Yes, Logan is a Marvel movie. Yes, I saw it. As it, like Deadpool, is not a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I feel completely at peace with my decision. I’m not 100% sure what compelled me to see Logan—I’m under no obligation to see all the latest movies—but I think it was the trailer. It had such a melancholic, intimate feel to it. It didn’t seem like the trailer to any comic book movie I’d ever seen before.
Now, to call Logan unlike any comic book movie I’ve ever seen before would be a bit of a lie; it definitely shares DNA with other Marvel movies, but with an edge so dark, you might think you were watching a DC Comics production. It helps, but isn’t a requirement, if you have seen the other films in the X-Men franchise. Well, I imagine it helps. To be honest, the only one I’ve seen all the way through was X2 in the theatre, because a group of friends wanted to go. I tried watching the original X-Men movie, but fell asleep halfway through; I was not inspired to finish it.
If this, however, is your first foray into the world of the mutants, you’ll probably do just fine. Watching, you will glean that a segment of the population has special powers, called ‘gifts,’ that separate them from the norm. You will glean that Logan is one of these people, who not only seems to have regenerative powers, but also grows metallic claws out of his knuckles. You will glean that the dangerously ageing Charles Xavier (Professor X to some) once ran a school for mutants, so they could be protected while they honed their gifts. And you will glean that the mutant population has been decimated, so that only Logan, Xavier, and some other scattered specimens survive.
The film’s first act takes place in a vacant smelting plant in Mexico. Xavier suffers from damaging seizures, so powerful that they render anyone within half a mile or so completely immobile. He is cared for by an albino named Caliban, a fellow mutant who cannot stand to be in direct sunlight for more than a few seconds. Logan works in nearby El Paso as a high-end chauffeur, to provide his ad hoc family with money and keep Xavier in seizure-mollifying meds. Unbeknownst to Logan, Xavier is in communication with a young girl, who seems to be desperate for their help. Of course, Logan wants nothing to do with her.
More than this I will not spoil, for if the trailer for Logan piqued my interest, I can say it also doesn’t reveal any of the plot beyond the first act. (You know, it does exactly what a good trailer should do, and doesn’t do any of the things that bad ones do!) The identity of the girl, and the fates of Logan and Xavier will all be of great interest of X-Men fans, I’m sure. But director James Mangold makes sure there’s enough for the casual or non-fan to latch onto.
Mangold is a very good scenarist, actually. By setting Logan in 2029, he’s freed himself from having to make his film a direct descendant of the previous films in the franchise. This remove gives him freedom to take the characters in new and unpredictable directions. I don’t think I’ve ever seen superheroes allowed to be this frail and vulnerable before.
Not insignificantly, Logan has been rated 15 in the UK, R in the US. I’m not going to say that a harsher rating automatically makes a film good; it’s determined by the approach to the subject matter, of course. But I feel like one of the reasons I can never really get on board with comic book movies is that they never really follow their premises to their logical conclusions. Take Wolverine: he has these enormous blades that unsheathe from within his hands. You’d think that these things would unleash untold blood and carnage.
Well, now they do. The violence in Logan isn’t the bloodless, family-friendly butchery of yore. Those blades do exactly what you’d expect. Guns destroy bodies in such a way you might have flashbacks to Hacksaw Ridge. And the characters are allowed to speak, you know, like people, f-bombs and all. Not in the self-aware, deliberately vulgar mode of Deadpool; just flatly, naturalistically. Maybe I was more drawn in to the world of Logan because Mangold allowed it to resemble ours enough to bridge the gap.
If you can’t tell by now, I was quite taken with Logan, which is why I’m mildly pained to have to bring up some very serious issues that hold it from greatness. First of all is the narrative; I mentioned before that Mangold is a good scenarist, and this is true. This doesn’t quite mean that his directorial choices match, and there’s a frighteningly long period in act three (basically from the farmhouse to the climax) where the pace slows to a deadening crawl. And even though this film had a nine-figure budget, too many shots look cringingly awful—almost as though they were shot with cell phones!
There are some other issues as well. Logan and Xavier find a character’s cell phone, which contains footage supposedly snapped covertly, on the sly. Yet, it seems sharply edited, with a professional voiceover attached! There are also some character issues in the second half, but I can’t really talk about them without giving something away.
But the bottom line is this: Logan isn’t exactly a comic book movie for people who hate comic book movies, but it is one of the best of its type. You grow to care for these people even if you’ve never seen them in a movie before (or if like me, you were previously indifferent to them). It’s not going to rock the world or usher in a golden age of gritty Marvel reboots. But it’s entertaining, engaging, and heartfelt. That should be worth the price of admission.