As a rule, superhero films hardly ever embrace minimalism. Instead, they emphasize heroics on a cosmic scale, preferring grand displays of courage and sacrifice over simple moments of quiet reflection and introspection. With a reported budget of $97 million and an extensive use of practical effects, Logan, the last movie starring Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, challenges this perceived need for more with less, becoming the closest thing to a minimalist’s superhero film even as it expands upon and explores bigger, deeper concepts characteristic of Fox’s X-Men universe.
Heartbreaking, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful, the film strips its titular character of his powers and prowess and forces him to examine his own glaring mortality. Director James Mangold explored similar themes in 2013’s The Wolverine, albeit without the grit and gore that help characterize this stirring portrait. However, that film lacked Logan‘s intimacy. Mangold’s latest effort sports a sophistication we rarely see in a superhero flick, a sophistication that stems from its taut narrative, heavy themes and commitment to keeping the story small in both scope and scale.
The argument for Logan as a minimalist superhero film works on both a creative level and a technical one. From a storytelling perspective, its relatively small budget forces Mangold to get inventive with his usage of setting and his implementation of character development, proving that extravagant, special effects-heavy set pieces and deafening explosions aren’t necessary ingredients for a “wow” factor. Furthermore, there are no Sentinel-sized threats in Logan. The film benefits greatly from its own insistence that compelling stories work best when the only thing truly at stake is the soul of the central character. Logan’s torment is as tragic as it is self-perpetuating, and that’s absolutely the point.
Jackman’s magnificently flawed character wrote his own story, a truth he must come face-to-face with by the time the final blow has been dealt and the credits have begun to roll. Patrick Stewart’s grizzled, grieving Professor X gently pushes Logan toward this realization, but it’s ultimately up to our side-burned hero to ensure that he finds his peace. Laura and Xavier function as means to a justified end, figures that help catalyze growth and gentleness in a character who has traditionally exhibited neither.
Both characters absolutely have life and energy of their own, but as their statuses as supporting characters dictate, they must empower Logan to become better. In the latter half of the movie, Xavier croaks out a final suggestion: “This is what it’s like. A home, a family, people who love each other. Take a moment to feel that.” It’s only after he’s been impaled against a tree that Logan fully realizes the love Laura feels for him. The film lives for simple interactions such as this, and it’s better off because of them.
One of the final interactions between Logan and Laura takes place in a quiet, sunlit room shortly before the latter takes off with her fellow Transigen fugitives. “I’ve hurt people too.” The words, stonily uttered by Laura, prompt Logan to respond with, “You’re gonna have to learn to live with that.” It’s a somber moment, one that grounds their dynamic in a powerful poignancy that carries them both into the final fight against Pierce, X-24 and their army of kid-snatching meatheads. This scene stands among many as a solid example of the film’s focus on particular characters and concepts rather than on blasts and bombast. Logan shines when it delves into Wolverine’s vulnerability and falters when it attempts to become anything more than that.