Fans of the Wolverine and X-Men franchises need to prepare themselves. The Logan in this picture isn’t the one you’ve gotten used to over the years. The indestructible, ferocious, and persevering Logan (Hugh Jackman) you once knew is gone, jaded by years of fighting the good fight, only to find himself stuck, hustling as a limo driver while taking care of a semi-demented Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and the sheepish Kaliban (Stephen Merchant) in a desert-town near the Mexican border. They’re merely trying to survive on a day to day basis. It’s heartbreaking. It’s downright depressing. It’s the modern mutant struggle unlike anything you’ve seen before.
This isn’t a walk in the park. This isn’t Avengers fanfare, where the characters have a cutesy chemistry that would better serve an oddball comedy. This isn’t the family-friendly Marvel title that panders to kids who admire prototypical superheroes. Logan is bloody, gut-wrenching adult action drama at its finest, upending all the comic book adaptation stereotypes through sheer cinematic prowess and sound storytelling.
Set in the distant future where the existence of mutants is scarce and their supposed threat on mankind has been suppressed, Logan is simply trying to make ends meet while looking after Professor X. The old man’s crippling brain damage has rendered him a ticking time bomb, his affliction giving way to massive invisible waves that mess with the minds of those within his vicinity. Their somber reality is turned upside down when a young, mysterious mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) disrupts their humble lifestyle. Like Wolverine, she’s feral, bullheaded, and capable of slicing anyone that gets in her way into severed body parts—albeit packaged into the body of a not-so-precious little girl. Consequently, Transgien, a company experimenting with mutant genetics is after her, forcing Logan and the professor back into action to protect the future of their species. Their mission: head to Eden, a haven for weary mutants in North Dakota that may or may not exist.
Set up like a gritty fugitive chase film and at times a sly road trip movie, it delves deeper into the psyche of its characters rather than focusing on their extraordinary physicality. X-men flicks of yore expounded on the special abilities of its protagonists, but here, the complex psychology of these downtrodden former heroes is put at the forefront. Logan’s sadness is expressed through suicidal tendencies laced with countless bottles of bourbon. Professor X, once a powerful mentor with astounding psychic abilities, has become a near-senile burden, traces of his astute clarity coming only in glimpses and small doses.
It’s a fitting end to both these amazing actors’ Marvel careers—both have become major players over the last 17 years. There’s an air of freshness from Keen, a newcomer whose maniacal-mutant-in-the-making bravado is kind of like Abigail Breslin on steroids. The shape of her face, predatory for a prepubescent, carries her through scene after scene among her veteran costars. She’s cute, but don’t forget she can cut you like a fish. Symbolically, Laura embodies what Logan has lost—that wild, instinctual hunger for survival. She acts as a mirror to his ennui, provoking him to keep on and reminding him of the beast he once was. Their chemistry onscreen is indubitable and touching and palpable enough to bring on the tears.
Logan, despite being a showcase of masterful filmmaking courtesy of James Mangold’s precise directing and scriptwriting, does not hold back when it comes to the blockbuster elements that will keep moviegoers on the edge of their seats. The combat sequences are sharp and ultra-kinetic, never scrimping on the gore and brutality one would expect from darker portrayals of these beloved characters. Like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy before it, the adaptation transcends pulp fiction, elevating itself into arthouse territory.
In one hilarious scene in the movie, there’s a line that Wolverine delivers while hating on old X-men comic books, where he calls them “ice cream for bedwetters.” This significant piece of dialogue, although crass and demeaning and overtly simplistic, encapsulates Logan’s approach to the oversaturated genre. You see, comic book adaptations need not be dipped in a vat of G-rated corniness or rely on mind-numbing computer graphics to hypnotize its audience. When done right, even if the narrative deals with mutants, they can be the most humanistic of stories. And when this happens, when they are able to connect on such an emotional level, the result is pretty uncanny.