Let’s just get this much out of the way: Yes, Logan is a really, really good movie. And it’s finally the movie the character deserves.
For most superheroes, for your Captain Americas and your Batmans, an explosion-laden PG-13 summer blockbuster is perfect. Most superheroes are best served by stories where they can punch some villains around a bit and then hand them over to the authorities – or watch, angst-filled, as they oh-so-tragically fall to their deaths.
But Wolverine, who first appeared as a villain for the Hulk, who was one of the original comic book anti-heroes, is not that kind of superhero. With unbreakable metal claws and a healing factor that makes him nearly impossible to kill, his power set is better suited to a slasher movie monster. He’s the best he is at what he does, and what he does is hunt people down and murder them, then struggle with the psychological fallout of being what he is.
By his very nature he’s a hard-R sort of character, and while it hasn’t been too glaring in the ensemble-cast X-Men movies, there’s always been a sense of wrongness to his solo movies, where his ugliest fighting gets cut off-screen and his claws come away magically clean.
With Logan, Hugh Jackman, who has embodied the role for the last 17 years, has finally gotten a movie worthy of his performance. And along with him is Sir Patrick Stewart as a geriatric Charles Xavier, helpless and angry and dangerously senile, giving a performance of his own that reminds us what a shame it is that industry awards turn up their noses at superhero movies.
And then there’s Dafne Keen as Laura, a preteen girl with the same abilities as Logan, down to the adamantium claws that were meant to make him and now her into an unstoppable killing machine. You will believe, in this case, that a little girl can fly into a murderous rage and eviscerate people, because Keen does an incredible job of being a terrifying, near-feral brat.
With the recent trend of video games being lauded for narratives about fatherhood just because so many people playing games are fathers now and think seeing the same old stories in a new medium is somehow deep, it’s easy to be wary that Logan is that kind of story. But Laura is no one’s idealized little girl. This Lone Wolverine’s cub is more Eleven than Ellie, and she doesn’t need protection so much as she needs someone who understands what it’s like to be, well, Wolverine.
In Logan, family isn’t some saccharine thing, it’s loving people even when you hate them. It’s taking care of a girl not because she’s your genetic offspring but because you know you are likely the only person who will ever really understand what she’s going through, and she may very well be the same to you. It’s taking care of a cantankerous old man who can and will accidentally kill people if he doesn’t take his medicine because once upon a time he took care of you. X-Men has always been about found families, but rarely more poignantly and truer than here.
Loganis dark, and it is violent, and it is heartbreaking, and it is easily one of the best Wolverine stories ever told.