Despite the Marvel production logo and a personalized introduction by Deadpool, Logan is closer to a Western than a superhero film. Wolverine/James Logan (Hugh Jackman, reprising his role for perhaps the final time) remains a titular lone wolf. He is aging, embittered and resentful of his past life, reminiscent of so many classic Western anti-heros. At one point, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) watches Shane on TV and you can’t help but notice the similarities.
The “clearing the guns from the valley” message in Shane isn’t a parallel metaphor, but it is relevant. In Logan, taking place in 2029, there are no more X-Men mutants, except for Logan, Xavier and Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Logan is struggling with his health and trying to make ends meet when he is given the opportunity to make some quick cash by taking a Mexican woman, Gabriela, (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and her supposed daughter (Dafne Keen), Laura, to the Canadian border. Of course, there is no relation between these women, and Laura turns out to be Logan’s “daughter” (through indirect, “Project X” means). Laura has the same Wolverine mutant powers as Logan, making them the target of a secret, powerful corporation.
Although not narratively significant, the intro by Deadpool at the top of the film has a lot of resonance with Logan. If it weren’t for the commercial and critical success of Deadpool, this conclusion to the Wolverine spin-off series wouldn’t be able to be as R-rated and gruesome as it is. 20th Century Fox even cast comedian Stephen Merchant (frequent collaborator with Ricky Gervais) as a secondary character (mirroring T.J. Miller’s comedic role in Deadpool).
However, while my 15-year-old self who despises the MPAA more than most diseases thinks that this R-rating is the most important innovation in superhero movies since the development of color film, 19-year-old me is a little underwhelmed with its use. Directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line), its action sequences may be more violent, but are just as incomprehensible. In fact, the most intense and affecting moments likely could have occurred in a PG-13 movie. At times, it appears the R-rating is just there to boost the perceived masculinity level. Hugh Jackman’s constant guttural noises and the mostly-male audience verify.
Written by Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green, the story doubles as both a resolution to the Wolverine story and a new beginning. On one hand, the story follows Xavier and Logan as they seek to complete one final mission. Somber tone in tow, the movie does this very well. On the other hand, the movie marks a transition from an old to a new generation. Perhaps 20th Century Fox isn’t interested in making movies following this group of young mutants, because their development is shallow and underused. But if there really is no plan for subsequent films, Logan appears even more unfocused, as the 140-minute runtime frequently swaps between these two ideas.
Despite the immigration narrative and the X-Men series’ frequent emphasis on mutant rhetoric, Logan has some weird racial dynamics. Laura, the most significant non-white character, is kept silent for most of the movie. When she finally does speak, her Spanish is used as a punchline. Gabriela’s death is used as a plot motivator. An innocent black family is slaughtered as character motivation for Wolverine. Lots of people die in Logan, and the movie’s questionable racial politics may be more of a misdemeanor than a serious offense, but the handling of this latter attack left me feeling so gross and disengaged I was unable to enjoy the film’s climactic scenes.
There are some sequences in Logan that live up to the hype. Car chases, gun fights, and claw-to-claw combat litters the screen. There’s also quite a bit of camp. Amongst the other X-men films, Logan isolates itself in theme and tone, but its sense of resolution will leave devout X-Men fans satisfied. However, despite an eloquent blending of Western and superhero narrative, Logan is unlikely to become a classic of either genre.