To say the X-Men film franchise has been uneven since kicking off with the eponymous first entry in 2000 would be an understatement. It’s been through good times, rough patches, a prequel, a timeline manipulation, and more, and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine has been a steady stream of awesomeness throughout. He’s elevated even the weakest films, and oh are there weak films.
When everything’s working and X-Men is at its best, though, it’s something else entirely. We hadn’t seen it at its best until Logan.
The year is 2029. There hasn’t been a new mutant birth in 25 years. The X-Men have been reduced to superheroes people read about in comic books. James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) isn’t quite as healthy as he’s been in the past, and he spends his days driving people around Texas and keeping Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) locked up in Mexico in hopes of avoiding another episode that hurts and kills people.
That’s all turned upside down when he finds himself on the run with Xavier and the young Laura/X-23 (Dafne Keen), a mutant created in a lab with Logan’s DNA. Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his armed to the teeth Reavers will stop at nothing to get her back, dead or alive. As anyone familiar with Wolverine and X-23 will know, especially in a beneficial R-rated setting, it doesn’t take long for things to get violent and bloody.
Despite its title character’s history and skill set, Logan isn’t a superhero movie—not in the way of its predecessors, anyway. It’s the story of a wounded, broken man at the tail end of his tough life on a mission he wants no part of. It’s a thrilling action film, a tense sci-fi thriller, a road trip western, and a surprising character study. Its title character just happens to be one of the best known superheroes in existence. If there weren’t enough reasons to stop using “superhero” as a film genre before Logan, it’s safe to say there are now.
Director James Mangold’s story (Scott Frank and Michael Green also receive screenplay credit) is able to land its impact thanks to that aforementioned R rating. Logan presents its title character as he should be: angry, brutal, and unforgiving. It’s a violent film, but never over the top and never for violence’s sake. Every slice and stab carries weight. Every drop of blood matters.
But the film doesn’t settle for showing Logan at his most violent and intense; Logan also finds him at his most vulnerable. He’s a man who’s been through the worst and then some, and Jackman finally has a chance to show some of his range and talent in his most famous role. Stewart gives a likewise nuanced performance as his Charles Xavier struggles with old age and declining mental state.
Logan marks the end of an era for Fox and fans alike. Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have declared the film to be the end of their time as Wolverine and Professor Charles Xavier, respectively. Their relationship has long been a cornerstone of the franchise, and seeing the two actors make their exits together just feels right, especially in a film that features their most honest and heartfelt moments. They couldn’t have picked a better swan song.
Dafne Keen, in her first film and second screen role, shows intensity and brutality to rival Jackman’s. Laura starts out meek and unassuming, transitions to cutthroat in a heartbeat, and radiates confidence and capability as the film rockets toward its gripping, surprisingly emotional conclusion. Wolverine may be gone, but X-23 will do what she does best to keep him around as X-Men continues. What she does best just may look a little familiar to Wolverine fans.
The future of the X-Men films is littered with movies from various sections and time periods of its universe. Whatever the future may bring, though, we can only hope those films manage to be half as good as Logan.
Logan isn’t just one of the best superhero movies ever made—it’s a tremendous feat of blockbuster filmmaking that will hopefully help shape the future of comic book adaptations. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in contention for an award or two by the year’s end.