When the box office receipts for Deadpool—a cheerfully blood-splattered and snarky comic book romp that turned out to be a surprisingly massive hit—came in, Logan was precisely the kind of movie I was worried about. Deadpool had countless dismemberings and decapitations, and enough people being shot in the face to make John Wick jealous, but it was all giddily over-the-top, a fanboy wank job, a bunch of nerds making the silliest, bloodiest movie they could because the stakes were so low. Once Deadpool became a certified success story, however, the takeaway many had was not “make your comic book movies more fun” but instead “you can make your comic book movies insanely violent now, they can financially survive the R-rating.” And thus we have Logan.
Logan is the tenth and presumably final run for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, the rogue warrior who sometimes fights with the X-Men, but mostly just seems so angry that, given his druthers, he’d happily rip apart everyone in sight with his retractable knives/claws. And Logan is, mostly, the movie that finally allows us to watch him do that. In previous Wolverine movies, the blood is mostly off-screen; we pan away when we see Wolverine attack and are left to assume the worst. Not here. Here, Wolverine chops dudes’ heads off, and cuts them in half, and screams in ecstasy as flesh parts way with bone. He also says “fuck” a lot, another thing he couldn’t do in the X-Men’s PG-13 universe. So ... yay?
Worse, Logan wraps all this supposedly exciting ultraviolence in yet another tortured, “gritty” superhero story. This is yet another comic book movie that is so self-involved and obsessed with its character’s suffering that you want to open a window, or have the protagonist watch a Marx brothers movie or something.
We’re in the year 2029, and the mournful Logan is now an alcoholic limo driver who tries to stay out of fights (you’ll be surprised to learn he finds some anyway). He takes care of the increasingly frail Professor X (Patrick Stewart, also playing the character for the final time), now a reeling old man who cannot control his powers without the medication that Logan steals for him. The X-Men are done, the academy has closed, everyone’s on the run and unhappy.
Salvation comes in the form of a girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who mysteriously seems to have many of the same powers as Logan and, perhaps less mysteriously, has a shady global scientific corporation attempting to track her movements. The aging superheroes, in need of some sort of late-in-life penance and a way to revive their past work and glories, end up both protecting and teaming up with Laura to stave off … well, whatever those baddies are up to. (They are led by Richard E. Grant, who has been pleasant to have back around lately.)
This is all fine, and nothing we haven’t seen in countless other superhero movies. (The evil scientists must be cloning themselves, because there are enough of them to populate every one of these films.) But the difference here, in addition to the violence, is the mournful tone that director James Mangold brings to the proceedings. Mangold directed the successful 2013 pseudo-reboot The Wolverine, and gave the movie just enough manufactured darkness to make it different from the candy-colored world of Bryan Singer’s X-Men series. He doubles down on that here: Everything in this movie is dark and rainy and sad. Logan’s sad, Professor X is dying, the fields are decaying, the world is falling apart. Call it the Cormac McCarthy Extended Cinematic Universe.
Which would be fine if the movie had the lyricism of McCarthy, or even the lyricism of The LEGO Batman Movie. The movie is dark for darkness’s sake: A lot of Nine Inch Nails songs are played slowly to set the atmosphere. After a while, with all that relentless drudgery and, oh yes, all the maimings, it becomes a bit much. I found myself sort of wanting this dialed back to PG-13. Somebody turn a light on in here, anyway.
Jackman is a skilled actor who has played this character many times. It’s clear he enjoys playing up the misery in his performance, maybe because he knows this is the last time he’ll get the chance. He gets his story arc, and his redemption arc, and his big Last Time I’m Playing This Character moment. And the movie isn’t bad, exactly: Mangold is effective in creating this crumbling world and getting us to, perhaps in spite of ourselves, follow these guys into battle one more time.
But the weariness of the characters can’t help but weigh on the audience. It’s all just so violent and morose and dark beige. If this is the direction all of this is going—the large-scale visual and emotional gruntery of Batman v. Superman combined with the ultraviolence of Deadpool—well, someone please stop this ride because I would like to get off.
Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly for the New Republic and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site