'Logan' (2017)/Directed by James Mangold/Grade: A+
I know I named The Dark Knight (2008) as my favorite comic book movie of all time, but this is a very, very close second. Taking place years after mutants are almost extinct- at least, that's what we're led to believe at the beginning- Logan (a never-better Hugh Jackman) lives on the outskirts of Mexico with the ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and a loyal-but-worried friend named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), making money as a limo driver. However, not only is he not as powerful a mutant as he used to be at 170 years old, but the adamantium inside him is slowly killing him by the day.
When a troubled woman named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) unexpectedly shows up and entrusts Logan to escort her daughter Laura (Dafne Keen, in her stunning debut performance) to a place called Eden, where the remaining mutants still alive supposedly reside. While initially only agreeing to do it for the money, both Logan and Laura find themselves on the run from a nefarious group known as The Reavers, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, so good you hate him for it), who are out to exterminate what's left of the mutant race.
One reason that this movie just instantly grabbed me was its action. This was the first, and remains the only, R-rated film in the X-Men series, and it definitely earned it. Directed with a gritty, unflinching intensity by James Mangold (Walk the Line, Girl, Interrupted), people don't just die, they die painfully and bloodily. No one gets hurt without the film depicting the full extent of their injuries. But Mangold isn't content to merely showcase a lot of gory violence; that'd be sadistic. He, as well as cowriters Scott Frank, Michael Green, and editors Michael McCusker and Dirk Westervelt, take precious time throughout the first third to establish the characters. More importantly, they flesh out how far our beloved characters have fallen in life, so that when the action inevitably starts, every fight or chase is filled with a sense of sheer urgency, as if these people could die at any moment. There isn't a single action sequence here that I don't vividly recall, and I still remember how on the edge of my seat I was seeing this in the theater at seventeen.
That you care so much about the characters is also bolstered by the immaculate performances. Hugh Jackman, as previously stated, gave his best performance as Logan/Wolverine. Because he was given much more to work with this time around than in previous entries to the series, and because I got to know Logan much better, he felt like a real person grappling with not only his looming mortality, but also with years' worth of loss and regret. Even the fact that he had adamantium claws couldn't distract from how grounded and human he was. Jackman reflected that in every painful twinge, every line delivery, every solemn look. One scene, where Laura converses with Logan about a nightmare he just had, had me weeping at the cinema.
Speaking of Laura, Dafne Keen flat-out crushed it. Though this character didn't speak much at first, and had quite an air of mystery about her, she gradually revealed herself to be a much more curious, sad, tough personality. The character also had a surprising connection to Wolverine, but I won't give that away if you haven't seen the movie. She also was portrayed, rightfully, like a real kid too, never feeling like she was behaving unrealistically for her age, or too strong beyond her years. She had to grow and evolve in her maturity, a truth about growing up that Keen captured marvelously.
Boyd Holbrook was also fantastic as Donald Pierce. From the get-go, he demonstrated a strong sense of confidence and charisma, pulling me in. As the events progressed, and I saw how cruel and sadistic he really was, he became a character I couldn't look away from, even though I despised him. That was entirely due to Holbrook, who chewed on every line like it was the best-tasting breakfast he'd ever had.
I also appreciated the pacing of this movie, which was much more slowed-down and meditative than a lot of superhero movies I'd seen. Part of that is the editing, but it's also the screenplay and direction. And because the editors, writers, and director are all taking their time to let us into these characters' inner lives, so does the cinematography, beautifully lensed by John Mathieson (Gladiator, Hannibal). While the camerawork and angles are understandably quite kinetic throughout the action sequences, it's most often very contemplative. No matter what angle or movement is being used, not only does it capture the characters' thoughts and emotions quite well, but it simply regards them. It doesn't force-feed us how to feel about the situation.
What else can I really say about this movie, other than the fact that it had brilliant technical aspects, incredibly strong storytelling and character development, and outstanding performances? I can say that when I first saw it, it not only involved me more than the majority of superhero films (and that's saying a lot, as a fan of the genre), it instantly became one of the best comic book movies I had ever seen, as well as one of the top three best of 2017 for me. Six years after its release, those assessments all still hold true. Definitely give it a shot, even if you don't ordinarily watch these types of movies.