After leaving fans and critics lukewarm with last year’s “Apocalypse,” the “X-Men” franchise has made a roaring comeback with “Logan,” a dystopian, neo-Western sendoff to Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s portrayals of Wolverine and Professor X.
It has been a rousing success at the box office, grossing just shy of $238 million worldwide in its opening weekend. Hardcore Wolverine fans, meanwhile, have lavished the film with praise…at least when they are not sobbing over the film’s powerful ending.
The “X-Men” films have been known for their inconsistent quality, with generally praised films like “The Wolverine” and “X-Men: First Class” interspersed with panned films like “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “X-Men: Apocalypse.” But “Logan” is likely to be looked back on as a high point for the series, taking narrative risks that none of its predecessors have tried before. Here are a few ways Jackman’s grand finale worked where others failed.
1. It’s rated R for a good reason
While last year’s R-rated superhero film “Deadpool” sought to shock audiences into fits of laughter with its cartoonish violence — see Deadpool’s “tribute” to “127 Hours” as a perfect example — “Logan” aims to make you cringe every time its titular hero or the young mutant Laura (Dafne Keen) unsheathe their adamantium claws.
Thanks to superb sound design and visceral depiction of Logan and Laura’s kills, there’s weight behind every violent act committed in this film. “Logan” seeks to challenge the adolescent image of Wolverine as a snarling killing machine, and it does so by having Logan openly confront and discuss the price he has paid for the gory life he has led, which makes it feel like a tragedy every time he is forced to resort to bloodshed to stay alive.
When the camera unflinchingly depicts Logan plunging his claws completely through the skull of a henchman frozen in place, it hurts because he has no choice to once again become the weapon that he was designed to be.
2. It replaces action movie tropes with Western tropes
To show that “Logan” is walking a different path than previous Wolverine films, director James Mangold traded in high-octane action-film aesthetics for a deliberate pace more consistent with Western films. While Westerns are known for their shoot-‘em-ups, such fight scenes are often surrounded by long stretches in which the protagonists make their way through swaths of American wilderness as part of a slow-burn chase.
“Hell or High Water” adapted this formula to a contemporary setting, and now “Logan” uses it in a not-too-distant dystopian future where the last remaining mutants struggle to survive, Big Pharma is free to breed and abuse mutants with no one holding them accountable, and black farmers and Mexican nurses struggle under the weight of more affluent white oppressors. In between its brutal fight scenes, “Logan” takes the time to meditate on all this suffering while exploring the psyches of its three ailing protagonists.
3. It dials down the stakes
After timeline-twisting shenanigans in “Days of Future Past” and CGI destruction of major cities in “Apocalypse,” “Logan” shifts gears with a plot where the fate of the world isn’t in jeopardy. Instead, the stakes are largely personal, as Laura and her friends fight for the right to exist as something more than just a weapon for some amoral corporation.
Logan and Xavier, meanwhile, struggle to fight in a world that has stripped them of their strength and hope; and they fight not for their own sake, but for the sake of a new generation who has not been beaten by the weight of the world.
Xavier fights through his dementia and joins Laura and Logan on their journey with the hope that his dream of mutants co-existing with humans hasn’t been totally destroyed.
Logan, meanwhile, must confront his fear that his violent nature will destroy anyone he gets close to in order to protect a girl who is far more like him than he would like to admit. The result is a Wolverine movie that provides pathos with its adrenaline rush.
4. It’s not afraid to embrace its comic book roots
Last year’s dark comic book movie “Batman v Superman” almost felt disdainful of the Man of Steel, outright rejecting the traditional comic book image of Superman as a symbol of hope and decency because it couldn’t possibly exist in the real world. “Logan,” on the other hand, offers a hard look at the differences between comic book fantasy and harsh reality while still acknowledging that comics can have as much of a meaningful impact on people as any form of high-brow art.
Ultimately, Logan becomes a hero again not by becoming the bloodthirsty, “badass” Wolverine of past “X-Men” films or the spandex-clad hero Laura read about in her comics, but by becoming a protective father in spite of his creeping mortality. Comic book heroes, inspiring as they are, cannot provide the support that real heroes make through their sacrifice.
At the same time, Logan is proven wrong when he chides Laura for using an “X-Men” comic book as a guide to salvation. As it turns out, the mutant refuge from the comic that Logan insisted was just a fantasy had been made into a reality by Laura and her friends. With that twist, “Logan” serves as a powerful ode to the positive impact fiction can have on all our lives.
5. It offers a possible future while staying self-contained
In this world of endless sequels and constant obsession with the next comic book movie on the horizon, it’s nice to have a blockbuster that appreciates the value of a satisfying conclusion. The ending of “Logan,” while heartbreaking, is a fitting and appropriate coda to Jackman’s tenure as the mutant formerly known as Weapon X, one that sees Logan become more than just his claws and leave a meaningful legacy on a new generation of mutants.
Mangold told the Toronto Sun that he chose not to add a post-credits scene because it would serve as nothing more than a promo for another movie and that he wanted to keep the focus on the movie the audience had just seen. It was the right choice.
But while “Logan” brought an end to Wolverine’s tale, it left the possibility open to more tales with Laura as she grows into Wolverine’s successor, X-23. Mangold has said he’d be interested in doing more movies with Dafne Keen’s Laura in the future, and “Logan” certainly doubles as an origin story for X-23. But even if that doesn’t happen, “Logan” remains a remarkable work of blockbuster filmmaking on its own, without relying on predecessors or potential sequels to deliver an effective story.