We’ve never gotten the X-Men movie we deserve. Since 2000, Fox has done an almost remarkable job at just not getting it, watering down classic comic book stories with blockbuster conventions that might be fun to look at but are lacking in emotional resonance. There’ve been some high points along the way, sure. Days of Future Past was a solid reminder of what might happen if filmmakers took comics seriously as form, and X-Men 2 very nearly matched the storytelling prowess of the 1990s animated X-Men series.
Still, for a series that includes 8 movies (9, if you include Deadpool) the successes are far outweighed by, well, everything else. In total, you’ve got three outright failures (X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine Origins, Apocalypse), three fun, but forgettable romps (X-Men, First Class, The Wolverine), and two films that rank as successful (X-Men 2, Days of Future Past). That’s not a great record for one of the most important comic book franchises of all time.
Logan, however, represents a new standard, not just for this franchise but for comic book movies as a whole. Gone are any notions about this being a genre for children. Forgetting the violence—the reason for its restricted rating—the sheer depth of this film is enough to dispel the idea that being a comic book story alone is reason enough to be marketed for kids. This is a film with nuance and heart, easily becoming one of the best comic book movies of all time, if not the new champion.
But forget even the “comic book” qualifier. Logan is just a great movie, period. It’s a modern western about a changing world, where the good guy might be bad, but the bad guy is downright despicable. In this outing, Logan is more Shane than Superman; a lonely cowpoke forced from a quiet life for one last ride to glory. It’s a timeless parable about aging out and moving on, and confronting the demons that haunt us.
Unrestrained from the rest of the X-Men franchise—or either of its two timelines—Logan ventures boldly into new territories. In this world, all the mutants have died off or been killed, victims of humanity’s never ceasing war on difference. Logan (Hugh Jackman) lives a lonely life as a limo driver, mostly eschewing his Wolverine persona if he can. He’s old and battered; even his claws don’t unleash as easily as they used to. As undignifying as his new position is, he does it out of love for his former teacher, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose once amazing power suffers as his mind descends into dementia. With no one else to care for him, it’s up to Logan to see him through. It ain’t much but it’s a life. His lonely serenity is shattered when a strange woman begs for his help; in her care is a young mutant, Laura (Dafne Keen), and on her trail is a group of powerful mutant hunters. Can Logan protect the girl long enough to get her to safety?
Like all western travelogues, there are pit stops and side quests, trials and tribulations. Here, they all serve towards casting further darkness on an already dark world. This is a dystopian world full of hate and strife; the little man can’t get a foot down and the powerful walk tall. The shadow of history hangs heavy over this world, and it’s to the narrative’s benefit that it’s a history we don’t know. Answers are in short supply—we don’t know what happened between Apocalypse and now to lead us to this point, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Something happened, the mutants lost, and humanity retreated into their paranoia and distrust.
In a lot of ways, it’s like reality today. It could be argued that Logan is the first real post-9/11 parable we’ve gotten in that it explores how society changes in the wake of traumatic disaster. Even if the disaster is unsaid, the taint is all around us, altering the perception of the world. In this world, the mutants suffered. They’re gone now, victims of time and malice, and in their place lies only darkness.
Sorrow infects everything within the narrative, but it’s the sorrow of moving on. Like all old men who’ve outlived their friends and family, Logan has difficulty understanding his purpose, which serves as a stark contrast to the anarchistic ruffian of movies past. In a world that’s eradicated mutants, he can’t even be Wolverine. He’s just a sad old man. But the purpose of old men is to usher in the new class, and Laura is definitely that. She’s genetically engineered, near feral, and doesn’t take any shit.
Fox would be foolish not to use this to their advantage. Until now, the X-Men series has gone stale with repetition and new blood is desperately needed. How many times can we see Xavier and Magneto have the same philosophical debate? How many times must we sit through Cyclops’s unabashed douchebaggery? Do we really fucking need another Phoenix saga? The makings of a new franchise—another in universe reboot—have been given to Fox by co-writer/director James Mangold, and it represents an intriguing new possibility for the entire saga.
In this way, it’s truly a passing of the baton. Laura is quickly to become everyone’s new favorite, supplanting even Wolverine himself. Her youth might present a problem for franchise possibility, but that doesn’t stop Keen from being the most interesting thing about any X-Men since…well, ever. What’s truly surprising is how great she is with so little. For at least half the movie she utters no words, emoting instead with just expressions and grunts. Even with just this, she’s easily the greatest character that’s been yet introduced in the entire series.
Meanwhile, she stands toe to toe with our veterans, Jackman and Stewart, both of whom push their signature roles to exciting new places. This feels like the version of Wolverine Jackman has always longed to play, and his two and a quarter hours here justifies the existence of everything that came before it. He’s raw, vulnerable, and intense. Stewart, meanwhile, successfully does what he’s never been able to do—for the first time ever, I looked at him and didn’t see Captain Picard. No, he wholly inhabited this role, and delivers what might be the performance of the year.
As great as they all are, in the end it lands in the lap of Mangold. His is the most solid and interesting perspective on the X-Men that we’ve ever seen cinematically, and Fox would do well to just hand the creative reigns over to him. Shared universes do best under the control of a singular vision—the vast differences between the MCU and the DCEU prove this—and no one but he has gotten this universe right thus far. Not Bryan Singer. Not Simon Kinberg. His is the new gold standard—the Mangold standard, if you will, and I’m not even sorry—to which all X-Men movies should be held.
Even if they don’t hand it over, at least we have Logan, which is as close to perfection as comic book films have yet gotten. Any quibbles I have are minor at worst. It nearly overstays its welcome at 2 hours and 15 minutes; the last act is a bit rushed; there are one or two minor tangents, though even those tangents end up paying off in the long run. Still, even considering all of that, the overall effect is never lessened. Added all up, you’ve still got an amazing cinematic experience that may just end up as one of the best movies of 2017.
Logan is now playing in theaters everywhere.