Courtesy 20th Century Fox

‘Logan’—Which Should Be a Snooze-Fest Wolverine Tale—Is Actually One of Marvel’s Best

With surprisingly solid storytelling and unexpected plot points, the X-Men outing excels.

Listen, if your bones were fused with adamantium, if you’d already outlived a normal lifespan, and if your mutant healing factor had weakened lately, you’d be tired, too. Melancholy, even. Such is the state of the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) as we meet him in the latest Marvel movie offering, Logan. Wolverine’s place in the comic-book universe had already been tapped for X-Men spinoffs, and frankly nothing could have sounded less enthralling then another turn with this particular hairy-handed gent. So, anyway: Logan turns out to be not only the best Marvel film since Guardians of the Galaxy, but a gratifying piece of movie storytelling in its own right.

I throw the word “storytelling” in there because so many comic-book films have followed a ramshackle outline of destruction and wisecracks, all squeezed through the straightjacket of fulfilling some larger canvas—pity the poor screenwriter who must make certain an Ant-Man quip doesn’t contradict a past Avengers film or a future Spider-Man installment. Logan is actual storytelling. The film knows it, too: There’s a scene in which the characters sit around watching Shane on TV, and Logan (though it does pay the required heed to X-Men history) indeed has some of the clean storytelling lines of a classic Western.

The film, set some years in the future, finds Wolverine greatly aged and on the run. He lives in secrecy in some sort of Arizona warehouse, along with his bald, gangly mutant pal Caliban (Stephen Merchant, inspired casting). They tend to Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, returning to the role), who is in the early stages of dementia. His formidable telepathic powers, when uncontrollably unleashed, make his brain “a weapon of mass destruction,” so he must receive regular injections. Logan becomes a road movie after our beclawed hero meets a little Hispanic girl (Dafne Keen) with whom he shares an association. Also, bad guys (led by Richard E. Grant and Mad Max-y Boyd Holbrook) are hunting the good guys.

Director James Mangold did The Wolverine, the 2013 chapter of this saga, but Logan is better than that by half. Mangold has always seemed like a smart filmmaker who gets mixed results (I Walk the Line was notably in the plus column), and his pop instincts finally come together here. The screenplay by Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green is written in big pulp flourishes, full of traditional heroes and villains, with death hanging over everything. Wolverine himself, in the classic manner of indestructible outcast protagonists, seems to yearn for the relief of death (Jackman, who can be such a lightweight presence outside this franchise, has never been better). Even the slightly futuristic setting is tossed off in a cool way; it may take you a few moments to realize—during an obligatory highway chase—that the long-haul trucks in the scene are all driver-less. Mangold is freed up by the R rating, which allows for a few startlingly intense scenes of violence—this is not one of those superhero movies where nobody ever hurts.

On paper, the whole thing about Wolverine and the little kid ought to be saccharine and trite. Yet Logan does even this cliché right, folding it into a larger subplot about discarded children trying to migrate across the U.S. border—away from America, as it happens. (Mull that over for a moment: The heroes of a Hollywood blockbuster are fleeing terror by trying to escape America.) And lest that sound like a pulp franchise overreaching for relevance, rest assured that it fits into this film’s grim pulp-fiction universe with ease. The most haunting sequence is Logan’s brief stay with a happy middle-American family, which turns out wretchedly not just because, as Logan says, “Bad things happen to people I care about,” but because something’s messed up in the society at large.

Nobody needs to call Logan a masterpiece. But it’s heartening to see a blockbuster-minded movie this well made, one that ticks all its genre boxes and delivers a potent emotional punch. Maybe the Marvel master plan doesn’t have to be a death spiral after all. Logan, Rated R. Opens Fri., March 3 at various theaters. film@seattleweekly.com

More in Film

Superheroes … so … many … superheroes. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios
‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and the Infinite Cinematic Universe

The overstuffed “climax” of Marvel’s long-running superhero series is undercut by the knowledge that it’ll continue.

The Conquistador Fever Dream of ‘Zama’

The Argentinian film follows a hapless cog of colonialism disorientingly seeking escape.

Joaquin Phoenix in Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here. Photo by Alison Cohen Rosa/Amazon Studios
‘You Were Never Really Here’ and the Unsmooth Criminal

Joaquin Phoenix captivates as a disheveled hitman in Lynne Ramsay’s hypnotic thriller.

James McAvoy and Alicia Vikander deal with a long-distance romance 
in Submergence. Courtesy Samuel Goldwyn Films
That Underwater Feeling

Wim Wenders fails to return to form in the distant drama ‘Submergence.’

Edie Falco delivers an award-worthy performance in Outside In.
Photo by Nathan M. Miller
Second Chances in Snohomish

Edie Falco commands the screen in Lynn Shelton’s ‘Outside In.’

Players engage in battle in the OASIS, the virtual-reality universe of ‘Ready Player One.’ Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
Fully Nerding Out

Steven Spielberg’s ‘Ready Player One’ delivers an occasionally thrilling VR pop culture overload.

Old Dog, Same Tricks

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs shows why his style is suited for animation, even if still overbearing.

Nick Robinson stars in Love, Simon. 
Photo by Ben Rothstein/Twentieth Century Fox
Simon, Are You Queer?

‘Love, Simon’ plays off ’90s tropes for its simple—but groundbreaking—gay high school story.

Photo by Nicola Dove/IFC Films
The Scathing Commie-dy of ‘The Death of Stalin’

Armando Iannucci’s latest film provides razor sharp pseudo-historical satire.

Stanley Tucci and Addison Timlin get too close in Submission. Courtesy Great Point Media/Paladin
Unlearned Lessons

While Stanley Tucci shines, ‘Submission’ feels uncomfortably pre-#MeToo.

Cillian Murphy joins <em>The Party</em>. Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
Don’t Want ‘The Party’ to End

Wickedly witty characters drive Sally Potter’s latest film.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
The Trans-cendent ‘A Fantastic Woman’

The brilliant Chilean Oscar nominee actually lets a strong trans person play a lead trans role.