The scene in Logan that really made me think, Well, this is certainly different is one in which Logan (Hugh Jackman), who many years before the events of the movie was refereed to as Wolverine, has to help Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) use a gas station bathroom. The bathroom is as dirty as you might think a gas station bathroom might be, and there’s Logan sitting Charles down on the toilet so he can pee – of course while Charles argues the whole time that he can do it himself. Charles can’t do it himself. Everyone in Logan is old and sad., which certainly makes it one of the most unique superhero movies to ever be released, if we even want to call it a superhero movie.
Logan is the movie that finally satisfies the wish fulfillment of those superhero movie conversations that that speculate on what a hard R-rated superhero movie would look like with a major established character. (If you’ve ever been to Comic Con, these types of conversations happen quite a bit.) Only the people having that conversation kind of know it would never happen because who is going to pay for a superhero movie with a top-of-the-line character and have it rated-R? That’s essentially telling any fan under the age of 17, “Look, kid, if you want to see a superhero movie, you should see The LEGO Batman Movie instead.” (Those kids will probably buy that ticket to LEGO Batman and just walk into Logan anyway, then be treated to a movie in which people get decapitated, have claws pierce their skulls, and have their heads blown off. Yes, this is really rated R!)
Of course, Deadpool kind of changed all of this. But Deadpool could be looked at as an anomaly – he’s more of fringe character (or at least was) and the case could be made that Deadpool is a comedy. Wolverine, on the other hand, has been played by Hugh Jackman in nine films and is one of the best-known superheroes in cinematic history. And now, for what Hugh Jackman has been calling his last film as Wolverine, it’s all of a sudden a rated-R movie. (There’s even nudity in Logan.) Jackman even took less money to make sure this got made in its current form. It’s certainly a risk. But I suspect it’s a risk that will pay off.
James Mangold’s Logan is barely a superhero movie in the established sense. The world isn’t at stake, there are no costumes, and our main characters are old and sad. When we meet Logan, it’s 2029, mutants are all but extinct, and he’s driving a limo for an endless supply of drunken people in El Paso, Texas. This isn’t the Wolverine we’ve seen in previous movies. Logan is starting to age and he doesn’t heal quite as quickly from injuries. He’s slowly dying.
After work, he crosses the Mexican border where he lives in an abandoned factory with Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a mutant who tracks other mutants and is a much more skittish and passive version of this character than what we saw in X-Men: Apocalypse. Logan and Caliban tend to Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is now in his nineties and tends to suffer from dementia when he’s not taking his medication. He doesn’t like taking his medication.
Logan receives a lucrative offer from a woman asking him to drive her and a young girl she introduces as her daughter to North Dakota. But when Logan shows up, the woman has been murdered and the young girl is missing. This later results in a showdown between when a group known as the Reavers, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, chewing some scenery), show up at Logan’s makeshift home looking for the girl.
As it turns out, that girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who has powers similar to Wolverine’s, has been part of a mutant experiment and that group would like her back. Laura has also hitched a ride in Logan’s trunk, so now he’s unwittingly charged with protecting her. Logan, Charles and Laura eventually escape, which then turns Logan into a road movie as Logan and Charles try to get Laura to North Dakota where there’s supposed to be a sanctuary set up called Eden.
Logan is a grim movie. Along the way we meet characters we like, who are then brutally murdered by villains because they happened to cross paths with Logan and Charles. Almost everyone Logan comes into contact with winds up being hurt or killed. Logan is not a feel-good movie.
“It’s very important to me that people are prepared for what this movie is,” Mangold said when I spoke to him earlier this week (in an interview that will run later). The context of this is that he was very upset when there were rumors of Mister Sinister and Deadpool showing up during Logan. And he wasn’t mad because the rumors were wrong, he was mad because he really doesn’t want someone getting the wrong idea of what this movie is. And one thing it’s not is a film where either of those two characters would be involved.
You’ll probably see a lot of internet posts where people rank their favorite superhero movies and they’ll now try to fit Logan into that list somewhere – most likely pretty high. But for the life of me, I have trouble even calling this a superhero movie. It reminds me more of a movie like First Blood than it does, say, Ant-Man. If Logan has a fault, it’s that it’s lays on the dourness maybe too much – but, then again, that’s kind of the point. If nothing else, Logan does try to be the most “realistic” superhero movie. And it does capture a level of realism I haven’t really seen before in this genre.
The Fox Marvel movies are a strange thing. It’s impossible to make any sense of the continuity, which I think serves Logan better anyway. While watching, you’re certainly not trying to figure out where this fits in with the rest of the X-Men movies. And if you are, that’s a fool’s errand. Logan is very much a self-contained story. But with Logan and Deadpool, Fox is starting to do something interesting with the licensed characters that it has: Making smaller, more creative films. Instead of going “bigger,” both these films eschew conventional wisdom and let their creative teams make legitimately rated-R superhero movies. We’re probably never going to see this from Marvel Studios because those movies all have to fit together (and I still think it’s a minor cinematic miracle that they do; if you need proof on just how hard this is, look at the mess right now with the DC movies). But the Fox movies don’t have to fit. So they have a unique opportunity to do things differently. And if Logan succeeds financially, we’ll probably see a lot more of this. (And if it doesn’t, at least we’ve finally gotten our legitimately hard rated-R Wolverine movie. I still can’t quite believe this movie exists.)
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