The world is not the same as it was, Charles. Mutants they’re gone now.
Logan, co-written and directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, Girl Interrupted), is an X-Men movie in that it takes place in the mutant universe with familiar characters like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier. But in most other senses it doesn’t feel like an X-Men movie at all. It’s the first such film where we never see the beloved Westchester Mansion, but rather Charles and Logan have been reduced to living in shacks and water tanks in Mexico. With a great deal of the movie taking place around the Mexican and Canadian borders, the film’s setting invariably feels incredibly topical.
The reduction in Charles’ and Logan’s living standards speaks to their reduction in other areas. Logan is slowly dying, poisoned by the metal inside him. His every gesture shows a combination of rage, sorrow, and inexpressible weariness. Charles is sliding into dementia. Both Jackman and Stewart give absolutely heartbreaking performances here; if this wasn’t a comic book franchise people would be talking about Golden Globes and possibly Academy Awards. Their caretaker and ally Caliban (Stephan Merchant of Cemetary Junction in an awesome scene stealing turn), is an albino tracker who literally must hide from the light. Their ill health echoes the fact they are a dying race; no new mutants have been born in over twenty years.
But new hope appears for the mutant race and for Logan and Charles in particular with the arrival of Laura (fantastic child actress Dafne Keen) a mutant born and bred in a lab and now on the run. Made with Logan’s DNA, she has both his abilities and his striking lack of social skills. Despite Logan’s own reluctance and the very bad men pursuing them, Logan, Laura, and Charles manage to forge a surrogate family on the road that provides some of Logan’s most affecting moments, between the inevitable spurts of violence.
And what violence it is! Logan is rated R, and unlike previous X-Men films it doesn’t shy away from what it means to do battle with metal claws. Blood spurts, limbs are severed, heads literally roll…and not all the people who die aren’t all bad either. This may be a ‘comic book’ movie but it’s far from escapism and in fact its themes of infirmity, poverty, ostracism, prejudice, genocide, aging, and entropy seem more vital than ever. Like the Western classics, Logan pays homage to, the film’s greatness lies in its embrace of both hope and heartache.
Top photo: Laura (Dafne Keen), Charles (Patrick Stewart) and Logan (Hugh Jackman). Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein courtesy of 20th Century Fox.