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Logan: Wolverine's beautiful and poignant departure from X-Verse

In a saturated field of comic book movies, Logan stands out with a small yet hard-hitting story.

In 2029, mutantkind lies on the verge of extinction as there has been no newborn for 25 years. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), now going by Logan, wearily works as a driver-for-hire while his mental and physical health deteriorates uncontrollably. Moreover, he has to take care of an amnesic Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in hiding with help from another mutant, Caliban (Stephen Merchant). One day, a nurse named Gabriela Lopez (Elizabeth Rodriguez) hires Logan to transport her and Laura (Dafne Keen), a mysterious 11-year-old girl, to North Dakota. Later hunted down by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his group of cybernetically enhanced mercenaries – the Reavers, Logan soon realizes that Laura comes from a mutant-cloning project and might be more of a relative to him than he thought. The much-adored clawed brute must now come to terms with grief and duty for his species in what might very well be his last adventure.

Having secured Deadpool’s unexpected success last year, Fox continued to place their bet on another R-rated movie in their X-Verse. James Mangold, given a lot of leeway for his own creative craft, fully took advantage of Logan’s “slightly different universe”. This is where the movie advanced itself on references to its own franchise: Logan grabs an X-Men comic book and grumbles about how the PG-13 meta-portrayal of a colorful, spandex-wearing team differs from their reality.

Before its release, Logan, directed by The Wolverine’s Mangold, had impressed X-Men fans with the desolation seen in its promo campaign, which featured Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” and a depressing look into the world of 2029. The trailers were accompanied by a series of black-and-white images teasing its characters and barren wastelands. This series of visual service set the right tone and directly communicated with fans about how they should adjust the hype.

Hugh Jackman as the titular mutant

It’s now a matter of life or death for a whole race because the corporation Alkali-Transigen will stop at nothing to wipe out mutants on the run. Accordingly, action sequences are straight-up brutal, but the crew never exploited violence for violence’s sake. Instead, Mangold arranged fight scenes by means of characters’ fight-or-flight decisions, hence a proper amount of bloodshed that reflects Logan’s initial hesitation to fight and satisfies our taste for his old time hack-and-slash. For the most part, they are shot without abruption (never forget Russo brothers’ jarring zoom), shaky cam, or over-the-top choreography, differentiating Logan from other superhero flicks. The director, quite masterfully, highlighted clarity and efficiency in combat. He knew that action is a perfect tool to serve narrative purposes by telling a perpetual conflict of interest between Homo sapiens and Homo superior. In addition, cursing is also on point and never pretentious, as the once-esteemed Professor X reached his “screw it all” stage long ago. Stuck in his own state of, ironically, mind, he drops F-bombs spontaneously with a bored, lukewarm attitude.

Supplemented with Neo-Western set pieces, the killing sprees were most impressive when delivered on canvases of wilderness. The movie started off on a dusty plantation near the outskirt of El Paso, setting the somber tone for a world we know (both) a lot and very little about. It then led us through embodiments of social strata: from the hustle-and-bustle of casinos to a cozy farmhouse, and eventually to the lush vastness of woods near the border of Canada. An adventure from the border of Mexico to Canada does sound political, but again, Logan had all the rights to do that because X-Men was about social discrimination from the scratch. It’s their fight for survival against falsely warranted fear and hatred. By this, Logan gave comic book movies a status boost in the industry because comics have been about social commentary for decades. If anything, R-rated aspects only make the story more natural and relevant.

James Mangold on set with Hugh Jackman

The plot is, however, not proficiently told. While the pacing is nowhere near perfect, the second act is still the weakest. It stumbles into a recycled narrative, which is a visit to some ordinary, kind-hearted people’s household, to try to accentuate on why these mutants only bring misfortune to the innocent. Still, the movie knows where and how to put the sentimental weight on certain occasions, mindfully adopting the trope of old people seeking redemption by caring for their younglings.

The movie title literally carried Wolverine back to his root: Logan is his biological father’s last name (and also Canada is his birthplace). It’s not X-Men Origins 3: Logan or anything like that, proudly announcing its stand-alone nature in relation with other X-Men movies. No more team-up for ground-shattering battles with big baddies, no more flashy costumes, and no apocalyptic stake.  That might sound a bit detached from established timelines but actually is the case that Logan was trying to prove.

There is a kind of daunting cloudiness in backstories as the script keeps most of the details offstage, leaving only the situation in 2029 for us to speculate. Why are there no newborn mutants? Where are the rest of the X-Men? With some references here and there, the script harnesses the storytelling power from both intertextuality and performances from the cast.

Logan was also praised because of its devotion to character focus, accomplished by a modest cast in the context of Xavier’s misconduct. This decision also affirms that audiences wouldn’t get distracted by excessive entanglement between hundreds of characters. At its focal point lies only an unusual trio: Logan, Xavier, and X-23. Together, these three form a chemistry of a dysfunctional surrogate family. Mangold drew thematic inspiration from various movies like The Road, Little Miss Sunshine, Shane, and Grand Torino to present a road trip story so powerful and poignant, which gently pulls us in even when we sometimes can’t quite tolerate certain clichés.

Logan and Professor X

Hugh Jackman, still a huge, jacked man, once again donned the beard and claws of Wolverine to give us his last performance as the most beloved X-Man on screen. Now, the bicentennial mutant is just a fatigued remnant of his past with only one sole purpose in mind (i.e, to acquire the boat Sunseeker for him and Xavier). With his semi-responsibility for Laura, he is caught between personal interest and a renewal of commitment. On the other hand, the guilt-stricken Charles Xavier doesn’t just sit still and look to the horizon (though it’s quite significant for his character arc) but also serves as a bridge between Logan and Laura. The professor communicates with X-23 when she keeps silent. He gives Logan a reason to believe when the weary warrior refuses to, further driving the plot to a point where Logan steps forwards and faces his fear. Both Jackman and Stewart held the movie together by their incredibly subtle acting; their facial expressions imply the pain and suffering their characters must have gone through all these years without an abundance of exposition, which would’ve killed the whole movie if included. Audiences don’t need more explanations for disturbing incidents because we see how lasting and destructive they are through the agony on the two mournful, worn-out faces.

Newcomer Dafne Keen kicks everything up a notch with her superb performance. Her character, X-23, goes against all tropes for young female heroes by staying silent most of the time (probably in telepathic conversations with Professor X?) and displaying scary stubbornness against others (including Logan). We see ferocity and perseverance of a Wolverine clone in her eyes alone, especially when she slices through those unfortunate Reavers. Nevertheless, Keen also provides X-23 a sense of emotional vulnerability because after all, she’s still a little girl artificially “born” without decent parental care. Despite some fundamental changes from her upbringing in the comics, she fits in as a child for Logan to love and protect.

X-23 and Wolverine at their low point

Side characters seem to matter much less than our trio. While Stephen Merchant gave Caliban enough negligence and hopelessness in his interactions with Logan, Pierce and Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) are only typical villains representing humans’ discrimination and exploitation on mutants. There’s also a nice addition to their line-up, which astutely brings up a direct chance for Logan to reflect on his past savagery and wrongdoings.

During 137 minutes of the movie, audiences unexpectedly grew to love all the characters. Logan, Xavier, and Laura are not just powerful heroes; they are fundamentally damaged people who choose to be better. James Mangold really outdid himself from the wreckage of The Wolverine, interweaving refinement in character writing with ethereal cinematography from DP John Mathieson to give the audience one last ride full of tear-jerking moments with Wolverine. In a saturated field of comic book movies, Logan stands out with a small yet hard-hitting story. It is a satisfying farewell to Wolverine’s time with the mutants and with us.