By Érico Lotufo
BU News Service
“X-Men” films exist in a superhero movie limbo. Once the flag-bearers of the “genre,” the Marvel/Fox license has been on creative autopilot since “X2.” At the same time, its pioneering effort in the new wave of comic-book adaptations allowed it to stick around after almost 20 years, even if none of its movies are actually good.
The series is a relic of a recent past that’s overstayed its welcome by about seven movies. What’s kept the franchise afloat were its iconic portrayals of classic characters, most notably Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Patrick Stewart’s Professor X and Ian McKellen’s Magneto.
So, it’s a pleasant surprised that “Logan” takes that meta-narrative and wears it on its sleeves. It’s a movie about characters who have outlived their usefulness and must learn to cope in a world where they just don’t matter anymore.
The titular Logan (Hugh Jackman) has abandoned the Wolverine persona in 2029 after mutants have all but disappeared from the world, and his healing factor has deteriorated. The only thing that ties him to his X-Men days is Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), now over 90 years old and facing a neurological disorder that makes his powers a threat to everyone.
This uncomfortable situation worsens as Laura appears; a small girl of feral personality and not many words. She’s hunted by a shady corporation with Logan and Professor Xavier caught in the crossfire. To make matters hit close to home for Wolverine, she shares his power set: she can instantly heal and has a set of Adamantium claws.
The emotional crux of the movie is built on the three generations of mutants: the grandfather, the father and the daughter. It’s a set-up that could only succeed in the modern comic-book movie landscape. You can’t create the emotional arc of “Logan” from the ground-up. You need to have seen what Logan and Xavier have been through in several movies to understand them and what they’re going through in their older age.
It’s not just about Wolverine and Professor X specifically. The movie works on an emotional level because it’s Jackman and McKellen’s iconic portrayals of each character, the same heroes some saw as a kid becoming battered and bitter old men in front of the audience’s eyes.
Suffice it to say that both actors sell that old age. It’s a physical performance throughout, for both. Jackman sells his character’s pain in every single action he takes, as even putting on a shirt seems like a chore. Stewart, on the other hand, shows his pain through talking, every word spoken an uphill climb.
The pain is felt through the action scenes. This is an R-rated movie, which means blood is freely spattered on the screen and decapitations are constant. But Logan isn’t a badass action star in these scenes. Instead, the scenes are built to add to the discomfort of seeing the once hero be forced to dish out endless violence.
Opposite to them is Dafne Keen, as Laura. To call this a “star turn” would be putting it mildly, as the kid owns the movie, mixing in moments of silent anger with Tasmanian-devil-esque rage. While her “killing machine in a little girl’s body” schtick isn’t new (think Hit Girl in “Kick-Ass”), playing her violence straight just adds to the pain.
There isn’t any satisfaction in that violence, just pain. In that way, it’s the opposite of “Deadpool,” an X-Men movie that counted severed limbs as joy.
“Logan” is far from a perfect movie. It has some awkward beats, like the underpowered villain whose only reason for not dying in the first 90 minutes is sheer dumb luck. There’s also an on-the-nose use of Chekhov’s gun that would leave old “Scooby-Doo” episodes jealous.
Many will take from it that this is a direction super-hero movies should take. They shouldn’t: “Logan” is the result of specific set of circumstances, in the making for the past 20 years. It has the perfect making of a good one-shot comic, that just cares about telling its story without bothering with continuity and crossovers. Instead, it lets the characters tell the story, and Hugh Jackman couldn’t have asked for a better end to his role as “Wolverine.”