In an era when super-heroics dominate the multiplex, Logan manages to offer something unique. For a start, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have been playing these characters for 17 years now, bringing with them the full weight of that history.
Also, Logan is easily the dourest super-hero film in history, surpassing even the Dark Knight trilogy. Characters you’ve seen in previous X-films suited up in spandex and kicking ass are now broken old men, kicking around various dusty locations, looking for an escape. With Jackman and Stewart given material more challenging than the usual comic book biffo, the movie reaches emotional heights previously unseen in the genre.
When superhero films decide to go grim and gritty like this, the outcome can be ludicrously ill-fitting (see last year’s Batman V Superman for a recent example). Logan follows the impulse to its extreme and by compromising nothing, it works. Crucially, character nuance is favoured over whiz-bang set-pieces, and the stakes remain mostly personal.
There are super powers on display but they’re always employed out of desperation. Everyone in Logan is vulnerable, even its previously-invincible hero. The movie is more concerned with the psychological toll of living an endless life, and having pain be a day-to-day part of one’s existence (both giving it and receiving it). Logan keeps moving the goalposts with regard to what is acceptable in a comic book film, with relentlessly graphic violence that reaches horror film levels at certain points, but it’s always there to underline the film’s existential concerns.
Logan provides the tough, adult version of Wolverine that fans have been wanting for a long time, and it earns it not just with blood and f-bombs, but by saying a thoughtful goodbye to a long-lived character with real emotional weight. By the end, the film’s perfect, poignant final image feels incredibly well-earned.