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Comics on Film: The 'X-Men' Franchise Finds its 'Dark Knight' in 'Loga…

The X-Men film franchise is the original innovator of the modern superhero film, since it was the 2000 film directed by Bryan Singer that served as the most visible catalyst for the explosion of comics-based films in the early 21st century. While several franchises have come and gone and come again in the form of original films and reboots, the X-Men series has been vigorously – or perhaps stubbornly – devoted to the idea of maintaining the film series for as long as possible.

Regardless of where the continuity of the film series has gone over the past seventeen years, there has always been one primary constant throughout the entire series: Wolverine, as played by Hugh Jackman. When the 6’2″ Australian actor was first cast as the scrappy mutant who stands at 5’4″ in the comics, fan reaction was mixed. Then, in the summer of 2000, they saw that Jackman was, arguably, the best cast superhero character in modern cinematic history, with this column’s 2014 tabulation of the best superhero casting choices bringing him only second to Christopher Reeve’s genre-defining turn as Superman in the 1970’s and 80’s.

This weekend, fans of comics and comics-based movies worldwide will be forced to say goodbye to Jackman as the Marvel Comics icon in the form of director James Mangold’s Logan, bringing back a familiar face from prior entries in the series in addition to some highly anticipated new additions. Because of the fact that Jackman has stated this will be his final turn as the iconic Weapon X, an immense amount of pressure is put on the shoulders of Logan as an appropriate “goodbye” to one of the single best cinematic portrayals of any comic book character.

So…does it deliver? In the opinion of Comics on Film, Logan proves to be a worthy requiem for the title character, and a film that transcends the genre of comics adaptations. Quite simply, the X-Men franchise now has its Dark Knight.

By making that direct comparison, the only real idea we’re trying to push forward is that, for all intents and purposes, Logan transcends the typical trappings of the comic book adaptation by staying true to the source material where appropriate, but while also standing firmly on its own merits as a good film, period. Sure, you’ll get a little more out of Logan if you’re familiar with the likes of Donald Pierce as the White Bishop of the Hellfire Club, Caliban, and X-23, but chances are you’ve seen at least one X-Men movie before where Logan himself was a prominent player. That’s really the only history you need to be aware of to be able to jump onboard the story of this new film. Previous familiarity with the comics will just provide a further emotional investment on top of the very effective one already provided by the characters as we see them here.

Where Logan truly shines, though, is as a terrific example of what a film with these fantastical characters can be. Very much like The Dark Knight was a showcase of powerful performances and impeccable film construction while also being a comic book movie, Logan is a similarly focused character piece, though on a smaller scale than Christopher Nolan’s Batman offerings. The intimacy of the character relationships between Logan, Professor X (played by a returning Patrick Stewart), and Laura (played by newcomer Dafne Keen) give a great sense of a new family being created, and while the film is far from a feel-good piece of cinema, there’s a piercing beam of light through the center because of the creation of this new ad-hoc family.

Hugh Jackman’s portrayal this time, much like the movie that surrounds him, is more tempered. Where before we would always revel in those awesome, ass-kicking moments that saw Wolverine lay waste to a roomful of enemies, the character here most certainly has more weight on his shoulders, a heavier sense of responsibility from his years of pain and loss, but a sense of duty that he simply cannot resist, no matter how much much he may try to. Also startling is the film’s vision of the near-future, which may hit home in a surprising way for a number of viewers in how it seems to accurately extrapolate from some surprisingly recent events.

Still, as much as this is Jackman’s movie and our chance to say goodbye to his vision of Wolverine, this may also just as much be new character Laura’s film, because she steals the show in a lot of places.

Young Spanish actress Dafne Keen is almost distractingly perfect for the part she plays here, and I wish I could tell you why without getting into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that if you’re familiar with her character from the source material, it will become very apparent to you a little more quickly than some of the members of the general audience. She has a calm, but disquieting aura of ferocity about her that’s wonderfully broken up by director Mangold in the scenes where he chooses to once again focus on the familial aspect of the film. Still, you get the sense pretty quickly that Laura’s capability for…well, effective behavior is always bubbling just below the surface, even when she’s simply sitting in the passenger seat of a truck and looking out the window through her pink-framed sunglasses.

Patrick Stewart’s return as Charles Xavier, while familiar, is also very different when compared to each of his previous turns as the leader of the X-Men. Much like other aspects of the film, Stewart was given more license to inject a bit more of himself into what we’re already familiar with from the good professor, and if this turns into his final entry in the X-Men franchise along with Jackman’s, then it’s a solid performance to pair with his final curtain in the series. While the villains of the piece are a little more forgettable, that seems forgivable here just because this is our opportunity to bid farewell to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. He should be the film’s primary focus, and he most certainly is.

By the time the credits rolled, this reviewer couldn’t help but have a profoundly bittersweet feeling. Is this a classic Wolverine movie in the sense of being overtly recognizable to the character from the comics? No, not exactly. Is it definitive for the cinematic version of the character? Given what we’ve seen from this universe so far, that’s a far easier yes. A surprisingly intimate character study while also serving as a memorable final bow for Hugh Jackman in this part, Logan finds the right balance of fidelity to the cores of who these characters are while never losing sight of the fact that this is a character the world has fallen in love with, not just comic book fans. This version of the character is one who belongs to us all, and gives us a great opportunity to say goodbye.

Because of that, it’s easy to view Logan with appeciation from virtually all viewing angles: as a comic book fan, as a movie fan, and as both. It’s hard to imagine anyone else taking up the claws of the X-Men’s most popular mutant, but it’s also hard to ignore that Jackman has certainly elected to go out with a memorable bang.

For seventeen years of playing one character and in trying to encapsulate the gratitude I feel as a fan of Jackman’s portrayal and of the character so many fans first fell in love with on the page or in animation, the best compliment that can likely be paid is one Wolverine himself might give…

“Not bad, bub.”

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