No superhero movie has stuck with me quite like James Mangold’s Logan has. However, I hesitate to rank it amongst the efforts of Marvel and DC. Mangold’s film has a sophistication usually reserved for Academy Award-winning films like this year’s best picture, Moonlight.
Logan wields an intensely gripping personal narrative framed with beautiful cinematography, topped off with a trio of impressive performances from the film’s stars. Leading actors Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman reprise their now 17-year-old roles as Professor Charles Xavier and Logan Howlett—AKA Wolverine—respectively. Mangold’s picture also introduces newcomer Dafne Keen in a show-stealing performance as Laura, Fox’s version of X-23, a biological clone of Logan.
Equal parts Western-style revenge story and emotionally touching father-daughter drama, Logan’s narrative never shifts its focus from the three leads. This move distinguishes the film from other comic-book movies, where story and pathos tend to take a back seat to impressive visuals and action set-pieces.
Mangold directs these personal scenes with an extremely deft hand. In the film’s opening sequence, audiences find Logan asleep in a familiar but futuristic Chrysler limousine. After a rude awakening by a group of gangbangers stripping the car for parts, Logan struggles to dispatch to dispatch the thieves. Ultimately succeeding, he stands amidst the carnage bracing himself against the vehicle. The camera lingers on Logan, following him around the back of the vehicle and to the driver’s side with a slow pan to the left. This long take lasts just until Logan climbs into the driver’s seat, allowing Jackman’s body language to convey Logan’s pain and frustration, delivering a subtle but powerful moment.
Besides its thematic links to westerns—like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and the 1960 The Magnificent Seven—Logan features more obvious references in its usage of the 1953 picture Shane. During the events of Logan, Xavier, Laura and Logan find themselves holed up on the run from the Reavers, a group of cybernetically-enhanced mercenaries. Staying in a hotel, Laura and Xavier pass the time by watching Shane. The scene featured in this sequence involves the titular Shane speaking to a child about the act of killing.
“There’s no living with a killing,” says Shane. “Right or wrong. It’s a brand, a brand that sticks. There’s no going back.”
The entirety of Shane’s speech from the film is quoted by one of the film’s leads in the final moments of Logan, the context of which is best left unspoiled. But this comparison to Shane draws heavily on the thematic links between their title characters—that both Logan and Shane are killers.
Logan plays this angle up heavily, never shying away from the ensuing carnage in the wake of the Wolverine. Limbs are severed, heads decapitated, throats slashed. Mangold definitely pushed the limits of what an R-rated comic-book movie can do, hot on the heels of 2016’s Deadpool.
If you haven’t seen Logan yet, do yourself a favor and buy a ticket as soon as possible.
Logan was released on February 17th and is currently screening in all major movie theatres in the KC metro area.