Overall Plot: 7
Audience Assumptions: Some familiarity with series
Part One: Angst and Knuckle Knives
The latest superhero film I’ve watched, though it came out at the start of the year, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from Logan. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews (though not necessarily ones I’ve published yet), I tend to enjoy superhero films, but I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the genre. I can recognize what these films do well and I try to criticize them where applicable. I’m not sure these films have as much potential as fans or movie studio executives seem to think, so when I heard early responses to Logan along the lines of “this is the best superhero film ever” or “this movie pushes the superhero genre,” I decided to wait a while and mull through spoilers before seeing the film itself. By the time I got around to watching it, I had forgotten most of the more minor spoilers; I knew it involved Logan, or Wolverine, from the X-Men series, I knew that it took place in the future, I knew that Logan was old and unable to heal from injuries like in the previous films, I knew Professor Xavier was in it, I knew a little girl was in it, I knew that the little girl was X-23, who I somehow remembered from one of the cartoons as a clone of Wolverine, I knew Logan died in the end, and I knew it was rated R.
This seems like a lot of information but it leaves out many smaller plot details, and key to the film, the story is not told through basic revelations but genuine character moments and atmosphere. Describing the second Avengers film through spoilers would give someone a good idea of the film’s progression without them having to see it, but what I liked about Logan was that much of its plot was spent on internal concerns, with action scenes interspersed to give the audience moments of levity between the heavier ones. The titular character deals with grief, guilt, isolation, his slowly deteriorating body, his friend’s deteriorating mind, and eventually responsibility for what is essentially his child. He also stabs bad guys with his knuckle knives.
Part Two: Parents Are Weird
There are a lot of things to enjoy in this film, some related to it as a superhero movie, and others related to it as a dramatic piece. First, I need to mention the girl. Child actors are notoriously hit or miss, often the latter in part because they lack experience, and in part because children are just inherently uncanny.
That makes me sound weird, so let me explain. We spend most of our lives as adults. Adults are familiar with the way other adults look because they spend time with other adults, developing expectations for the people they encounter. Children don’t quite look or move the same way as adults, and their voices sound weird if we accept “adult” as the norm, especially to those who do not have kids themselves. Parents spend a lot of time around children, so their view of other humans doesn’t necessarily assume “adult” to be the norm for how humans look; however, parents are also filled with biochemicals like oxytocin that make them think children, especially young children, are the best thing in the world and why don’t you understand that my little creepy meat sack with sausage arms is more important than anything else in the universe you guys? I think it’s safe to say that parents tend to view children, especially their own, with rose-tinted glasses, because otherwise why would we tolerate screaming, pooping sand bags long enough to propagate our own species?
That perspective probably doesn’t help me sound less weird, but the fact remains that when children are depicted on-screen, it takes a lot more to make their characters believable to an adult audience, parent or otherwise. This is largely because they don’t conform to our expectations. Parents assume, on some subconscious level, that children will always act as they do when adults are around, which is how they know children to act. Children on-screen will look unfamiliar because they’re acting how children act when left on their own. This is true even if the child characters are tailored to act more like how parents assume children act, not swearing or acting all angelic and the like. Parents know that’s not how children are, especially not other people’s children. Non-reproducing adults will usually have a stronger dislike of the child characters, though, because spending a lot of time with a child on-screen becomes very like spending time with a young relative you do not know well and insists on watching Barney the Dinosaur over and over and over with you until you want to tear your eyebrows out of your face and throw them at the television. It can be difficult to stand. I’m also completely ignoring how child actors frequently just lack the experience, or even the skill, to be believable in the same setting as veteran adult actors, and that probably plays an even more pronounced role in why child characters are often the most frustrating parts of films.
That said, the girl in Logan is excellent. She stands her ground with Sir Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman, both seasoned and highly talented, playing roles they have reprised several times now over the past decade and a half. Granted, the girl only has a few lines throughout the film, but her expressions and actions sell her character. That, and her fighting, which I would argue is better than any other character’s by a long way. She goes through the fight scenes with the fury of a wild animal and does flips off of the backs of enemies in a way that looks surprisingly natural. This fighting style is fast, vicious, and often involves her taking out several men twice her size in quick succession. One of the rare benefits of writing child characters into a film is situations like these, which are visually interesting because very few other films in this genre have done anything like it.
Part Three: Hat Makes the Audience Angry
Other things to like include the little moments that tie the film together, like when Logan is trying to unjam one of his claws that didn’t extend all the way during a fight, or when he finds out that the girl can speak after going nearly the whole film silent, but only speaks Spanish, leading them to start bickering loudly at one another. I appreciate the addition of Professor Xavier, and while I didn’t feel his death scene quite worked, I liked Logan’s reaction to it. I enjoyed the way Logan has to cope with the girl being his biological daughter, and the weight that puts on him as a dying man who until this point could never have a family. Logan’s death is good, and the R-rated violence and swearing usually works well within the film, even to the point that although darker, it still feels like it could fit within the X-Men universe. The general style and cinematography is pretty — functional, if not especially artistic. Each shot is legible, and the action scenes are filmed in clear, easy-to-follow takes that the genre so desperately needs right now. The dialogue, and at times the lack of dialogue, is also effective. Ultimately, the best parts of the film are the character-building moments, the situations that force the characters and the audience to stop for a moment and think. And then of course the action is good, if superficial compared to the weight of the character-building moments.
I am, however, far from calling this film “the best superhero movie” or anything that really stretches the bounds of the genre. Honestly, I think this is the level of competence that we should expect from superhero films by now, not the gold standard. Superhero films are generally stagnating, not getting better. This film is on the technical standards of Iron Man, Iron Man 3, The Dark Knight, Guardians of the Galaxy, and similar superhero films that were well-received for their visual and aesthetic prowess. I am reluctant to call it any better than these other films on any footing, though. The fatal flaw of Logan, and I think something that shows it’s still not a top-notch dramatic film, is that I feel the fantasy and hero elements really didn’t work all that well alongside the character drama.
The film’s plot could be summarized like this: An aging fighter caring for his epileptic teacher whose mind is slowly going gets wrapped up in a plot to protect a young girl who turns out to be his daughter. It is very much like the plot of a western or action thriller, and the more subtle details that tie it to the superhero genre, like how Logan and the girl use their claws instead of traditional weapons and how Professor Xavier’s seizures are telepathic, are good elements that don’t overshadow the actual plot. These elements actually improve it for visual and narrative purposes.
It is the less subtle superhero nonsense about the secret lab, the other mutant children, and especially the superfluous mutant characters that bogs down the film considerably. I wouldn’t mind if the secret laboratory was the reason the antagonists were trying to find the little girl, but the mutant children at the end don’t really do a lot for me, and neither do the antagonists. Do we really need yet another secret “science” lab doing nondescript “tests” to create yet more mutants who can either fight the protagonists or break away to join them? Have we not already done this subplot to death in the X-Men franchise alone, never mind superhero movies in general?
The lab isn’t even the worst of the film’s issues.
There’s a character at the start of the film, Caliban, who does very little except to exposit and then act as a minor point of tension concerning whether he will betray the protagonists or not. Then he explodes. While he does have a good very-on-it-outfit that readers of my Preachers reviews will know I enjoyed, the character is completely pointless. He has little personality and spends most of the film kidnapped, and his death is a minor convenience that lets the heroes get away from the antagonists, though they probably could have done that on their own. I can’t even remember what he was supposedly going to reveal to the bad guys that would have put either Logan or Professor Xavier in danger. I think it had something to do with tracking them with his nose, but couldn’t they have done that without requiring a new character to be introduced and then killed off in the first forty minutes? A tracking device in the girl could have done that. Satellites could have done that. Why is a guy with a kind of good sense of smell, the extent and limitations of which are never explained in the film, a better option than something simpler?
Finally, let’s talk about the big clone elephant in the room. There are two Wolverine clones in this film, as well as Wolverine himself. While, yes, technically the girl isn’t actually a clone in this iteration, there is still an identical clone of Wolverine that appears out of nowhere. That makes three Wolverines, which is one Wolverine too many.
Other reviewers have pointed out that this character – who is younger than Logan, healthier, and completely controlled by the antagonists – is a reflection of Logan’s more violent side, the “Wolverine” persona. I wanted to address this interpretation because I think the evil Wolverine clone isn’t as bad of a move when viewed in this light. However, that interpretation is largely based in this film being part of a franchise, and in my opinion, despite the tonal similarity I mentioned earlier, this story is stronger as a stand-alone piece with small Easter eggs to link it to the other films.
A lot of what I dislike about Logan has to do with it being chained to the Wolverine and X-Men films, required to set up future films in the same universe and use plot elements or lore established elsewhere in the franchise. I don’t mind references, but if a major plot point is dependent on the audience having seen another movie so they know why Evil Wolverine exists, that’s where I have a problem. When watching the film, I wasn’t thinking, “Wow, this is such a cool way to introduce a character from the comic books and make a statement about Logan’s growth through these films at the same time.” I was thinking, “Wow, so the big boss battle is between Wolverine and an evil version of himself. I’ve never seen that before in a superhero film. Like in Iron Man, or Iron Man 2, or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, or Ghost Rider, or Man of Steel, or Ant-Man, or X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or X2, for fuck’s sake.”
This comparison isn’t helped much by Evil Wolverine’s haircut; to me, he looked pretty similar to the older version of Logan and I didn’t even realize until the end of the film that Evil Wolverine was younger. I liked the adamantium bullet coming back into play, but fundamentally the Wolverine-on-Evil Wolverine battles were bland because — and I really wish superhero films would learn this — characters with identical abilities fighting one another is only interesting if their weaknesses are also identical and used in a clever way. One bullet used effectively does not make five minutes of immortal characters stabbing one another interesting. I liked this film’s version of Wolverine much more than previous iterations because the loss of his healing factor made him vulnerable, but it didn’t feel contrived like the same plot point did in The Wolverine. By including an antagonist identical to the past Wolverine in abilities, the film has to find a way to get old Logan on the same level and gives him back his healing powers through magic green juice. Even though the juice wears off eventually, the film tears up the good faith it established earlier by retconning one of the character’s major disadvantages that makes him more relatable through the rest of the film.
The ending and unnecessary superhero genre elements are not enough to ruin the parts of the film I liked, but they can’t be ignored, and they drag the film down overall a few levels from what it otherwise could have been. I would probably recommend Logan to my friends who like superhero films if they haven’t seen it already for some reason, but I have difficulty accepting that anyone skeptical of the value in superhero films would be swayed much by this one.