4/10 After 17 years and nine movies, comic book die-hards are finally getting the Logan they always wanted — the warrior-poet who curses like a sailor as he graphically dismembers other characters, barely in control of his feral rage.
Too bad he’s too old to do any of that.
In Logan, mutants suddenly stopped being born years ago, and by 2029, they are all but extinct. Logan (Hugh Jackman) works as a limo driver in El Paso, Texas, to take care of a dementia-stricken Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Unable to escape his violent past, Logan is sought out to protect Laura (Dafne Keen), a young clone/child of him, from Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his band of cybernetically enhanced Reavers.
Logan is a wonderful story at its core, full of avenues to explore its characters in their final adventure and make something truly unforgettable. Writer/director James Mangold and his team ignore them and instead focus on taking the story’s superficial elements way, way overboard. There are several threads running through the movie that get this treatment, but the best example is its rated R elements.
It’s a huge deal that they were allowed to make Logan rated R. For almost 20 years, studios would only make PG-13 superhero movies because they were afraid that with an R rating their primary audience couldn’t get in the door. That was completely dispelled last year with Deadpool’s runaway success, and Jackman still had to take a paycut to make Fox feel better about it.
But after all that to allow the movie to have blood effects and cursing, they feel weird and out-of-place. Deadpool’s R-rated elements were central to its tone and concept, and a PG-13 version would be a fundamentally different film. But a PG-13 edit of Logan wouldn’t lose much. It would be a very different edit — blood spatters and f-bombs do abound — but they don’t mean much to the movie.
After eight films of his language being filtered for teenagers, it turns out this version of Logan curses like a 14-year old trying to show daddy he’s all grown up. Instead of using the expanded vocabulary to enhance and layer the dialogue, he’s given an unintelligible vomit of four-letter words.
This feeds into Jackman’s overacting of Logan as a cripple, another way the movie consistently goes overboard. Jackman gesticulates more and more wildly as his character gets more beaten up to visualize that his healing factor is wearing down, but it’s more distracting than anything else.
It also calls into question the movie’s appeal — the “Wolverine finally unleashed” angle, supported by the R rating, and the “Wolverine is old and decrepit” angle. You can’t really do both at once, at least not to the degree the movie goes for. If they’d simply dialed Jackman back and thrown in some close-ups of his wounds taking their time to heal, it would have been a much stronger film.
Riffing on a well-established character like this calls for a gentle touch. Change only a couple elements of his personality and shape the script around those changes. Logan’s biggest conceptual failure is, instead of watching a character we’ve followed for the better part of 20 years finally unleashed and/or finally get old, it feels like we’re watching a completely different person. Xavier barely resembles his incarnations in previous movies as well.
These conceptual failures are cut with several elementary technical and tonal flaws. There’s a moment in the climax where part of the sound cuts out, a gaff that would be mortifying in a Youtube video, and there’s the distinct Children of the Corn vibe the movie gets into later on, but the real pattern is Logan has no earthly idea how to introduce its characters.
Pierce introduces himself with an agonizing monologue before the movie finds its legs, then becomes a completely disposable character. The real big bad, Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) is introduced with a super close-up in a scene of expository dialogue that seems to have already started when the camera gets there. This is the movie’s central antagonist, and we don’t get to see what his hair looks like until later.
The same thing happens with X-24 (a digitally enhanced Hugh Jackman), a perfect clone of Logan and the dictionary definition of a producer having a bad idea. He’s introduced in a scene where he could just as easily be Logan or in some kind of dream sequence, and it takes the movie a minute or two to make clear what the characters already know.
There were rumors that Liev Schreiber would reprise his role as Sabertooth, Logan’s traditional rival, and that would have been neat. Instead, we have Wolverine fighting a clone of himself, and it’s kind of dumb.
It’s wonderful that this movie exists and that the restrictions holding it back were lifted, but this isn’t the movie that Deadpool cleared the way for, that fans have been drooling over for months or that Jackman took a paycut for. Logan feels much more like an expensive knockoff of the movie it could have been.
It’s an opportunity moviemakers never thought they’d have, and one that will never come again with this cast. They missed it.
Leopold Knopp is a professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, syndicated columnist at the Lewisville Texan Journal and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.