Logan: What Worked and What Didn’t

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Despite the fact that it’s already been out for a few weeks now, I thought I’d take a bit of time to reflect on the newest installment of the X-Men franchise, Logan. By and large, the movie hit generating a wave of both critical and fan driven fanfare and for many, it was an unexpected hit. Given that the nature of the previous films in the Wolverine solo franchise had been nothing shy of lackluster, this film far and away blew its predecessors out of the water.

By a lot.

In many ways this is great. Like, really great. But when you stop to take a little closer look into some of the things that worked and didn’t work with the film, it makes you stop and wonder if all of the praise is really deserved or, if instead, it just looks good in comparison to it’s proceeding framework. The X-Men franchise (Wolverine solo films included) have been all over the board in terms of quality. The first film set a new standard for comic book movies, so in many ways, it gets a pass, but the second one was revolutionary. It’s probably still one of the best comic films to date as it went full on with its characters and developed sincere conflicts within its world. The third film obviously dropped the ball in a way that temporarily killed the franchise while First Class brought back a breath of fresh air, if but for only a moment. Days of Future Past and Apocolypse were a bit all over the board, splitting both fans and critics alike. Wolverine: Origins had a few moments (at least I think), however, the film is largely despised by most people. The Wolverine also had its moments and while it’s been accepted by more people than the original film, it still had it’s major missteps. With that being said, Logan didn’t have a lot to live up to which likely helped the film, but that’s not to say that it didn’t really hit a few things out of the park. There will be some minor spoilers below, so if you haven’t seen the film, beware.

First of all, they nailed the portrayal of Logan. This is really the first time we’ve actually seen Wolverine as most long time comic readers tend to think of him.  His gruff and gritty exterior emanated throughout the film, while his reluctant compassionate side helped to drive the progression of the story. He was both moody and violent which helped to play to a lot of the film’s strengths in terms of action, yet his internal struggles allowed the audience to care and sympathize with him, which can be difficult when your lead has to mindlessly mow down fields of bad guys. It was incredibly well done and the writers this time out, nailed it.

The film also managed to introduce a new, first-time character to us in a spectacular fashion. While we’ve become accustomed to the X-Men franchise lofting new mutants at us left and right, they usually only do so in a half-assed way and it’s so that they can awkwardly name drop them in their various marketing programs. With that being said, Laura Kinney, played by Dafne Keen and better known to fans as X-23, absolutely stole the show. That’s saying a lot when your film features the likes of Hollywood elites like Sir Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman. To say she “killed it” would be an understatement, but she managed to mirror and playoff Jackman’s Wolverine in a way that sold their connection before the audience could be told. You could feel her anguish and angst, but underneath it all, you could still see her longing for human interaction and attachment. It was a beautiful portrayal and I can only hope that we get to see her in future installments of the franchise.

One of my major issues with the film came in the form of Sir Patrick Stewart’s, Professor X. While he was ultimately enjoyable, his character felt incredibly disconnected from not only the previous installments, but also the source material. The character in the film is supposed to have severe dementia, which in many ways really works, but many attribute his dissociation from the franchise to it. The reality of the situation, however, is that because the film was given a rated R rating, the writers felt that it was okay to allow the character to speak in strings of obscenities, something he wouldn’t have otherwise done. This seems to have been a bigger issue for me than it was for most of the viewing audience, but I felt that it worked to pull me out of the story a bit more than I should’ve been for a few cheap laughs. In fact, the film would’ve done better to let him slip by with one well-timed F-bomb instead of his choreographed stream of concussive cursing and it would’ve better displayed the character dynamic between Stewart’s Prof. X and Jackman’s Wolverine. With the character Wolverine, the R-rating works because we’ve always envisioned the blood and gore that inherently go along with the character and we’ve always imagined his excessive use of curse words. That’s why it feels natural and it works and it’s where the R-rating actually helped the film. With Professor X, however, it felt unnecessary and like a clear overreach of what the studio assumed the fans would want at the expense of a solid representation of the character given his new circumstances.

The story of the film was, by and large, fine. Nothing over-the-top, but it’s simplicity worked and gave way to the films wave of character development. While it drew it’s inspiration from the Old Man Logan storyline from the comics, it’s choice to do so in a very subtle fashion worked in the films favor. The addition of a secondary Wolverine clone could’ve been better handled, perhaps by using a currently as of yet unused Wolverine villain (a version of Omega Red perhaps?). It’s unfortunate that Prof. X meets his end at the hands of this clone as it would’ve felt more natural and heartfelt if he had just died from natural causes due to exhaustion from their pursuit. Instead, we’re left with a moment that’s held back from its full potential and while it’s still emotional, it’s just not ultimately what it could’ve been.

Overall I feel that this is easily one of the best films in the entire X-Men franchise and while I have a few reservations, they’re fairly small. The film’s continuity leaves a little to be desired, but because it takes place in the future it can get away with the wishy-washy way it chooses to acknowledge events of the past. With some of the other comic films that were unexpected runaway successes, like Deadpool or Guardians of the Galaxy, we were introduced to new characters within a greater universe that occupied their own spaces in unique and very enjoyable ways. We have to remember that with this film, it’s the history that is meant to drive us to care and that’s really where this film falls a little short. Beyond that, it is a lot of fun and carries some very heavy emotional beats, which is clearly what has helped to generate its widespread success, but within the framework of the rest of the franchise, it still manages to succumb to some of their bigger failings when it comes to characterization. While this film may not have been perfect, given that it was more within the ballpark than many of their prior attempts, I’m just hoping that the studio learns the right lessons when it comes to what made the film work and what didn’t quite land, when they sit down to write future installments of the X-franchise.

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