Logan will end up being one of the best movies of 2017. Period. There’s no caveat there about it being the best superhero movie (which is also accurate). No, this is one of the best films that will come out this year. If not for the inherent bias within the Academy, I’d say it’s a lock for Oscar consideration and I’m still hoping even with that, it may have a chance . Let’s dive into the why, shall we?
The Path of Most Resistance
The X-Men film franchise has been a profitable if convoluted journey for Fox these last 17 years which has led us finally to Logan. And yes this movie is a continuation, or possibly finalization, of the world originally introduced to the screen back in 2000’s X-Men. While there’s no direct mention of the events of previous films in the series there are enough allusions to what’s come before that Logan lives in this same world although it owns it in a way that none of the previous films ever could.
It’s fair to say that the X-Men films have been all over the place as far as quality, stories and sometimes even continuity are concerned. The blame for this is actually in large part due to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine character. While many of the films are ensemble pieces with many talented actors portraying complex and interesting characters, time and again it was always Wolverine that captivated audiences, both hardcore comic fans and the casual attendees. The writers always knew they had to do him justice and Jackman’s dedication to keeping his performance true to the spirit of the Ol’ Canucklehead always made him mesmerizing. Nowhere was this more evident than when Fox went the prequel routd with 2011’s X-Men: First Class which for no other reason than pure fan service contained a brief cameo from Jackman because Fox knew you couldn’t make an X-Men movie without him. Hugh Jackman has in fact been in every X-Men movie ever made to-date. This means Jackman has been present for the highs (X-Men 1&2, X-Men: First Class) and the lows (X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) of the franchise.
So with all of the baggage that this film had dragging along behind it, how did Logan manage to elevate itself to the level it did?
You’ve Gotta Start with the Best Ingredients
The best comic movies are ones that draw from the rich source materials available to them and Logan started off from one of the best via Old Man Logan. If you’ve not read this story yet you should pause right now, go order it on Amazon, and then come back and thank me in the comments. It’s ok, I’ll wait. It’s one of the most original and interesting stories to come out of Marvel in some time and well worth your cash.
To be clear, the phrase “loosely based” doesn’t remotely cover how far astray Logan veers from the comic. Logan is aging and sets off on a road trip, those are the only real similarities you can directly draw between them. But what the film’s writers glean from the comic translates so much better into the film than you’d ever imagine.
One of the biggest reasons for this and probably what led to such a better revamp is that the majority of the Old Man Logan comic is unfilmable in the current studio landscape. Between Fox, Sony, and Marvel/Disney there is no way to bring over the volume of references that exist in the comic, from President Red Skull to a Venom-symbiote T-Rex to the inbred hillbilly Hulk family (yeah you read that one right). The comic spans almost every aspect of the Marvel universe and could not have come to the screen in its current state.
However, rather than handicapping the film’s writers, it allowed them to take the elements of the story that broadened the character of Wolverine and apply them to the world that the films had created. In both versions Logan is suffering from a deep sense of loss and regret but the film brings this to light via the context of the previous films, his relationship to Professor Xavier and what occurs in a way that draws the audience right into the heart of his pain. The comic is successful in conveying this but it loses some of the impact in the method in which they do. (Trying to avoid comic spoilers as much as I can.)
The other aspect of the Old Man Logan story that sees a more profound treatment in the film is Logan’s powers. In the comic, due to his aforementioned guilt, Logan has vowed not to use his claws anymore and in essence has “killed” the persona of the Wolverine. Without the same background as the comic, the film had no need to translate this story constraint in their writing. Instead of just scrapping it, they realized the potential inherent in a character as powerful as Logan slowly losing those very powers he’s relied on for so long and presented it in a way that was much more emotionally engaging than 2013’s The Wolverine attempt at it.
From A to B
All the excellent writing in the world can’t save a poorly executed script and it was the acting by all involved in Logan that elevated this film beyond its peers.
First off, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart turn in performances that have no equal in any comic based movie ever and in a lot of non-comic films as well. Their interactions are so heart wrenching and moving that one or both of them really should be up for an Oscar next year. Given the pair’s long history inhabiting the roles and the real life friendship that has grown between them it’s not hard to see how emotional this film was. The pain in Jackman’s portrayal of seeing this mentor and father figure wracked by the all-too-real decline that often occurs in old age is staggering. To hear the hope and sadness in Stewart’s words as he talks about his wish for Logan to achieve some kind of happiness in what’s left of his life is both painful and beautiful all at once. The fact that these two characters happen to have superpowers is an afterthought when you see them on screen.
Yet it’s not simply two amazing performances from actors in well trod characters that brings this film to where it is. When I first heard that Stephen Merchant was cast in the role of Caliban I was a little surprised. I’ve only ever known Merchant from his comedic work and while he certainly does inject levity into the film at times, he too brings a grounded realism with his performance that makes you forget you’re watching a movie about superheroes.
Rounding out the main cast is Boyd Holbrook as Donald Pierce and Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23. Holbrook’s performance is such a study in understated elegance. His accent, the lines, the characterization, all of these things could’ve become a huge and distracting liability in the wrong hands. His leader of the Reavers was ripe for the over the top villainy that some films fall victim to and yet Holbrook walked that razor’s edge of believable evil in a way that had you hooked from the start. Meanwhile Keen as Laura conveys such an amazing balance of innocence and ferocity that you aren’t even aware that she doesn’t speak until well over half way into the movie. For a first role, she excels at giving her character such life without speaking a single word.
A Comic Film, Not a Superhero Movie