Guest review by: Callum The Critic
Check out his film review blog here
I think the first step of making a truly excellent piece of cinema is attitude. If you go down a checklist of the technical things that are considered necessary for good filmmaking and good storytelling, following modern conventions of cinematography, lighting, acting and screenwriting, you can make a competent film. However, if you want something everlasting and exceptional, you need the kind of reverence for the material and character that James Mangold, Hugh Jackman and the screenwriters had for the Wolverine character, yet stand out on its own. “Logan” pretty much works on every level, but what it excels most at is not just making a good Wolverine film, but a great film in general, similar to Christopher Nolan with his Batman trilogy. This almost doesn’t feel like it was made for superhero fans, it was made for fans of films that have compelling drama, a believable and emotional experience that makes the audience involved in what might be the best superhero film I have seen that could actually give “The Dark Knight” a run for its money and I will explain as best as I can in this non-spoiler review:
Is this a modern Dark Knight of the 2010s era of superhero films?
As much as I admire and love this film, I don’t think I can quite answer that question yet since I have only seen the film once. But since a lot of people have been throwing around how this is “The Dark Knight” of superhero films that came out in 2010s and before I really get into the real meat, I might as well answer this question. I think a friend of mine perfectly summed up this comparison between the two films with the following saying:
“I don’t want to compare the two because they are two totally different films. However, both are really excellent and examples of what a great comic-book movie can be when it defies genre and convention.”
And I say he is right on the money with those words because while I do think the superhero genre is in such a better place in terms of its quality post-Dark Knight and Iron Man, I have been notice a similar formula in terms of a lot of the films recently, including some truly get ones like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” or “Iron Man 3” with their big scale action-slugfest climaxes which can be fun at times, but they can also be tiring as well in terms of watching a film for a truly refreshing experience. Then along comes “Logan”, a film that truly takes some risks with the conventions of the superhero genre and is in a way “Escapism from the escapism” regarding the kind of emotions the film makes you feel.
Is Jackman still great as Wolverine?
Honestly, you really cannot talk about this film without going into specific details on the acting, mainly Hugh Jackman in the main role. While apart of me feels like what I am going to say is nothing really new due to the fact that he played the role for 17 years now and he is to Wolverine what Christopher Reeve was to Superman with how much he resonated with audiences in the role. Sure, some may say that Jackman is either too tall or glistening or handsome to be Wolverine (looking at you Dr. Cox), like everyone other film guy who is not a comic book pureblood Hugh Jackman is and forever shall be Wolverine to me. Like Eastwood in “Unforgiven”, this feels like Jackman’s lasting stated for a series/genre that has meant so much to him. From the physicality to the emotional scenes, Jackman puts as much blood and sweat into this film that it truly deserves an Oscar nomination. The guy has been playing the role for nearly 2 decades now and not once has he ever phoned in a performance in the role (not even in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. To bookend my final thoughts on Jackman as the character, I think a friend of mine perfectly summed it up:
“Hugh Jackman IS The Wolverine, and I thank him for nearly two decades of putting everything he could into this role over the years.”
How will this film made me feel?
The film left me with the feeling of what I can best described as “emotionally frayed and torn” especially with myself knowing that this is Hugh Jackman’s final performance as Wolverine and unlike any actor who played James Bond in their final films (especially Connery and Brosnan), Jackman was actually given a truly great swan song that hits all the right notes that makes someone like myself who many friends of mine have actually compared me to Wolverine in terms of attitude has even penetrated my hard exterior (I guess my skin is not made of adamantium) and reached my heart that perhaps no recent film has ever really gave me. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this emotionally invested in an “X-Men” in the past with the possible exception being “X-Men: Days of Future Past” with Charles arc (which this films does share some mirrored scenes with that film in regards to paying off the mentor/apprentice motif the two characters had in previous films).
The film is relentlessly dark, violent and about as brutal as my words towards someone who have pissed me off, to the point where some may want to look away with how graphic certain scenes are in this film to the point where it makes “Deadpool” look like “The Avengers”. While “Deadpool” was a fine film overall, a part of me doesn’t have the need to watch it over and over again because a part of me felt like the comic played itself a bit too safe (especially once I read some of the more darkly comedic Deadpool comics) and even the violence were nothing really special to me, “Logan” is a pretty different story.
The R-rating has really gives this flick some truly gritty teeth ….. or claws in this scenario, and it shows with its unremorsefully brutal that gives me the sense of unease and intensity that only the likes of “Watchmen” gave me, as well as having the genuine emotional core of films like “The Dark Knight Rises”. I will admit that some of the constant use of the word “Fuck” got a tiny bit tiresome (almost like it is trying to be the next “Goodfellas”) and at first made me think the film was taking (especially with Charles Xavier). But the film does justify the reasoning behind what appears to be an uncharacteristic trait for Charles that I find to be believe, yet doesn’t take away from the hopeful nature of the character.
While, I still think the film works perfectly fine as a standalone film, the film would have not nearly been as effective without nearly two decades worth of history between these characters and the fact that the two characters have been played by the same actors since 2000. I mean geez I am 23 years old now and my first X-Men movie was “X2” back in 2003 back when I was 9 years old during my days at primary school, so in a way it feels like part of my childhood has grown up too and moved on, which makes the departure of Jackman and presumably Stewart as Wolverine and Xavier all the more heartbreaking.
In a way this film approach as Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine (the role that made him famous in the first place to a general Western audience) is very similar to how Clint Eastwood approached to his magnum opus “Unforgiven” which was made as his swan song to the western genre. The emotions of this film are so powerful to the point in which I honestly do not want Hugh Jackman to return as the character of Wolverine in any films whether it is with another Fox produced X-Men film or a possible Wolverine appearance in the MCU because I feel like it would cheapen the impact that this film is having with a lot of people that I am talking to in regards to how great it is, the same way I don’t want Clint Eastwood to make or star in another western film ever again.
Without getting into spoilers, Logan and Professor Xavier have a father-son dynamic that was absolutely hinted at in the earlier films and then later gets developed in “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, but this time is put in the foreground in this picture with even more fleshing out in the films exploration on the complexities, difficulties and emotions of being part of a family. Their dynamic works especially well because we’ve seen them over four or five films over the last two decades. This is the natural culmination of their relationship.
How great is the story?
Like I always said in regards to the best stories in all of fiction: A great story doesn’t come from plot, a story comes from great characteristics, especially since once you think about the plot of this film as it is actually pretty straight forward and therefore easy to follow. Yet I managed to pick up on a lot of themes and motifs along the way. The director of the film James Mangold (the guy behind the previous and yet pretty underrated Wolverine film), as well as his co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green have given us a truly innovative film for both the X-Men franchise and the superhero genre in general. In a world in which nearly every superhero franchise with the popularity of the cinematic universe concept, it feels so nice to a film in which the story is focused on telling its own singular story, not beholden to what has come before and not setting up another instalment down the road and not since “The Dark Knight Rises” has a superhero film given us a great sense of finality to a character. The R-rating has also freed Mangold and company of any limitations or restrictions and with the exceptions of certain places using a few F-bombs that I could have done without, it never feels self-indulgent at any point. The film has an added layer of authenticity because these characters don’t hold anything back which makes it such a human experience despite the film featuring mutants as the main protagonist.
According to interviews, the main inspirations Mangold has taken “Shane”, “The Cowboys”, “Paper Moon”, “The Gauntlet”, “Little Miss Sunshine”, and “The Wrestler”, although I cannot help but also think films such as “Unforgiven”, “True Grit”, “Children of Men” and even “Mad Max” were on the back of his mind that gives us a neo-western film that so happens to feature a superhero, very similar to how the “The Dark Knight” is an excellent crime epic that so happens to feature superhero. I say this is pretty fitting because in a lot of ways the western genre is very similar than a lot of people realise. As “ColdCrashPictures” (a YouTuber I used to like) once said in one of his videos, both genres were born in the United States (a claim you really cannot say or narrow down for other genres). He also pointed out that both genres have a super heavy focus on the struggle between good and evil as their defining characteristic, even if films in both genres such as “The Dark Knight” or “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” that are about the moral ambiguity of such a concept are pretty much deconstructions of the same and familiar good and evil concept and it is safe to say “Logan” falls into the latter. Finally, both genres focus on the anonymity of their main character with the difference being that in westerns the heroes usually have no backstory, where as in the superhero genre, they usually swap the lack of backstory for secret identities.
The film doesn’t hold anything back on its subject matter too. Mangold does a truly exceptional job at balancing the violence with a story that is ultimately about redemption, sacrifice and hope, as well as similar themes to films like “Shane” such as what it means to be man, loyalty and as I said earlier in this review a film about the complexities, difficulties and emotions of being part of a family, as well as a story about finding heroism even in the darkest corners. If this is indeed Hugh Jackman’s last time playing Logan, or Patrick Stewart’s last time playing Xavier, everyone went out with a truly satisfying bang to the point where I don’t want to return.
Yet, I think Dafne Keen as X-23 is the true scene stealer in this film. Usually, I don’t like it when a child character is included in a film because they tend to make things a lot more sappier than they really need to be and while she certainly a character that gives some humanity to Logan as a character, you just wait until you see her in action because she certainly gives most female-led characters a run for their money as Keen might be the most badass child actor I have seen in a good long time. She was like a nuke. Something so small and young containing all that devastating power that blew me away. She’s nothing short of a powerhouse. Her acting is as powerful and skilled as X-23 is combat and she’s gonna go down as one of the greats. Despite all this, her dynamic with Wolverine is nothing short of amazing and a unique one when it comes to duos in a film because not only does juxtapose with Logan’s dynamic with Rogue in the first “X-Men” film (a.k.a. the best parts of that film), but even subverts a similar trope when it comes to the theme of regaining ones humanity. Instead of X-23 being the typical innocent little girl that installs some humanity into a Logan who has lose his humanity, he is the one that gives some humanity to her by giving her the bright future that he never had after what happened to him during the Weapon X program, which is why it is so fitting that Logan passes the torch in a way to Laura in this film, continuing that dynamic and I am all for a X-23 film, just saying. Hell, the more I think and talk about this film, the less I think of this film as being loosely inspired by “Old Man Logan” by Mark Miller and more inspired by “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller.
As for the villains, which I would not say they are a negative in the film or even that bad, I say they are the parts in the film in which I don’t see myself talking about that much because the rest of it is just that good. Both of them offer good performances with plenty of presence, personality and effective motivations on why they do what they do as the best or at least the most effective villains are the ones you feel at some sympathy towards despite their immoral misdeeds. Plus as a friend of mine once said in his review “unlike the villain problem within MCU, they’re not portrayed by such quality actors you’re going to want to smack Fiege in the face for wasting them.” And that is so true, especially with films such as Christopher Eccleston in “Thor: The Dark World”. But they are very much second fiddle to what’s happening to the protagonists, even if the villains in this film are no Magneto, William Stryker from “X2” or even Bolivar Trask from “X-Men: Days of Future Past”.
Now if there is one scene in this film (that was in the trailers) it is the possible meaning of the comic book scene, which I know many fans took a bit too personally as some sort of jab towards the comic books. First of all, the fact that Mangold went out of his way to ask Marvel artist/editor Joe Quesada to draw the thing rather than just pick up a random old issue of the Claremont era of the X-Men is a strong indicator of his respect for the material. Plus like “Unforgiven” is seen as a dark Western that deals frankly with the uglier aspects of violence and how complicated truths are distorted into simplistic myths about the Old West, this does the same the superhero genre or more specifically the ideas of X-Men itself, an idea many Wolverine comics have tackled in the past INCLUDING “Old Man Logan” and enforces the pessimistic aspect of the character.
“Logan” is truly a film that has left me speechless for a few minutes after watching the film for many reasons. It is a truly ambitious, thought-provoking and emotional experience that gives me the rare feeling that very few comic book movies left me feeling, including the sense that this film will be considered a classic within the next 10 years due to how it defies conventions that many associate with the genre and not fall flat on its face like how may felt about the likes of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” or how I felt about “Captain America: Civil War”.
My final score for “Logan” is 5 berserker rages out of 5.