“I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.” No better song than Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Hurt” could express the life of Wolverine, and the first trailer for Logan, a film from director James Mangold, capitalized on that beautifully. The trailer was simultaneously bleak and hopeful with a couple dashes of badass, as it hit the right balance of quick cuts and lingering on shots, and sold me on the movie in just 2 minutes.
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The film continues this theme by taking the premise of a man beaten down until he has lost everything, then asks the question: What if he lost even more? For those going into this movie expecting even a shred of the old X-Men movies, get ready for some serious subversion of expectations.
The film is set in the year 2029, when mutantkind is nearing extinction, and those who are left stay in the shadows. Among them is Wolverine, working as a limo driver to get money to keep a mentally deteriorating Professor X medicated. Things get complicated when a young girl by the name of Laura enters the duo’s lives, leading to a massive road trip to escape the cyborg Donald Pierce and his Reavers, who want to capture Laura.
Let’s start with the R rating and how it affects the film. It’s probably easy to go overboard with a guy who goes around stabbing people with knives that come out of his hands, but Mangold knows how to not only limit the violence, but make it shocking, bloody, and tense when it does happen. The fight in the forest near the end of the film is a prime example of how well-handled the violence is. The language does seem to include a few too many “f***s” just because it can, but it’s not a huge problem and not super noticeable.
Everyone’s performance is incredible, especially Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, and newcomer Dafne Keen as Laura. Jackman gives it his all in what is his last appearance (or so he says) as Wolverine, able to simultaneously balance the role of ferocious killer with that of a beaten-down old man. Patrick Stewart heartbreakingly portrays the mentor who has watched his dreams die, and serves as a powerful (if not subtle) allegory for the devastation of mental illness. Dafne Keen does a lot with very little dialogue, as well as being a MOTHERFUCKING BADASS.
Logan takes a risk by foregoing the usual CGI-filled spectacle most superhero films aim for nowadays and simply tells a grounded and character-driven story, which definitely pays off. Let me prepare you by saying this movie WILL mess you up emotionally if you have even a slight attachment to any of these characters; it’s a hell of a rollercoaster. I described it to a friend as tearing your heart out, then tenderly placing it back in your chest, then ripping it out again and stabbing it repeatedly with a dull knife. It even includes callbacks to the earlier films that will reward longtime viewers of the franchise.
Mangold has taken a gamble in styling the film like a Western, and it works beautifully: the open landscapes most of the film takes place in blend beautifully with the action, and the generally grim tone seen in classic Westerns fits perfectly in with the narrative. The cinematography is top-notch, with gorgeous use of lighting, especially in the scenes involving the farmhouse Wolverine and company visit. The fights are well-choreographed, giving you a chance to take a good luck at the brutal action, and the effects are a delightful mix of practical and CGI.
But ok, so far I’ve been mostly gushing about the film, does it have any problems? The villain is somewhat lackluster, despite a strong opening, and a few of the story’s twists don’t have the impact the movie would like it to have. Regardless, this film is a brutal, no-holds-barred look at Wolverine that achieves so much where past Wolverine movies have failed and is essential viewing for fans of the adamantium-clawed mutant.