happens, and you watch in joy as his opponents realize the error of their ways.
From this point on, the movie quietens down. There are two modes to storytelling in Logan—long patches of intense quiet are broken up with occasional, infrequent bouts of violence. In many ways, it’s these quieter, more somber points that are more impactful, and at times, difficult to watch.
This isn’t just a mature movie because of the action, but also because of the pain that’s present in every single shot in the movie—even if it’s just a scene with Logan trying desperately to get Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier to take his medicine.
You might have heard, by the way, that Ryan Reynolds thinks Hugh Jackman deserves an Oscar for his performance. Here I disagree. Jackman does as good a job as ever, providing a fantastic Wolverine. That said, it’s not the best performance of the year.
It can’t be—it’s not even the best performance of the movie.
It’s shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that Patrick Stewart does a phenomenal job in this film. What’s incredible, though, is just how far he goes, as he shows an ailing Professor X who at times is every bit his former self, and at other times is a weak, tired, mentally clouded old man.
Stewart’s performance really steals the show, which is a shame for Jackman, but he probably won’t mind too much. The result is a more human Xavier than we’ve ever had, which in turn makes the entire movie work in a way that it probably wouldn’t if Stewart had been phoning it in.
There are other members of the cast who don’t quite pull their weight. Boyd Holbrook does a great job, but Richard E Grant really doesn’t try. His entire role in this movie could have been performed by a post-it note with the word “evil” written on it.
Similarly, as much as I hate to admit it, Stephen Merchant doesn’t quite shine here. He’s not by any means terrible, but he is simply Stephen Merchant – albeit one who, for some reason, doesn’t have any jokes. Perhaps to compensate for his regular role as a comedian, Merchant’s performance here is one of the least comedic of any character in the film.
There are other problems too—the cinematographer got away with more camera trickshots than were really necessary, for example. The movie wears its Western influences on its sleeve, and that takes some of the impact out of a poignant scene.
But these are minor quibbles—nitpicking for the sake of finding something to complain about. There’s really only one flaw in this movie, which sadly, can only be described by referring specifically to the plot.
So while I’m going to keep vague about specifics, I recommend that if you don’t want your entire experience in this movie tainted, you should skip the next few paragraphs, which are displayed below in white.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW IN INVISI-TEXT:
This movie is X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s exactly the same plot, minus a few elements.
You’ll spot it almost instantly if you’re familiar with the dumb movie. Little things add up, and the story goes exactly where you’d expect based on a vague knowledge of what’s come before in the series.
This is particularly infuriating when it comes to the Big Bad at the end of the movie. While it’s not done as badly as it has been in previous movies, we’ve seen this all before, not just in Origins, but in countless other X-Men movies. It seems that finding a worthy foe for Wolverine is just too hard, so we keep getting variations on the same theme.
For all that Logan tries to be different, it falls into a trap that we’ve seen a million times before, when by this point, studio producers really should know better.
MAJOR SPOILERS END NOW
If you’re worried about what might have been said there, don’t be too concerned. The secret one flaw in the plot isn’t enough to ruin the movie, but it is particularly annoying considering how close Logan comes to perfection.
Regardless, this is a fantastic movie, and a true joy to watch.
But while the action is fun, what really makes this stand out is the little moments. Tiny touches are scattered throughout this film that make you care about the characters, whether it’s a little moment of levity, a touching interaction between two characters, or a shot that just takes your breath away.
What’s more, there’s an ambiguity here. We don’t get all the details about what’s happened in the past, and the current state of the world. This is a small story which keeps itself contained, and wider worldbuilding is left as a blank slate for audiences to fill in for themselves.
Logan is a movie with real heart—the kind that brings an aching sadness to those who watch it. Mangold is incredibly efficient in delivering this, providing everything you need in a key visual or two, and letting his actors provide the kind of nuanced, deep performance that helps the stellar script to ascend to a higher level.
No, this movie is not perfect. But it’s pretty damn close.