Logan paints a pretty bleak future for the X-Men cinematic universe. It opens with the titular character (Hugh Jackman, reportedly for the last time) working as a limo driver in El Paso. He is older, and it seems like his powers aren’t working as well as they used to. There aren’t very many mutants left in the world anymore. Logan is keeping Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) hidden somewhere in Mexico, supplying his former mentor with medicine to control debilitating seizures that have turned his gift into a danger for everyone around him. And then, Logan encounters a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who is running away from powerful forces, and ends up forcing Logan to become something he hasn’t been for a long time.Don’t waste any time trying to figure out how to make this film fit within the twisty timeline of this particular franchise. While there are references that connect this installment to a larger past, the movie is taking advantage of the flexibility of the series’ timeline to tell a one-shot story. And free from the context of a larger superhero universe, the film is free to depart from its form. This is a superhero film that does not feel at all like a superhero film. It is a violent, post-apocalyptic western that just happens to have one of the most recognizable superheroes as its focus. And while it runs a bit long and struggles to hold together in the end, the film as a whole is a pretty welcome departure from the rest of superhero cinema.The film’s clearest inspiration is George Stevens’ 1953 western Shane. Not only do the characters literally watch the film at one point, there’s a middle section that pretty much recreates the main plot of the 1953 film. But more importantly, Logan adopts the earlier movie’s understanding of a life of violence, applying the same metatextual lessons to this story of a world of mutants. And it takes on the form as well, eschewing the bombast of superhero set pieces in favor of sharp, brutal encounters that linger on the ugly consequences of the kind of violence this character gets into. This film wants the audience to feel the pain of a severed limb, its action scenes markedly more visceral.Fans looking for more typical superhero fare will likely be disappointed. This film operates on a much more personal level, the main struggle taking place inside the main character. The villains in this film are a vague presence at best. They’re always a step behind, and their arrival hardly ever feels truly dangerous. The movie instead builds a sense of dread from a general depiction of a world that’s gone wrong. What’s telling is that the film’s world isn’t actually very different from the real world. The story operates on the fear of the growing lack of empathy, of a world that’s seemingly head to a point where the people with power and resources care less and less about the people that they trod upon.It’s strangely ambitious stuff, and though the film doesn’t always reach the heights it aspires for, the attempt is always appreciated. The film struggles a bit when it tries to explain things, making it feel a little longer than it ought to be. There are bits of illogic here and there, especially with what the villains are trying to do. But all in all, this feels like a fully realized vision. James Mangold set out to make a singular superhero narrative, and he largely succeeds. For his last turn as the superhero, Hugh Jackman turns up the vulnerability. He is still tough and grizzled, but Jackman plays up the hauntedness to a remarkable degree. Patrick Stewart plays Professor X as a broken man, his kindness now tinged with desperation, and it is genuinely moving at points. Newcomer Dafne Keen is excellent as Laura, the young actress delivering on everything that her character represents.Logan might not be what you’re expecting. Certainly, nobody was expecting a stealth remake of Shane with the Wolverine taking the place of the mysterious cowboy. It is bleaker, slower, more violent, and ultimately more contemplative than most of blockbuster superhero cinema. And while some of its elements don’t really work, and some of its attempts at gravity feel unearned, as a whole the film is really fascinating. The filmmakers really dig into the thematic underpinnings of the character, and create a film that builds not just on a history of the property, but on the history of cinema.
LOGAN OPENS TODAY, MARCH 01, 2017 NATIONWIDE. YOU CAN ALSO CATCH THE MIDNIGHT SCREENINGS IN SELECTED CINEMAS.