If comic book adaptations were a neighborhood, they would be one in dire need of a revitalization. Dogged by overdone tropes and wafer thin plots, they can usually be found plodding along with gargantuan budgets and very little to say. So when a genuine highlight comes along, it is cause for celebration. The bar is so low that when an even halfway decent movie surfaces, it stands head and shoulders above the rest. Such is the case with James Mangold's Logan--the grizzled picture of a superhero midlife crisis on steroids. Everything in it is hyper-real, making for a kind of action that lends to the story instead of detracting from it. But it's in the well-worn patches of humanity that the movie finds its bearings.
We reconnect with Logan/Wolverine (played for he final time by Hugh Jackman) as he is facing a midlife crisis. He works as a driver on an Über-like app, while living with his mutant friend Caliban (played by Stephen Merchant) and caring for an aging Charles Xavier (played by Sir Patrick Stewart). When he meets a little girl he comes to learn is his daughter (played tenaciously by Dafne Keen), he gradually accepts this role and seeks to protect her as she journeys to cross the Canadian border to safety.
Logan is the rare heartfelt drama in a genre that is generally driven by loud noise and brash CG. And while Logan certainly has its effect-driven sequences, where it truly shines is in its human elements. How often is it that a film in this particular sub-genre will incorporate subtle commentary on immigration policy or the love between a father and daughter? How often do we get to see the well-muscled immortals grapple with aging and decline? Logan is truly different in that it is willing to allow itself the room to be at least a little smarter than the general Marvel fare.
The one place where Logan really suffers is its villains. Like most superhero films, these villains are almost uniformly forgettable, as the movie even subs them out for one another when even the filmmakers are bored with them. To the film's credit, it doesn't seem oblivious to this fact--with a new villain usually showing up one beat too late instead of five. But generally, the film relies a little too much on Wolverine slashing normal humans instead of creating a legitimate foil to up the ante.
But the film works even without a legitimate threat because of the father-daughter dynamic that really gives Hugh Jackman's Logan a purpose. Dafne Keen is pitch perfect as the bilingual firecracker who perfectly blends the ferocity of her powers with an unmistakable childlike vulnerability. Having a child changes your outlook in any number of ways and it was truly beautiful to watch Logan's arc bend toward altruism and putting this little girl first.
More than anything, Logan feels like the completion of its own story, rather than a tool to sell another. Too often, comic book adaptations are used to introduce characters that will appear in some future film. When budgets balloon this much, studios can rush to ensure the next film is sold before they write the check. Hopefully, if there is a lesson to take from Logan, it is that a story well-told will yield a loyal fanbase.
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