In sports, they are referred to as grizzled veterans. In Hollywood, they are usually labeled as washed up and past their prime. When it comes to Hugh Jackman’s 17-year run playing the superhero character Wolverine on the big screen, he falls into the former, and not the latter. Unlike many athletes however, his physique literally improved with age, as his muscles and veins seemed to increase in mass in accordance to his expanding role with each subsequent X-Men picture.
Anatomical perfection aside, sadly, Jackman has made it clear he’s officially putting his claws into retirement with 20th Century Fox’s release of Logan. Per his own words, uttered in that charming Australian accent, Logan will be the last time we see the venerable actor don the muttonchops originally made famous in Marvel’s comic books.
Before I give my own heartfelt tribute to the man behind the hairy chiseled chest, I’ll give you my not-so-brief (SPOILER FREE!) thoughts on what many Marvel mutant fans are calling one of the best X-Men movies, if not one of the best comic-book superhero movies made, to date. Those are some cutting proclamations, so let’s claw our way through it now, shall we? Keeping with this positive start, I’m going to first dive into what makes this specific superhero flick so cinematically different than its predecessors.
Comic Book Film or Something Else Entirely?
For lack of a better overused descriptor, Logan is unlike any other film based on a comic book character you’ll ever see. Contrasting from the brightly colored and highly stylized adaptions that Marvel and DC usually put on screen, Logan comes off as very dark and incredibly gritty. I could literally taste the dust in my mouth while watching it (although my first inclination is to blame the burnt popcorn from the concession stand.) More importantly, the film wasn’t dark and broody for the sake of being dark and broody (ala The Dark Knight or Man of Steel). Being dark and serious is easy, but when you ground that in the reality of everyday life, that’s where the connection with the audience is formed.
This is most notable during the beginning when Logan is trying to scrape by with his Limo service for hire. Seeing people with ultra-abilities like Wolverine and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) struggle to survive, make them feel more human than they’ve ever been portrayed on screen prior. It allows the audience to sympathize with the characters on a much more personal level. Speaking of real, major props to the top-notch makeup crew whom finally managed to make Patrick Stewart look closer to his actual age than the fountain-of-youth-finding actor looks outside of the movie studio. Also gone from prior X-Men films are the over-cooked CGI scenes of the world being destroyed brick by brick. They are instead replaced by the images of good old fashion car chases and fisticuffs on farm property. To say it was a nice change of pace, especially in an X-Men movie, would be an understatement of blockbuster proportions.
Welcome to the Wild Wild X-Fest
From the dry arid desert setting of Texas to the rural farmlands of Oklahoma, Logan has a very western genre feel to it. This is no accident either. In fact, the classic western film Shane is referenced often and used as an underlying theme of the story, not to mention as an undercurrent of inner struggles that Logan has fought his entire (cinematic) life. Logan, both the film and the character, have very old-school Clint Eastwood vibes as well, which again, was done purposely. As a huge fan of westerns, I absolutely loved how the theme was intertwined into this specific storyline. It may be the closest thing we get to a western style superhero genre on the big screen, ever.
Some things you might not know (and some you might) about the man who gives Freddy Kruger Nightmares.
X Marks the Nostalgia
For all the dark, bloody, depressing grittiness of Logan, the film never loses site of what it is, a story about a pop culture comic book icon. Be it with self-referencing comic-books, nods to past characters and storylines, dolls, facial hair, and a few other Easter eggs I won’t ruin, time and time again, Logan finds a way to subtlety lets us know we are still watching a film about an uber-popular X-Men character. Most are not hit-you-over-the-head with anvil type references, which are the best type since they don’t pull the audience out of the movie itself.
Rated R for Ravenous
Since the success of Deadpool, Fox Studio executives feel like they are have found the next big trend in Hollywood; the rated R superhero movie. The formula worked well for the red-suited fourth-wall breaker, so why not give it a go with a character not known for being a Mr. Nice Guy, in or out of the suit. Hell, Hugh Jackman even took a pay cut to get the R rating to help offset the loss in revenue a more restricted rating would have on the box office take. Major kudos for an actor willing to do that in order to produce a potentially better and more creative final product.
In general, the less kid-friendly rating allowed for the more accurate true-to-life depiction of our world – albeit a few decades in the future – and how mutant characters are surviving in it. This includes but is not limited to stronger language, more graphic fight scenes, and in turn, bathtubs full of blood. At one point in the film, Logan even makes a few self-referential comments when he’s talking about his young companion’s X-Men comic books. One scene that comes to mind occurs when he proclaims, and I’m paraphrasing, “comic books aren’t real life; in real life people die”. Oh, and based on initial box office numbers, Jackman may not have needed to take a pay cut when all is said and done.
With that said, unfortunately I also felt that Logan’s R rating contributed to one of my minor misgivings of the flick. Curious as to why? You’ll just have to read through what I felt were the movie’s shortcomings below.
Rated R for Redundant… Cussing
Look, I get it. In addition to being able to showcase more decapitations per hour than a deep sea fishing gutting service, an R rating allows writers to throw in as many F-bombs into a script regardless of how many times their word processor claims they have a used a repeated word. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. Call me a crotchety and old fashioned (no really, feel free), but am I really one of the only people left on the planet that doesn’t think that using the historically repugnant four-letter f-word as both the adjective and the noun in every sentence is a necessary tool in parlaying a not-so-swell situation? In its entirety, Logan isn’t that vile, so please don’t send me word counts of how many cuss words there were in this movie versus every other one ever made. And yes, I understand that these once forbidden words I speak of are now aplomb and accepted more widely in our culture these days.
However, my point is simply there is a time and a place for them, but more importantly, they can be overused. At first, I was quite taken back when I heard Professor Charles Xavier drop an F-bomb in the flick. However, given the circumstances, I provided some leeway. However, when I heard the word come out of his mouth on several other occasions, it quite literally pulled me out of the moment because I was thinking too much about it. Would Professor X ever talk like this? Ever? From what I know of the character in the comics and on screen, the raw language just seemed too jarring and out of character. As for Logan himself, he was even more liberal with is use of the F-word, however based on his character, Jackman’s use wasn’t quite so unnerving. That is until he over used it. This slight is going to be subjective for many, and I’ll admit to probably being in the minority. Again, it’s not that all of the sudden I’m sensitive to hearing the words, it’s more about the application and quantity.
R is also for Runtime
Just like my above rant on the overuse of foul language, Logan felt as if it went on a little longer than it should have. At 2 hours and 21 minutes, it’s no Titanic, but it’s also no Saturday morning cartoon. I guess Jackman wanted to milk every last minute the studio would let him being it was his last foray as Wolverine. I don’t blame the guy, but as I sat in my semi comfortable theater seat, there were several instances I looked at my watch to see what day it was. As mentioned a mile or so above, this is indeed a different breed of comic book movie. While there are some great action sequences, it is a character driven flick first, and it doesn’t speed along quite as quickly as past X-Men films. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but my bladder and I couldn’t help but feel things could have been tightened up a bit in the storytelling department.
Right in the Feels, Kinda
Being the dark, gritty, somewhat depressing picture that Logan is, it swings for the fences when it comes to the events which should result in some of the film’s most tear-jerking moments. Without spoiling anything (as I refuse to do so for those whom have yet to see it), regrettably, Logan falls a bit short in a few of those attempts to hit the audience in the proverbial “feels”. It’s hard to explain why without going into detail, but for me it had to do with the pacing of the scenes. The movie almost didn’t let the audience (me in particular) catch its breath while in turn asking them to also absorb the emotional ramifications of what just happened. For what it’s worth however, all involved nail it in the finale, and ultimately that is what matters most. Nevertheless, I felt the film could have had a much deeper impact had the pacing of specific scenes been handled differently. Granted, a second viewing could always change my perspective.
Timelines? We Don’t Need no Stinkin’ Timelines!
As has been the complaint over the past few years, Fox has done the X-Men fanbase no favors in trying to even pretend how all of the different timelines and universes within the film franchise connect with each other. Regrettably, Logan is no exception. While there are, for which I stated above, some references to past events in prior movies, there is also new information revealed that puts this film somewhere out in left field by itself. If you are one of those brave, but unfortunate souls who desperately need to somehow link this installment into the X universe so it all makes perfect sense, I have some ocean front property in Arizona I’d like to sell you. On the other hand, if you’re able to take in this movie as more of a standalone with loose connections to the last Wolverine film, then you will be able to enjoy it to the fullest extent.
As a sum of its parts, Logan is easily the best X-Men film entry Jackman has ever participated in, and possibly one of the best X-Men films thus far. However, I say it with some hesitance in that it’s so vastly different than any other X-Men related and superhero film in general, it would almost be like comparing apples to lobster bisque.
A legacy etched in stone… with adamantium claws.
One thing that is for certain, Hugh Jackman is and will always be (until the inevitable and unwanted reboot), Wolverine. Despite the unevenness of past X-Men and Wolverine flicks, without a doubt the best and most consistent element in each one was Jackman’s embodiment of the character Logan. Like Christopher Reeves portrayal of Superman, Jackman brought the adamantium-clawed X-Men to life like he walked right off the printing press. To further add to his allure, if you’ve seen the Australian actor surprise sick children – who are Wolverine fans – with an impromptu visit, you’ll come to appreciate the fact he is even more of a superhero off camera, without special effects.
Hugh Jackman using his Celebrity powers for good.
From the look to the personality, to the inner conflict, Jackman embodied Logan to perfection for 17 years. It’s a passion for a role many actors would tire at and refuse to do for half that time, but he embraced and appreciated the opportunity, even taking a pay cut to make sure his final farewell was a special one for him and the fans. If only we could infuse some of Wolverine’s original trait of immortality into Hugh Jackman, he could perform the role of Logan forever. Fortunately, in the minds of most fans, myself included, he will no matter what.
A Tribute video 17 years in the making.
(Thanks to Yoko Higuchi for putting this together.)