‘Logan’: How It Missed the Mark (and Why That’s Perfectly Fine)
We’re entering into a different, evolved form of the superhero genre. As each studio pitches their respective tentpole franchise, audiences begin to demand more than simply a popcorn blockbuster. The massively positive reception for Deadpool in 2016 was proof positive of that too, showing everyone the potential of a comic book movie that breaks the mold. Logan represents the next logical step in that process for 20th Century Fox.
With a controversial R-rating and a wildly different focus, all indications for the film pointed toward another groundbreaking spinoff for the X-Men saga. So did it accomplish that goal? The answer is “sort of, but not as much as you might have wanted,” and here’s why.
1. A uniquely grim superhero story
Since “dark and gritty” has become a lazy shorthand for movies with violent, mature themes, we’ll avoid that label. That said, Logan is relentless in its misery, showing us a hero who’s all but lost all semblance of hope, living in a world where mutants are all but extinct. As Charles Xavier lives out his final days as an invalid, even the typically optimistic Professor X makes frequent mention of how disappointed he is in Logan.
All in all, it’s not the sort of movie you should see if you’re looking for an upbeat, “good conquers evil,” sort of superhero story.
2. Yes, it earns its R-rating
Back during a pre-Deadpool landscape, studios were convinced that an R-rated superhero movie wouldn’t play well for audiences. On paper, it makes sense too: Why would you make it so a large swathe of your demographic literally wouldn’t be allowed to see the film? But after Deadpool became the highest grossing X-Men movie of all time, it became clear that an R-rating doesn’t have to be the kiss of death for a tentpole film.
Logan made a point to earn its own R-rating too, featuring a good deal of graphic violence, and liberal use of the F-word. Without spoiling some of the cooler moments, we’ll just say this: Be prepared to see limbs get cut off in some shockingly creative ways.
3. Wolverine like you’ve never seen him before
It’s been no secret that the version of Wolverine we’ll see in Logan is a far cry from the indestructible warrior we saw in past films. That being so, the degree to which he’s been powered down is both staggering and refreshing. This is a version of the character whose healing abilities have diminished to the point of near-non-existence, is clearly unwell on a basic health level, and who’s pretty much given up on being anything that resembles a hero.
4. The biggest problem: Logan lacked a consistent central theme
If you’re going to have your superhero movie double as an intensely personal character drama, you’d best be sure that there’s a central theme for your story to revolve around. And while Logan circles around a theme at multiple junctures, it never quite manages to stick the landing. The basic story centers around a young girl named Laura, who was created from Logan’s DNA in a lab, and recently escaped her handlers.
Within that narrative, the film tries to push the idea of finding a family and having people who care as the main theme. Where it stumbles though is in not allowing those quieter moments in between the action to really stand out, choosing instead to essentially make the film one, drawn-out chase to get Laura to safety.
5. It’s all about the action
First off: No, we don’t expect a comic book movie to exist entirely without an action element. Still though, if you’re going to bill your film as an insightful character drama, it’s important to make sure your narrative isn’t simply there to serve the action sequences. The quiet, down moments of the story are mostly there to instigate the next big fight scene. Even the opening scene in the film is a violent, bloody brawl, setting the tone for the rest of the film, and sending a clear message about what the real focus of Logan will be for the duration.
6. Admirably, Logan avoids excessive X-Men callbacks
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is famous for the veritable boatload of franchise connecting Easter eggs that exist within each film. It’s an approach that’s bled over to virtually every other superhero movie, as each studio attempts to build out their respective universes.
Logan avoids that for the most part, with the only reference to past films being the existence of a decidedly meta series of X-Men comic books. Beyond that, long-dead characters aren’t even referenced, much less name dropped, with Charles Xavier serving as our sole connection to the past. The end result is a story that stands alone on its own merit, instead of leaning on its predecessors to lend it relevance.
7. The action, while overly utilized, is also wonderfully shot
Helped by the fact that Hugh Jackman and Dafne Keen both did a good deal of their own stunts, the frequent fight scenes are all stellar in terms of their composition. Quick-cutting and a shaky perspective is eschewed in favor of a steady camera and a refreshingly legible visual language. We always have a good sense for where each character is within the frame, while never losing track of the action during otherwise chaotic action sequences.
8. A fitting exit for Hugh Jackman
Hugh Jackman has been an integral part of the X-Men franchise for upwards of almost two decades, spawning three standalone Wolverine films, and generally acting as the focal point for the saga as a whole. Logan, billed as Jackman’s last turn in the X-Men universe, was a fitting final bow for what’s become an iconic character. Whether he’ll be recast in the future (or reappear in Deadpool 2) is anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubting that his send-off in Logan was every bit as impactful as it needed to be.
9. Logan was still better than most of what the main X-Men franchise has given us in recent years
With the exception of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the main X-Men storyline has had little to offer over the last few years. And while that’s paved the way for the likes of Deadpool and Logan, it’s still worth noting.
If we had to rank the existing films in the saga off the top of our head, it’d probably go as follows: Deadpool, X-Men, X2: X-Men United, Days of Future Past, Logan, and then everything else. For better or worse, Apocalypse and First Class barely even approach the level of Logan.
In terms of whether Logan is worth your time, that’s a tough question to answer. The 135-minute runtime is awfully hefty for a comic book film, and with heavy themes that play out lighter than director James Mangold probably intended, it’s certainly not an easy two hours and 15 minutes to get through. Even so though, it’s still head and shoulders above most of what’s out there right now in the comic book genre. Ultimately, it’s a solid movie that set the bar a little too high for its own good, and by all accounts, that’s just fine.
Logan hits theaters March 3, 2017.
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