In a word, beautifully. Abandoning all pretense of beam-in-the-sky action mayhem and any inkling of lighter genre fare, Logan is noticeably subdued; its scope scaled down to the level of the hero. This not only gives the film an appropriate sense of focus but more importantly the assurance that finality does not demand gargantuan stakes. The lack of constant action is this movie’s godsend… the trait that qualitatively places it above the rest; in fact, I’d go so far as to say The Dark Knight is the only film fending off Logan from the top of the heap. But why?
Conventions wear thin. Marvel Studios, with their competing Cinematic Universe, does many things very well. Their films generally meet the mark in terms of entertaining popcorn fare and well-cast charismatic heroes. They have even made profitable and enjoyable films out of obscure comic book characters, something that was incredibly rare before the release of Guardians of the Galaxy. But the problem therein is the formula. With such an oversaturated superhero market, it is hard not to notice that for all of the former’s visual flair and fantastical elements, Doctor Strange and Iron Man are the same film with a different wrapper. Logan abandons the tropes of its own franchise and instead draws the viewer into an engrossing character drama, similar in its subversion to The Dark Knight before it, which is not to say the two films are inherently alike. But if the world isn’t coming to an end in Logan, what is at stake?
His Life. Anyone who has seen the trailers probably noticed the heavy scarring all over Wolverine’s body. His ability to heal has diminished, and with that, his ability to survive. Logan is now living with the distinct possibility of death looming over him for the first time. Dramatically speaking, this is as enticing as Logan has ever been on film. Over the past 17 years, it has been easy to engage in Jackman’s performance as he throws out one-liners and shreds his enemies in a berserker rage. But have we ever felt the suspense in those moments; the sense that Wolverine was actually in any danger? For the audience, I offer this: while Wolverine, the slicing-and-dicing bottle of pent-up rage, is older and weaker than he’s ever been, Logan, the man filled with pain and self-loathing, has never felt so fresh and renewed. Despite the centric nature of Logan’s final timeout, the spotlight spares plenty of intriguing screen time for Charles Xavier and a young mutant named Laura.
Characters. Alongside Hugh Jackman’s domineering performance, Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen are more than impressive in their own right; Stewart offering soul, grace, and even a few expletives to this neo-western, while young actress Keen brings a near-silent dose of pubescent fury to a role that proves crucial to the heart of the story. Her performance is a perfect balance of torment and yearning. Jackman and Stewart both give so much to their roles that they have been playing for many years, and here finally, they are allowed to ground them in a harsh world that, for all of its talk of mutants and telekinesis, feels real in so many ways. On that and so many other fronts, Logan is a triumph of the superhero genre.
Wolverine has been a staple of superhero films for nearly 2 decades, and Hugh Jackman has carried that legacy from its cinematic birth all the way to its sobering conclusion. If a swan song this is, then a swan song it should be. It is a near-perfect end for Jackman’s character while doing beautiful, if somber justice to Stewart’s Charles Xavier, who has been in the game just as long as Jackman has. It’s a western-influenced, violent, and bloody film that offers up far more intelligent character drama than is typical for its genre. If I had to criticize one aspect of the film, it would be the antagonistic forces across the board. While Boyd Holbrook’s villain is at first charismatic, his character recedes to service a somewhat disappointing payoff. While that may be, I was left emotional and satisfied at its conclusion.
Logan is a blessing unto its genre, trading big effects for intense focused character drama. Hugh Jackman gives his all to a performance that feels tortured, raw, and decisive. Not only is this the best X-Men film… it is one of the most refined superhero films of all time.