Logan Succeeds with Faithful Adaptation of Wolverine Comics
In an early scene of James Mangold’s new X-Men feature Logan, Hugh Jackman, as James “Logan” Howlett, the superhero formerly known as Wolverine, discovers a comic book with himself on the cover. It’s not Wolverine as we’re seeing him now, weaker and having aged as the adamantium in his bones slowly poisons him, but his former self, young and drawn with a pulpy gloss that highlights his muscular torso. He’s trying to convince Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) — a nurse from a failed project created by a corporation called Transigen that bred children as mutants — that he cannot take care of the 11-year-old girl in her custody, Laura, also known as X-23 (Dafne Keen).
After rummaging through the mess of Gabriela’s apartment, Logan unenthusiastically agrees to help her out upon finding the comic. It’s a very brief moment, but it instantly conveys the part of Jackman’s character that makes him so fascinating: his self-awareness. This mutant may recognize his superhuman abilities, but he knows he can’t rely on them anymore. He’s too old to be a superhero, his self-healing abilities hampered by his progressive poisoning. Instead, he has to survive on his intellect.
The look on Logan’s face — simultaneously derisive and forlorn — at the sight of his comic self summarizes the attitude of the film. This is the least cartoonish superhero movie ever. Prospective viewers shouldn’t be concerned, though: Mangold provides plenty of action and forward momentum to satisfy comic book aficionados while easing into Wolverine’s mythology so that those who are unfamiliar with the X-Men series will still be able to enjoy the movie.
The narrative set-up is simple. It’s the year 2029, and Logan and his father-figure, Professor X (Patric Stewart) — an 80-year old telepath losing control of his powers — have to take a road-trip from the U.S.-Mexico border to Laura’s only safe haven, an obscure location in North Dakota called “Eden.” They quickly discover that Laura — an result of the Transigen breeding program created using Logan’s DNA — is wanted by the Reavers, a group of cyborgs loyal to Transigen and dedicated to exterminating mutants created by the company’s breeding program. An extended car chase ensues, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).
Despite the film’s admittedly absurd conceit, its tone combines the Western dystopian cynicism of Hell or High Water with the murky restraint of Special. It’s an interesting balancing act that Logan attempts to pull off and mostly achieves. The film certainly succeeds in taking itself more seriously than recent DC Cinematic Universe misfires like Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad.
This seriousness is displayed in the unique quasi-father-son dynamic between Professor X and Logan, so much so that the movie actually works better as a study of their relationship than it does as a blockbuster action flick. Their exchanges sway from affectionate to downright nasty, simultaneously highlighting the mutual respect they have for each other and their fundamentally different outlooks on their duties as X-Men. Stewart and Jackson play off each other so well that their dynamic elevates the film above occasional lulls in the script.
The film’s best asset, though, is the young Dafne Keen, who plays Laura with a stoic detachment that adds another layer of meaning to Logan’s perpetual old-age frustrations. Laura, bearing the same claws as Wolverine, is a constant reminder of his own past, and the result is a heated yet tender relationship. Although silent for most of the film, her lack of lines doesn’t detract from a terrific performance.
That said, the prevailing dryness between the three principle players doesn’t always work in the film’s favor. The film occasionally drags between action sequences. Mangold, who is also credited as co-writer, has a clear affinity for writing individual lines, but the pace of the script overall struggles throughout; some conversations stretch long enough to warrant the occasional yawn.
The action scenes themselves, however, make Logan more than worthwhile. The fights are lean, kinetic and full of raw energy. Mangold finds the right balance of improvisatory realism and choreographed claw-thrashing that this kind of R-rated escapism depends on. There’s no shortage of blood and expletives.
There’s a moment later in the film in which Wolverine notices Laura reading another comic of him. Without hesitating, he yanks it from her hands and says to her, “You know they’re all bulls—, right?” Maybe so. But in any case, Logan is the best drama to come out of this franchise and makes a strong case that adaptations from the comic book world, when executed with dignity, can be thoroughly entertaining.