Spoilers.

James Mangold, director of “Logan,” made several remarks recently detailing his dissatisfaction with Marvel’s Avengers and its many offshoots. Essentially, he described movies that he sees as two hour trailers for upcoming sequels, prequels and the never-ending trail of blockbusters that fail on an important level according to Mangold: characterization.

Characterization is only barely developed according to Mangold. Each character in the overpacked Marvel universe is given a few minutes to have an arc and no defined progress of character is established. Most audiences might be able to put up with this for continuous action and quips, but many get sick of it.

“Logan” is unique among the Marvel movies in that it spends much of the movie building arcs for Logan, Professor X and Laura, while establishing a Western setting and brutal violence as drivers of the post-apocalyptic world. Most superhero movies never come this close to emotional and intellectual engagement. The only other ones I can name in the Marvel universe having done the same are “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Iron Man,” which have very original stories and styles. 

Wolverine is a character who has passed through many dark times. He’s more than 150 years old and in the comics continually faces one depressing event after another. Since X-Men came onto the scene 17 years ago, it has been an inconsistent series. That said, Wolverine is the strongest part of it, especially Hugh Jackman, who’s put a lot into developing “Logan” and giving viewers a dependable hero even when other parts of the movies were faulting. I like a lot of the X-Men movies, but “Logan” is the best.

In the opening scene, we open on a tired Wolverine. He’s physically and emotionally at his end. As a limousine driver on the American-Mexican border, he’s dying before us. He’s spending time saving money for an escape to the ocean with Professor X, a mentor and beloved friend, and drinking until the pain which can never fade will pass in a death that can never come. Wolverine hates himself. Almost all of those he’s loved are dead. Until, someone who’s very much like himself shows up.

Laura, a young girl with a knack for clawing up bad guys and not talking too much, shows up at Logan’s hideout. Logan is having none of it. When the movie’s villain, Pierce, shows up Logan has but no choice to help Laura to get to the Canadian border through a dangerous American landscape.

The emotional aspects of this film are by far its strongest attributes. The relationship between Logan and Professor X, or “Professor,” as Logan refers to him, is like that of father and son. Professor X is ailed by some type of dementia which causes his powers to get out of whack and Logan drinks copiously while trying to ignore his friend’s perceptive psychological insights.

This tension builds until Professor X dies brutally and abruptly. Wolverine’s reaction encapsulates everything about their long journey together. Their  mixed feelings, the never ending violence and the hope for some type of renewal at the end. 

Laura is rather quiet for the first two acts of the film. It isn’t until Professor X dies, that she starts speaking. Before that, Logan and Laura are mostly a killing duo, having some of the best action sequences of any superhero movie since “The Dark Knight.” It is brutal violence, with lots of limbs lost, but the fury is felt and earned. While “Logan” doesn’t do anything technically original, its investment in character pays off when they’re fighting and audiences are engaged. It isn’t until Logan must rely on Laura for strength, that they both learn things about themselves. Logan is found to be Laura’s biological father, giving him a sense of purpose and she finds a hero. Logan dying at the end, gives both of them a peace each had been looking for.

I haven’t gotten into the deeper plot points and each character, but I feel like I hit upon what stayed with me. At the end of a good movie, if characters and scenes stay with you afterward and you walk out transformed, then the movie succeeded. I know it’s just a superhero movie, but it hit me close. I connected with it. And art, above all is supposed to speak to us. Not many blockbusters do that anymore, but I was genuinely surprised by this one.

Notes:

The end song is “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash and it was a brilliant choice. Very apocalyptic.   

Pierce, while not a great villain, is much better than many other ones Marvel has produced. He acts very realistically in the brutal environment surrounding him.

I hope Hugh Jackman doesn’t reprise his role as Wolverine. He’s great, but this should be the end for Jackman. That said, I can’t think of an actor who could replace him.