“Logan” Is A Painfully Beautiful Swan Song With Gore Galore

When the first X-Men film came out in the year 2000, superhero films weren’t anywhere near the ubiquitous blockbuster features they are now. Joel Schumacher had murdered the Batman franchise in a candy-colored, Bat-nippled implosion a few years earlier. Now it was up to the heroes hated and feared by those they vowed to protect, to prove superpowers could once again carry a multimillion dollar film.

Though the movie itself had its flaws, it certainly succeeded in its financial mission and ended up creating the blueprint for modern superhero cinema. Its success was largely due to the excellent casting of a then fairly unknown Australian actor named Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as X-Men founder Professor Charles Xavier. Seventeen years later, these two are bowing out of the expansive franchise, but not before delivering their absolute best work for it.

Logan takes place in the near future, when mutants are no longer being born and most of them have been wiped out. Logan (aka Wolverine) works as a limousine driver near the border and lives in Mexico, where he’s hiding an ailing Charles Xavier, now in his nineties. The most powerful mind in the world suffers from excruciating seizures, and when they’re triggered, it’s enough to classify Xavier’s brain a weapon of mass destruction. Logan struggles to make enough money get the drugs that Xavier needs.

From the film’s very first scene, it’s clear that Logan thoroughly breaks with the previous installments of the franchise, especially in its depiction of violence. Gone is the clean “snikt” from previous installments. These claws are painful, visceral and dish out full R-rated gore. The film’s rating may be the same as the X-Men offshoot Deadpool, but it couldn’t be more different tonally. Where Deadpool excelled in hilariously crude jokes and gratuitous violence, Logan does the opposite. Every burst of bloody action comes with heavy consequences, for his victims, as well as for Logan himself. He’s tired of life, tired of running, tired of being hurt and hurting people. The scruffier-than-ever Jackman exudes pain in every step of Logan’s wobbling gait.

Stewart’s depiction of Xavier is naturally less physical, but he’s as much a tortured soul as Jackman’s Wolverine is. Verbally flailing and failing, the brilliant professor is frustrated by himself and his situation—but there’s an even darker trauma lurking. That the small sparkle of hope these two former superheroes meet comes in the form of a child who is also a ferocious killer hounded by remorseless murderers says enough about how bleak this film is.

The ensuing road trip to deliver her to safety is as much about her future well-being as it is about Logan’s redemption. The plot delivers very few surprises, but that doesn’t really matter much when it’s so emotionally gripping. Freed from the franchise’s looping and messy continuity, the film gets to simply tell its own story in raw, dusty, sun-bleached imagery.

In one of the film’s subtler moments, Xavier tells Logan, “There’s no statue of liberty.” It’s a reference the final scene of 2000’s X-Men. It’s exactly those kinds of grandiose finales that have come to be synonymous with superhero films, but when X-Men movies have been able to scale back those larger-than-life stakes (Deadpool and Logan), they’ve ended up with the best films in the franchise. It’s the emotional impact that makes Logan such a painfully beautiful swan song.

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