What it is: The tenth movie in Marvel’s X-Men superhero movie franchise, and the third to focus specifically on the character of Wolverine, whose real name happens to be Logan. I have no idea how this movie fits into what I understand is a pretty complicated extended universe timeline (or set of timelines?) but it takes place in 2029 and follows a sick, hard-up Wolverine as he begrudgingly accepts responsibility for protecting a little girl mutant named Laura from the sinister scientists who bred her from his DNA. It’s one of those dark, gritty superhero movies, so it’s rated R and there’s a whole lot of graphic violence.
Apparently a lot of people get excited about the prospect of a violent, R-rated superhero movie, but that instinct seems perverse to me. If you want violence and moral nuance, there are plenty of movies and genres that can provide those qualities; why demand them from a genre that seems designed to instead provide cathartic moral clarity by heightening its characters and plot elements into literalized archetypes? Generally, “dark” superhero movies don’t communicate a more mature worldview; they just end up with a worldview that’s still immature but also mean-spirited and often muddled, like when The Dark Knight depicted a tortured, morally compromised Batman and then ended with the message that people need morally pure heroes to look up to. OK. Why didn’t you just give us one, then?
The counterpoint to this would be Alan Moore’s Watchmen comic, which I do think used superhero tropes in a genuinely smart and challenging way. But most of Moore’s imitators, in both comics and film, absorbed his love of graphic violence and sex and left behind his habit of actually having something interesting to say.
In any case, Logan is probably one of the least obnoxious examples of the “dark superhero” trend. Unlike, say, Kick-Ass, it seems to take the dramatic weight of its violence seriously rather than treating it as edgy slapstick. The fact that many of the characters are unkillable superhumans allows them to really whale on each other while still plausibly surviving, unlike a lot of action movies where it makes no sense that the supposedly mortal protagonist doesn’t end up in extensive physical therapy after just one of the many slugfests you watch him get into. (Laura is one such unkillable superhuman, which means the movie gets to graphically depict a child getting impaled on a harpoon. Certainly not something you see every day!) The film overall is well-acted and -structured, if overlong.
But it still runs into the biggest stumbling block of the dark superhero genre, which is thinking that its darkness makes it smarter and more substantive than it actually is. At one point Wolverine finds that Laura has been reading X-Men comics (which exist in this universe, I don’t know, whatever) and angrily tells her that they’re just unrealistic fables for kids. This happens in a hotel room, and he’s interrupted her viewing of the 1953 Western Shane, which she quotes extensively at the end of the movie. This allusion seems like it’s supposed to re-enforce how grown-up the film is, but it kind of does the opposite: Logan knows that superhero comics are childish, but old cowboy movies are the highest level of maturity it can think to aspire to.