I wanted to love Logan, the ninth and supposedly final appearance of Hugh Jackman in a role he lucked into 17 years ago, after Russell Crowe passed on it, and an injury kept Dougray Scott away from it.
Not only was Jackman the third choice for the role, he was also a gigantic gamble. Unlike Crowe and Scott, Jackman was largely untested on American screens, better known for stage roles and musical theater where he was more likely to pop a vocal cord than an adamantium claw.
That the gamble paid off is a testament to how the character of Logan and Jackman virtually became one and the same as Jackman quickly grew into the role to a point where seeing any other actor inhabit the hand knives feels wrong on practically every level.
So it is fitting that Logan takes us to the end of the road in more than one way, and while that is not intended to be a spoiler, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that finality is as large a theme of the film as Jackman’s retirement from the role that brought him fame.
When we meet our titular hero, it’s 2029 and the years have been less than kind. Gone is the pompadour gull-wing hairdo and beefy muttonchops of his better days, replaced with a gray overgrown bramble patch that is in every bit of disarray as the rest of his body.
Logan (who ironically disguises himself by his using his birth name James Howlett) is no longer in the superhero business, miserably eking out a living as a limo driver, who as the film opens, is being robbed by a gang of thieves. Naturally, this doesn’t end well for the thieves, but instead of a lightning quick Wolverine, we get a man who is clearly on his last legs.
While he wins the fight, he does so just barely, something that feels like a metaphor for the film itself.
Jackman and director James Mangold (Walk the Line) clearly wanted to make Logan a more somber and grave adventure. Not so much a funereal sort of affair as previously seen in the laborious Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but rather something closer to western classics like Unforgiven, or more to the point, Shane, a film which Mangold slavishly uses to define the boundaries of his film, when it should’ve been a lighter flourish.
Before we get into what ultimately prevents Logan from being the genre classic it so desperately wants to be, let’s talk about what makes the film work so well that it almost becomes that very thing.
If Logan is defined by anything, it should be first and foremost be the performances.
Patrick Stewart returns one more time (his fifth overall) as Professor Charles Xavier, now in his nineties and no longer able to control his massively potent psychic abilities, due to a combination of seizures and dementia that leave him just slightly more than an invalid, while also a ticking time bomb.
In this version of X-Men continuity, there are very few mutants left, and it’s heavily alluded to that Xavier is a large reason why.
Logan, ever loyal to Xavier, took on the task of caring for the ailing former headmaster, sharing duties with albino mutant Caliban (Steven Merchant), who we last saw in the awful X-Men: Apocalypse (played by Tómas Lemarquis), a film set in the 1980’s.
While Merchant and Jackman have a moment together, it never fully comes to bloom in terms of performance, and it serves in many ways as an example of the overall problem with the film.
The other major—and likely most remarkable—performance comes from newcomer Dafne Keen, who plays Laura, a little girl who exhibits many of the abilities as Logan, and who will grow up (at least in the comics) to take on the mantle of the Wolverine in her own adventures.
Keen brings equal parts vulnerability and ferocity to her role, driven by a piercing and magnetic set of eyes that seem to do more talking than she does, bringing her an instant air of heroism without overbearing exposition. Despite her youth and diminutive stature, she is a hero waiting to be unleashed, constantly underestimated by practically everyone (save for the senile Xavier) before constantly proving her worth both violently and emotionally.
Speaking of violence, Logan does not stray away from any of it, finally fulfilling the true promise of a character who has razor sharp claws shoot from his knuckles.
In his previous appearances, Wolverine’s propensity for ultraviolence is always just off-screen or largely bloodless, but in Logan, the audience is treated to every blood-soaked slash and decapitation. For some, this might be unsettling, particularly when the younger version of Wolverine does her own hacking and slashing, which include treating a bad guy’s (former UFC fighter Chuck Liddell in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo) head like a literal bowling ball.
Unlike the slightly lighter tone of previous X-Men films, the violence feels at home in Logan, even if some of it feels a touch overbearing and dare-I-say-it, unnecessary.
Unfortunately, there is more unnecessary in Logan then the added on-screen dismemberments, and these are things that threaten to sink the film altogether.
Boyd Holbrook is virtually pointless as primary henchman Donald Pierce, a throwback to the 80’s era of X-Men comics, who, with his cybernetically-enhanced Reavers, exist only in the film to serve as cannon fodder. Outside of having mechanical appendages, there’s nothing interesting or essential about their existence in the film.
A similar fate befalls Richard E. Grant, who as main villain Zander Rice, is relatively underused, only appearing in either expositional flashbacks, or in person to twirl his metaphorical mustache to give even more exposition. At no point does either character offer anything above being a placeholder for “evil”.
But even more pointless than those two is Hugh Jackman as the mindless Wolverine clone X-24, who has no lines, but fills the role of the more brutal foil to the ailing Logan and young Laura, yet ends up as a missed opportunity, as one of the primary underlying theme of Logan is that of family.
Because of that theme, a truly inspired choice would've been instead of bringing in the useless Donald Pierce and the brainless X-24, to instead bring in Daken, Wolverine’s mutant son, as depicted in the comics. While films shouldn’t be beholden to their comic counterparts, by adding a character like Daken, who has a true hatred for his father, Logan gains a greater emotional heft better befitting the melancholy theme the film demands.
Ultimately, this is one of two main problems that keeps Logan from being great. The other is that unlike Jackman and Mangold’s previous collaboration, The Wolverine, which gave Logan a reason for his internal pain in nightmares and hallucinations of Jean Grey, the woman he loved and yet murdered for the greater good, here, he couldn’t be any more detached.
Maybe that makes sense for the character, but for the audience, that lack of emotional hook, even in the face of so much pain and so much sorrow, robs the audience of the payoff it and the main characters deserve.
To put it plainly, during its two-hour and 17-minute runtime, Logan often goes too slow when it should go fast, and goes too fast when it should slow down.
Mangold wants to give audiences a somber, meditative affair, but does not allow the actors nearly enough space to truly give us enough emotion to guarantee that we buy into the finality of this film, and it’s a shame, because that mood, that feeling, is exactly what was sold to audiences in the first trailer, bludgeoning us with Johnny Cash’s rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ classic Hurt, and while each of those scenes are in the final film, the emotion isn’t quite there.
Logan, as a character, deserved a better sendoff than he gets in this film. He deserved the very thing that he was offered by Xavier earlier in the film, a chance to appreciate the world he’s been tasked with defending. More importantly, Jackman and Stewart deserved fuller and more definitive opportunities to say goodbye to a world that was only better with their appearances in it.
Logan is not a bad film, within the superhero genre there are few, if any, films that exhibit more depth, but it is not the film it could have been. That said, there is value in seeing it, not just for the bloody action (which for some is reason enough), but also because of the closure it offers, imperfect though it may be.