#7 in my ranking of the X-Men franchise.
Outside of Joker, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comic book film so obviously desperate to be taken seriously as cinema as Logan. It ends up caught between genres, though, instead of weaving them together. The serious character study is largely there, though it feels a bit shortchanged, and the exciting superhero adventure ends up playing catchup unconvincingly for long stretches. The clash undermines the whole experience taking what should have been a rather easy layup of a film into something a bit less.
It’s 2029 and something’s happened to the mutant world. No mutant has been born in twenty-five years, Wolverine/Logan is a combination of indestructible and sickly, and Charles Xavier is acting erratic in an isolated location south of the American border with Wolverine and another mutant named Caliban guarding him. Logan is working as a driver, trying to save up enough money for a yacht that he can take Charles on and safely live away from the world, protecting the rest from the deteriorating state of Charles’ mind that turns his ability to freeze people around him into a painful, deadly experience. Into his world comes a Mexican woman, desperate for his help which he brushes off as not his problem. Immediately afterwards, he’s visited by an obvious bad guy, Donald Pierce, with a metal arm, a Texas accent, and a series of questions about the woman.
The woman, Gabriella, worked at a genetics lab in Mexico City where scientists, led by Dr. Zander Rice, were experimenting with children mutants grown in the lab. She, along with some others, broke the children out when Rice decided to liquidate the children, and she has Laura, a mute girl, along for the ride. When Gabriella shows up dead at her hotel after calling Logan there, Pierce shows up to Logan’s remote getaway where Laura has snuck to in Logan’s trunk, and we see the first of the curious decisions by characters that undermine the action of the film. Laura knocks Pierce out with a pipe, and Logan gives the sickly, sun averse Caliban the task of taking the mechanical armed paramilitary soldier out into the middle of nowhere to dispose of, almost like they think he’s dead. Because they don’t ensure that he’s dead or give the disposal to Logan or even just tie him up at the hideout, he gets a chance to connect with his team who are driving towards the hideout and lead the attack while capturing Caliban, who was the ability to track mutants (convenient). All of that is predicated on Logan actively giving bad instruction that goes against what he would probably do, especially after we’ve seen him kill several people in the opening sequence out of self-preservation. I don’t see anything there that would tell me that Logan would be genial in that sequence as opposed to the opening. It’s weird.
Xavier, Logan, and Laura get away in a solid scene that shows Logan completely trashing his limousine to get away, barely escaping by outrunning a train (which is whatever, but enough to sell the idea of them getting away), and head straight to Oklahoma City to rest for a short while before heading out again. They have to wait until Logan can get a new car considering the state of the limousine, and when they wait for just the few hours, Pierce and his Reevers show up, triggering a Xavier event that nearly kills everyone in the hotel before Logan can get to Xavier and give him his medicine. The Oklahoma City sequence feels like this movie where everything gels best. There are moments where characters are allowed to breath, like Xavier and Laura watching Shane in their hotel room. Logan figures out that the location Gabriella wanted Logan to take Laura to was taken from an X-Men comic book (which were taken and expanded from “real” adventures Logan took part in), and he begins to question everything about his mission. The Reevers show up unexpectedly (because they have Caliban) and know exactly where Xavier is, getting to his hotel room while Logan is out, and Logan has to fight the psychic damage in order to exact terrible vengeance on the Reevers in the room. This is the combination of narrative styles that works best in the film.
The rest of the movie is built on bad decisions and coincidences that undermine everything else. The three get away, and on the interstate they almost get run over by an automated eighteen wheeler along with a small farming family pulling some horses. Xavier, after having just barely escaped with his life because the Reevers found them without explanation (which should have been easy enough to figure out considering Caliban), decides that what they need is to spend the night with this innocent family so that Logan can get a feeling of home. And Logan goes along with it. I mean…what? The violence that inevitably gets visited upon this nice family is because of a pair of incredibly stupid decisions, but it’s all at the behest of the movie trying to pursue its thematic goal.
At the heart of it all is that Laura is actually Logan’s daughter through surrogacy and gene manipulation on the part of the scientists. Logan needs family and meaning in a world where he’s lost everything, and Xavier, knowing that he himself is dying and will leave Logan alone soon, understands that Logan needs someone to live for, and here comes this girl who is his biological daughter. The evening, with a nice conversation around the dinner table, is supposed to be that view into the world he could have. It’s a nice idea, I just wish it was better placed in the film. There’s no way these characters should be relaxing at this point. They should be running like they’re being pursued by a paramilitary organization with a mutant sniffing mutant hot on their tails.
Everything goes wrong, including Logan getting himself involved in a water dispute with the farmer’s neighbor (where, honestly, the farmer is in the wrong), when, surprise, the Reevers find them. They send in Weapon 24, a clone of Logan that’s much younger and much more ferocious. The fight is brutal, though it ends with Logan and Laura being the only two left standing at all, and Logan doesn’t finish off Weapon 24, assuming that he won’t survive a wound that looks grievous but considering Logan’s own history of survival would indicate that Weapon 24 will probably be okay with some time. Which, of course, he is.
See, here’s the core of my issue: James Mangold obviously was far more interested in making the character-based story. That’s where all the love went. Almost none of the action is really all that necessary to tell the story of Logan facing his mortality while learning the value of connecting with his daughter at the same time. It’s necessary for some mechanical elements around it (including the death of a prominent character that I feel falls a bit flat because it relies too much on the previous films for the emotional involvement from the audience instead of building the movie up itself). Instead, it feels like the central idea of Logan’s emotional journey was built and then the plot of the impending paramilitary organization was stitched on late without a good amount of time to smooth out the wrinkles.
I can imagine a version of this movie where the paramilitary threat is gone after Oklahoma City, and we just get a focused tale of three people on the run, looking over their shoulders, and finding those small moments on the run to bond, ending at Eden and Logan quietly dying. That wouldn’t be the sort of action spectacle audiences would expect from the first R-Rated Wolverine movie, but it might have been more appropriate to the actual story being told. The only reason that the final action scene happens at all is because an intricate series of coordinates was written out on two separate pieces of paper (an envelope filled with cash for Logan’s services, and the back of a photograph of the children in the lab that we don’t discover until its in the hands of the bad guy) and the bad guy got it in time. The only reason the bad guys keep up is because the good guys let them, essentially.
I’m very much of two minds on this. The action is largely good. The character stuff is largely good. However, they are horribly sewn together to the point that character actions to keep the plot mechanics moving forward veer between making no sense whatsoever and being just outright stupid. That it wants to be taken seriously makes this all the more frustrating because there is a very good movie hidden in here. It’s just not this.