You could be forgiven for writing off this film. Not only is it a comic book movie, which are (and I can admit this despite me being an avid consumer) general by-the-numbers, popcorn fodder, but it's also an X-Men movie. The X-Men movies have varied in quality from the good to average and to plain awful. This is ludicrous since there's such great source material that's based on real world events such as the civil rights movement and persistent themes of how we view people different to ourselves. The worst of these films have been the ones dedicated to Wolverine, the bad boy hero of the X-Men. While 2013's The Wolverine had some decent ideas, it all got lost in ridiculous action sequences and pointless characters. If that wasn't bad enough, it's predecessor X-Men Origins: Wolverine is garbage on a bonfire made of excrement. You also might have seen the first trailers for Logan and, as a friend pointed out to me, thought it was a geriaction X-Men movie made for your Dad and so, based on all the available data, decided to give Logan a miss.
But don't be so hasty. Logan is a great film. Despite being connected to a franchise that constantly rewrites its own history in a way that leaves even the most hardcore fan confused, Logan is actually fairly self-contained. It's set in the future, giving itself enough distance from the spectacle of its past. It nods toward previous X-Men events through dialogue and a few characters but almost writes its legacy off as fiction in a clever and meta way. The in-film, real life exploits of the X-Men have been adapted into comic-books making their heroic deeds fanciful and far from the truth of reality. Reality is something that is very present in Logan, both the film and the character. The film shows real consequences for these character's actions. The R-rating brings a brutality to these characters that has been lacking before. They were muzzled. Both in a violent sense and in a more gritty realism way. Hearing Xavier swear makes him much more relatable. It's a small detail but it works. Showing the the characters in a non-PG environment means they have a chance to feel real. It also means that having a lead character that uses big metal claws to fight people isn't sanitised for the sake of younger viewers.
But really sets this film apart from its counterparts is the time it takes with the characters. There's a small cast and it's very intimate. As I was watching it I couldn't help but think of a video essay I'd seen called "Batman v Superman: The Fundamental Flaw" which is a terrible title but it's essentially about moments versus scenes. To paraphrase the video, it essentially says that comic book films, especially Batman V Superman, rely heavily on "cool moments" like Batman stopping Superman's punch. Or Superman kicking the Batmobile. Or Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman standing together on screen. But they lack actual scenes. Times where the characters actually talk to each other, discuss what's going on. Scenes that develop the characters, that help the audience understand them and relate to them. To see these characters being people, to see them laugh, cry, argue and get how they see the world and others around them. Logan has lots of scenes like this. Of course it has its share of cool moments and great action sequences but it also took time to stop and reflect and let the characters do their thing. Two in particular stand out. Xavier and Laura in the hotel room in Las Vegas watching Shane. The second is the dinner scene with the Munson family. These scenes make the more dramatic moments and climaxes have value that lingers.
I was a little concerned towards the end of the film that we were going to get a Hook or Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome vibe. A lot of children fighting adults can go that way very easily. (Though the trimming of the beard came very close) But it didn't. Overall it was handled well. The children weren't used as a way of obviously pandering to the audience. I was actually terrified for them. The children gave great performances, especially Dafne Keen who played Laura. Much like Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things, Keen has a screen presence that almost outshone Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart.
The film ended at the right moment. It's such a hard thing to do, especially for a comic book film. I complained that X:Men Apocalypse felt like a trailer for whatever the next film might be but Logan was its own thing. It left me wanting more which is how it should be. Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for well over half my life. He was well cast and did well with what he was given but it's such a shame that the majority of the films he's played him in have been pretty terrible. Despite that it's still a legacy and it's a legacy that got a better ending than it's beginning. Which is more than you can say for most long-lasting franchises.