(We went to see this together, but honestly, my entire enjoyment and opinion of this film hinged on hers. She’s passionate about Laura in a way that most people aren’t passionate about anything. So I’m just letting her take this one.)
I’ve been an X-Men fan for almost ten years. I’ve read hundreds of the comics, watched all three cartoons, and have seen all but two of the movies. (I skipped The Wolverine because the first one was so bad, and Apocalypse because all it was going to do was make me rage.) At this point, I probably have a better working knowledge of the X-Men mythos than 80% of the population, and I haven’t even read any direct X-Men comics in a couple years. So it’s been personally painful to watch the movies devolve into what they’ve become, after X-Men was a decent setup movie and X2 was a solid if flawed adaptation of the spirit of the comics. I swore off the movies forever, after hearing about all the ridiculous issues with Apocalypse. But then they released the teaser poster for Logan.
I’d been dreading this movie for over a year. The tiny hand holding Logan’s either meant one of two things: Daken, his biological son via his Japanese wife Itsu, and a character which I have deep-seated contempt for, or X-23/Laura Kinney.
X-23 is similar to Harley Quinn in that she was first introduced in an animated series (X-Men: Evolution and Batman: The Animated Series respectively), but both proved so popular with fans that they crossed over into comics canon and have had multiple ongoing series featuring them. X-23 was first introduced in a miniseries called NYX, then later had two miniseries entitled Innocence Lost and Target X. The most basic explanation for her creation in the comics is that she is the result of the attempt to repeat the success of Weapon X, the program that enhanced Wolverine. A group of scientists attempted to create a clone of Wolverine, but after 22 attempts and non-viable embryos they ran out of Y chromosome. (I know, I know, just roll with it, comics are stupid.) Finally, on the 23rd attempt, they create an embryo with two X chromosomes and have one of the scientists, Sarah Kinney, carry and deliver it. X-23 was born with two bone claws on her hands and one claw on both her feet, and they coat her bones with adamantium just like Wolverine’s and begin to train her to be a living weapon. Sarah Kinney works closely with her, secretly names her Laura, and helps her to connect with her humanity. Eventually Laura breaks out and destroys the facility as she escapes, but accidentally kills Sarah in the process. Target X is about her attempts to connect with her biological family, first Sarah’s sister and niece and then Logan himself.
I read Innocence Lost when I was 16 and it was a transformative experience. Most people have one or two favorite X-Men; Laura is mine. So I was anxious about how they would adapt her character to the big screen, especially since the X-Men movies have a shaky track record with my other favorites (Rogue, hilariously incorrect; Gambit, physically spot-on but missing the accent and the charm; Nightcrawler, serviceable but missing key aspects of his personality; Shadowcat, best forgotten as an embarrassment). I don’t usually look up the plots of movies before I go to them, but this one I did, because as long as I knew what happened, I couldn’t be blindsided by any stupid plot developments.
Logan is a damn good movie. I wish I could say it was a great movie, but there’s a really glaring issue with it that spoils my enjoyment a bit. But it’s a good movie, and more importantly it’s a good X-Men movie. I feel like this was Fox’s apology to us all for the various shitty X-Men movies they’ve given us over the last decade or so. This was the X-Men movie we’ve all been waiting for, even if we’re sick to death of Wolverine (and I really am). This is gritty and violent and Logan swears up a storm and it has humor and heart and it really captured the spirit of the character. It’s set decade in the future (2029), where there are few mutants left and no mutant children have been born in decades. A dying Logan (Hugh Jackman) acts as guardian and painkiller supplier for an also-dying Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Both their lives are interrupted when Logan meets a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), and the three of them set out on a journey that may be a fool’s errand. I looked up the plot, but I would recommend that unless you too will start screaming in rage about deviations from the comics, you just go see this for yourself.
Things I loved, with as few spoilers as I can manage:
- Laura was perfect. Dafne Keen’s performance was outstanding – she nailed Laura’s eerie, non-blinking stare and the way that, especially early on, she didn’t speak often and when she did it was using as few words as possible. She also nailed her hair-trigger temper, and the way that she (especially as a younger child) flew into a rage when provoked. They also chose to make her bilingual but primarily Spanish-speaking, which is interesting. She does know multiple languages in the comics (one joke in Target X is that she and her cousin go to school, only to be thrown out of French class because Laura listed off multiple gruesome facts about killing people) so this is fine. One thing I do wish they’d managed to incorporate was the trigger scent, which they trained her to automatically respond to (and which was how they forced her to kill her mother). Also I’m mildly confused because she mentions that she’s killed people before, and they were “bad people,” but I was under the impression that they didn’t get very far using the mutant children as attack dogs for hire before they scrapped that program. I think maybe a bit more fleshing out of that idea would have been good. But Keen is amazing, certainly the most subtle child actor I’ve seen since Quvenzhané Wallis, and I hope she’ll go on to do great things with this character.
- I am sick to death of Wolverine as a character, but Jackman is playing a weathered, beat-down old man who is the last of a dying breed and who can’t find peace with himself. This is the Wolverine movie they’ve been trying to make for twenty years, and Jackman is giving his all. He probably won’t get any serious award nominations for this, but it’s a real pity, because he deserves them. I’m glad this is the one he chose to go out on.
- Patrick Stewart is also phenomenal, of course. He’s an old man in pain and sometimes barely conscious, and letting out some of his salt while he’s at it. He and Jackman play off each other beautifully. The film teases out some of the history of what happened to the rest of the X-Men and why Xavier is mostly alone at this point, and it’s fascinating. I almost want to know more about that history, but I think that the film gave us just enough and didn’t beat us over the head with what happened.
- Any movie that has Wolverine in it and isn’t rated R is just asking for trouble. This one goes barreling straight into the violence, with Logan and Laura slashing and decapitating people left and right. But it doesn’t really feel gratuitous; it feels like the movie we’ve been building to all this time. If you’ve read a Wolverine comic, then you know that this is the kind of violence we should’ve been getting all along. It’s been a hell of a wait, but it’s immensely satisfying to get it now.
- SMALL SPOILER: The mutant kids were neat, though I wish we’d spent a little more time with them. We barely know anyone’s names, except for the de facto leader, Rictor. Rictor has earth-moving powers, and has been in the comics since the 80s. He’s a good character, and I’m hoping they’ll do more with him in future movies. (He has been a member of X-Force, and I keep hearing rumors that Fox is trying to make that movie. Fingers crossed.)
I have a few complaints, though. Some of them are nitpicky and some of them are not. SPOILERS for major plot points.
- The single most frustrating thing about the movie is that about two-thirds of the way through it, a Wolverine clone shows up. No, not Laura – Laura has been there for an hour by this point. We already love tiny murder machine Laura. This clone is a full-size Hugh Jackman Wolverine clone with a flat-top haircut who basically runs on rage for…some reason? This is deeply stupid. This doesn’t make any sense, even if you divorce it from the comics. There was no reason to have a Wolverine clone in this movie. No reason. It cheapened the movie for me, and even though most of the scenes with the clone were good, there was really no damn reason for it to be there. True, part of the reason I’m annoyed is because of the comics canon – it has been established that they can’t make a male clone of Wolverine, and their attempts to copy the success of Laura were first destroyed in Innocence Lost and then recently again in the new Wolverine comic starring Laura. (She currently has one biological “sister,” Gabby, but all the other “sisters” have died.) There has never been a male clone of Wolverine in the comics, because that defeats the entire purpose of Wolverine – he is the best at what he does. The clone in the movie is called X-24 (I’ll get to why that bothers me in a second), and its only purpose is to act as living hubris for the scientists who created not only Laura and the other mutant children (again, getting there). Oh, and to beat Logan to a pulp of course. The fight scenes with it are pretty good, but it was just so unnecessary. Anyway, the reason why it shouldn’t be X-24 is that X-23’s name in the comics comes from the fact that she is the 23rd attempt at the Weapon X cloning program. There is a direct line in the comics about “X-24 through X-50,” the other viable embryos that were created after Laura – which Laura destroys along with the rest of the facility. There should be no “X-24.” If there were no cloning attempts before Laura, then why make Laura female? And if they could make a male clone all along, then why didn’t they before? It was ridiculous and pissed me off every time the clone popped up.
- I am also deeply annoyed about their choice to call Laura and the other mutant children they created in the lab “the X-23s.” Why bother calling them that? Without the Weapon X context, the name X-23 is completely arbitrary. It’s fanservice but it’s fanservice that’s doesn’t actually make any sense and will probably piss off more fans like me, who actually care about the reasons behind the codenames. (Laura’s code is “X-23-23,” which is so stupid I can’t handle it.)
- I hear that Caliban (Stephen Merchant) was in Apocalypse. For some reason he was in this movie too. I’m familiar with this character from the comics and, while I understand the logistical reasons for him being there (his power is to find other mutants, so they needed him to track Logan and Laura), I’m still upset at how incorrect he was. In the comics, Caliban lives underground with a group called the Morlocks, the “undesirable” mutants that can’t live amongst regular people because of their hideous or abnormal appearances. He is an empathetic, shy person in the comics, who helps Shadowcat after she becomes ill and falls in love with her, but allows her to return to the surface when he realizes she does not love him in return. He also speaks in the third person, which isn’t a huge deal but is just annoying to change because it’s a distinctive part of his character. And his skin doesn’t get burned by the sun. I get why they made these changes but as a low-key fan of the character I’m just annoyed. I would’ve preferred they just make up a random mutant-tracking character and given him the same role.
- I understand for plot purposes why they had the biological mothers-slash-carriers of the mutant children be Mexican women, and it’s actually a really interesting bit of meta-commentary, but considering how important Laura’s mom was to her in the comics, I’m not very happy that they’ve just erased her like this. I’m guessing maybe they will call her Laura Howlett in the movies now, which. Whatever.
- At one point Logan and co. help a family, the Munsons, and end up staying with them. They are, of course, slaughtered by the X-24 clone. They happened to cast a black family, and while there are a handful of other black and brown characters in the movie (mostly unnamed children), they are the only named characters of color besides Laura’s nurse Gabriela and her friend Rictor. I wish they hadn’t been black; there are unfortunate implications there.
- The head of the program is called Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant). Zander is actually from the Innocence Lost series, but he’s different, aside from being the son of a man who worked on the original Weapon X program. He’s been aged up, and his role in Laura’s development has actually been replaced by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). In the comics, Zander treated Laura as subhuman, openly sneering at her and assuming he could control her; Pierce takes on this role in the movie. It’s not a huge issue but for someone who knows the original miniseries as well as I do it was jarring.
- This is a stupid personal hangup, but Laura calls Logan “daddy” as he’s dying and I have an in-joke about that word so it kind of spoiled the emotional effect they were going for. Oh well.
There’s a good amount for me to bitch about, but the fact is that I enjoyed myself in this movie immensely, and it is the best X-Men movie since X2. Maybe it’s the best X-Men movie period? Anyway, I recommend it.