Calling “Logan” a superhero film betrays its most human elements. The title alone distinguishes itself as a more grounded, matured tale of a man with a looming past seeking to catch up to him. A withered Hugh Jackman reprises his supposed final role as the titular character, the former X-Man commonly known as Wolverine, on a road trip from Texas to North Dakota in hopes of discovering salvation for a mysterious young girl known only as Laura.
Following the massive financial success of 2016’s hard R-rated “Deadpool,” “Logan” allows one of Marvel’s most beloved characters to shed blood and drop expletives with no restraint. That said, praise should be given to director James Mangold and fellow screenwriters Scott Frank (“Minority Report”) and Michael Green for the restraint they do exhibit. The violence in “Logan” is never gratuitous, serving only to fit the context which it occurs in; it only makes sense that cyborg cronies have their blood gushing out when eviscerated by razor-sharp claws. Logan himself takes a good beating more than once, drawing crimson splatters on his rugged and worn clothing, gashes and healed scars on his aged flesh a reminder of his waning endurance. The language and singular brief instance of nudity, while slightly more exaggerated than necessary, do not distract from the scenes they take place in (Admittedly, hearing Patrick Stewart as a senile Charles Xavier ask Logan, “Who the fuck are you?” had me chuckling.)
“Logan” also successfully evades the superhero film trope of having an end-of-the-world narrative that other big-budgeted films indulge in. What’s at stake is not the universe, nor the planet, nor a country, nor even a city; what’s at stake are the simpler, more vital components of old man Logan’s pained existence. Professor Xavier, Laura, even Logan himself all exhibit physical and mental vulnerability in convincing ways that ground this Marvel picture in a unique fashion. Seeing Stewart convulse, radiating psychic shockwaves powerful enough to warrant him the designation of an unstable weapon of mass destruction is a genuinely difficult sight to bear. Series newcomer Laura (Dafne Keen) finds a father figure in Logan, their relationship taking on a more nuanced role than expected, due in part to Laura’s mutant strength rivaling that of Logan’s as well as her traumatic upbringing. Remove the copyrighted material and “Logan” is still a satisfying dystopian adventure film with science fiction elements backdropping an emotional, visceral tale — a testament to the sands of time besting even the so-called gods among men.
As triumphant a superhero film “Logan” may be, it still finds itself falling victim to its lackluster antagonists. Not one but three characters serve as tangible threats in the way of Logan escorting Laura and Xavier to their objective, not one of which feel half as impactful as the internal forces working against them. Mentioning their names feels like a chore; is it so hard for a superhero film to have a nuanced villain? Apparently so: Nearly every antagonist in these films is either on some corny end-of-the-world quest or so nonthreatening (read: wimpy) one has to wonder why incorporate them in the first place. The saving grace here is the overall effectiveness of portraying emotions and intent through smart dialogue and body language, which takes precedence over the physical forces working against the heroes and renders encounters with the baddies an excuse for fight scenes.
On that note, what is a Wolverine feature film without fight scenes? “Logan” does not overindulge in its violence, but when the violence occurs, the camerawork respects the audience enough to frame it in full view. Mid shots brutally carry most of the hacking and slashing, allowing the action to be visible enough to note its flow and adequate choreography. Gore substitutes technicality when it comes to the brawling, so don’t expect anything exceptional as in “John Wick.” Momentous and bold, the fight scenes in “Logan” take advantage of the R-rating without going over-the-top and forgetting what it means to frame combat versilimitudously.
Knowing this is (purportedly) the final Jackman-Wolverine makes the success of this film comforting. I would like to think of “Logan” as a metaphor for the superhero film industry zeitgeist: On its last rope, having witnessed the fall of its friends, passing the torch to someone (or something) new. But who am I kidding? Superhero films are booming, and will stay booming for some time to come. For what it’s worth, despite having shortcomings in the form of an overly convenient plot and shoddy villains, Jackman’s final outing as the tri-clawed mutant was a vicious, often emotional closer to a respected series.