Logan ★★★★½

I'm torn about Logan in that I love its aspirations even as there's something about the flaws in its execution that keep it from being the film I think both I and its creators want it to be. It's achingly bleak and sad, giving us a weary version of these characters we've never seen before, but one that is the logical conclusion of them.

The theme of legacy is woven through Logan. Charles Xavier, the most powerful mind in the world, but still a person whose mind will crumble. Logan, an endless lifetime of pain who leaves a trail of dead wherever he goes. When we catch up with Logan he is driving a limo, trying to leave the old life behind but, of course, unable to. The reluctant father figure he must be to one of the last remaining mutants makes for a great character exploration of Logan and the inherent conflict in his nature: can one be nurturing and inherently violent at the same time? This has always been Logan's curse, one that he's known about and the reason he has spent his life being afraid to get close to people. We've seen it over the course of several films now, and Hugh Jackman embodies that pain so well.

The young girl, Laura, the product of similar experiments that created Wolverine, gives us an interesting mirror to Logan, someone for whom violence is ingrained in her DNA from birth. The scientist behind the project says that you need to design them without a conscience to create a proper killing machine, but that's not entirely true. The violence that Laura (and Logan) leave in their wakes aren't done without a conscience, and neither are they learned behaviours. There's something about it that comes naturally to them even as both of them suffer with having done it.

"I've hurt people."
"You'd better get used to that."
"They were bad people."

Using violence in a defensive, utilitarian way, or even "for good" doesn't make it any less horrifying, as this film's necessary R-rating demonstrates. For the first time, a depiction of Wolverine's actions shows us what his claws would actually do to human bodies. It's also the first time an X-Men film doesn't make those actions "fun" to watch. With the exception of a car chase sequence that doesn't really involve the claws at all, the set pieces in this movie are choreographed not to be enjoyed, but to be brutal, to make us think about them.

Logan feels unlike any Marvel film so far, less X-Men and more Unforgiven or A History of Violence. It wears its western influences explicitly, even too explicitly at times. It also forces us to reckon with the passing of time in ways superhero films rarely do. It drops us into a future world where the heroes we came to know and love have all gone away. We're told from the start that Logan is dying, poisoned from the inside out, and for the first time we see him struggle, both to endure and to deliver violence.

It's such a well-characterised send-off to the Jackman incarnation of Wolverine that it's hard to fault the film. It's small, and its stakes are low, but that is what makes it so beautiful. It also has a lot of narrative problems that keep it from being truly great. The plot feels slapdash and awkwardly-exposited, with a cardboard antagonist and problematic staging of certain key set pieces. But the performances from Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, and Hugh Jackman are so good it's easy to get lost in them, in their pain, and the other stuff doesn't seem to matter as much. It's short of a masterpiece, but certainly the best Wolverine film and one of the best X-Men films.