2017 might not have been that long ago in the grand scheme of things, but the number of superhero movies to have released since then has surely been massive – that’s discounting spin-off shows and tie-in shorts. And what is quite remarkable is that it seems very few, if any at all, took a look at Logan, or it’s positive reception, and decided to learn from it. Because if there’s one thing we can say without a doubt about Logan, it’s that it’s pretty good. Not perfect and, sure, it might not be your cup of tea, but generally speaking it’s okay. And even if X-Men or just Hugh Jackman having super natural adventures isn’t your thing, I think there has to be recognition that this film was at least trying where lesser superhero movies simply weren’t.
The film follows Logan in a depressive slump, hiding away from the world with a mentally ill Charles Xavier and new crew member Caliban in a not so far away dystopian future, where no mutant has been naturally born in twenty five years. But before the crew can escape civilisation forever, to live it up on a boat in the ocean, Logan finds himself stuck with a young mutant girl, Laura who he must transport across the country so she can escape those wishing to imprison her.
The plot to Logan is immensely simple and, when it does get complicated, the film is often the first thing to rush things along before the audience gets the same idea. Be it to-the-point dialogue, a slightly too quick cut away or, in a more literal sense, Logan just shooting the villain during his monologue in what can only be the movie’s most self aware moment that neither Logan, nor us, really give a crap about him. Even the premise of a jaded father figure learning to reconnect with the world after forming an unlikely bond with a child isn’t original at all (as I discussed in Fatherhood in Modern Media post), and in this regard the film does fall behind a little. It’s a road trip movie about getting this girl from A to B, but never seems sure of how to get from the A and to the B. It mostly settles for Hugh Jackman blacking out, only for him to wake up 1000 miles closer to his destination, and no I’m not joking.
So plot really isn’t Logan’s concern. Instead the film is very character driven which, in the superhero genre, isn’t something you can say about a lot of films. Spider-Man 2 maybe? The Winter Soldier a little bit? And this extremely simple change is what makes it feel fresh among, not only it’s contemporaries, but new superhero films being released in the 2020’s and beyond. Many in the genre have tried to freshen things up, be it Deadpool’s relentless fourth wall breaks, or Infinity War’s decision to have the world’s mightiest heroes end up the losers, and yet Logan’s insistence that you invest in character development, rather than story development, offers more than these movies do and perhaps more than anyone rightly expected of it.
I think this is in large part to how tight the focus is. Scenes not spent with Logan and the gang are few and far between, and cut as short as possible when they become necessary. A lot of this film is Hugh Jackman being grumpy, angry, sad or all three at once. And yet the film never feels oppressive; you don’t watch it and feel as though you’re being put in a downer mood, but rather in fascination. That’s because Logan is a film that loves it’s title character, but also one that’s critical of him. It strips him down to his bare essentials and sees if he still works, and puts all that stuff back in place for the finale to give the character a beautiful send off.
It’s hard to call this movie a superhero one at all sometimes. The finale certainly is, wherein Logan is reminded why he was an X-Man to begin with and why he cared for others before he shut himself off, and let his unhealthier side get the better of him. But, for as full of schlock as the X-Men franchise is – a franchise where they fight an Egyptian god, space aliens, and become directly involved and almost responsible for the Cuban missile crisis – Logan is an incredibly grounded piece. No space lasers, no skyscrapers, no stakes higher than Logan has to save six or seven kids at the end. Even Logan’s impending doom doesn’t raise the stakes all that much as his illness is established very early in the film and allowed to settle so that it just becomes part of the status quo.
The result is a film that is surprisingly easy to watch despite it’s heavy character drama, world building and graphic violence. It’s a film that has everything it could have wanted; an R rating for a superhero with claws, the very best of the X-Men cast, a child actor who’s pretty damn good and yet it never once indulges in these things for a second longer than it must. Even when Logan takes some super juice to power himself up at the end, we get two short scenes of him unleashing on guys before he’s back to the same weak and dying man he was before. And when you leave a film both feeling satisfied with what was there, but also wanting more… I feel like that’s a good sweet spot to be in.
So, as though it weren’t clear already, I would absolutely recommend Logan. Because no one in the industry took this movie’s template and decided to do it to death, it still feels surprisingly fresh when watched today. And a lot of the meta aspects to this film, in that it is not just a send off for Logan or Charles Xavier, but also for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, only adds to the intrigue rather than taking away.