Saving the best for last. This concept eludes most big-budget blockbusters. How many Hollywood franchises are known for giving their most popular characters a strong send-off? Let me clue in readers—like, none. Most studios churn out content with the precision of wringing a washcloth, twisting until every last ounce has been extracted. Then, its damp remains are flung into a corner to grow a vomitous layer of mold until enough time has passed to try and make use of the damn thing again. Most of the time a franchise’s final film is so terrible and/or creatively bankrupt that the whole enterprise gets mothballed waiting to be resuscitated. “Logan,” the latest movie featuring iconic comic-book staple Wolverine, is by far the best film to use the character—and a bloody fantastic example of what this genre is capable doing.
Try to name the final film in a series that’s any good? Would anyone like to sit down with me and watch “The Godfather Part III”? How about “Halloween 6”? Would anyone like to waste even 10 minutes on Earth watching “Batman and Robin”? “Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow”—anyone? Of course not, because the only people who enjoy such pain are sadomasochists.
Just in case it isn’t obvious: I’ve become generally bored with run-of-the-mill superhero movies. They’re basically the same experiences. First, the origin story features a likable but complicated guy who gets extraordinary abilities. Then they struggle with the newfound role of hero and try to find the superhero equivalent of a work/life balance. A bad guy shows up, fires a laser beam into the sky, and there’s a massive punch up until the good guy corks that shit faster than you can say “predictable mange.”
“Logan” abandons many of the traditional trappings of the modern-day superhero film in favor of an actual, down-to-earth story. It’s amazing it took nearly 17 years to do the character of Wolverine justice—but damn it all James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have finally delivered something substantial.
The story takes place in a familiar future where mutant numbers have dwindled significantly. Logan (Hugh Jackman) has abandoned the heroic exploits of the X-Men for a pared-down life as a caregiver to the aged and broken Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart), whose inability to control his mental powers has made him a mutant of mass destruction. Logan isn’t exactly the same man he used to be either. His life has become a difficult balance of managing his own diminished state while trying to figure out what to do with Charles. None of this is made easier by the surprise appearance of a 9-year-old mutant genetically created using Wolverine’s DNA. For all intents and purposes, she’s his daughter named Laura.
So Logan does what anyone does when they suddenly learn they are a parent: He drives to New York and appears on the Maury Povich show for a DNA test. It turns out he is the father, so Charles convinces him to help get her to the Canadian border to escape the menacing scientists and mercenaries hunting her. The plot is fairly standard: Mutants get weaponized for their destructive potential, but this time there’s no X-Men to stop them—only an aged telepath with dementia and a killing machine who grows weary of dispensing violence.
“Logan” succeeds because of a very human story at the core of all this mutant brouhaha. For the first time, he feels like a character. We see him at his worst when he’s grasping for whatever shreds of normalcy remain, constantly tortured by his friend’s deteriorating state and his constant henpecking about the importance of helping others. The dream of Charles Xavier’s X-Men is long dead. But Laura gives Logan a reason to keep fighting. There’s a fantastic dynamic woven between the eternal optimism of Xavier and the brutal cynicism of Logan. The added layer of Laura, the next generation of their kind, is a nice way to provide Logan perspective he’s been lacking.
The acting here is top-notch. Dare I say it? Hugh Jackman has never been better and Patrick Stewart is an absolute delight. The villains of the film, like the plot, are standard comic-book fare, but the execution is so magnificently handled. There were genuine feelings evoked from the movie. Yes, it borrows heavily from other films. And, yes, some emotions are the product of manipulative button-mashing that happens when a crusty old man and a charismatic young girl are put together to hash out daddy-daughter issues.
In spite of minor criticisms, “Logan” works very well. It’s proof positive that every comic-book movie doesn’t have to adhere to redundant structure and over-the-top spandex antics. In the hands of filmmakers with a vision who are allowed to tell stories focused on characters, movies based on comic books can be as engrossing as any other adapted medium. Why it took 17 years for studios to figure this out is anyone’s guess.