The First Act of Logan Earns Its R-Rating

We've seen the first 40 minutes of Logan and it's bloody, action packed, and unlike any other Wolverine or X-Men movie.

This reaction to the first act of Logan contains only minor spoilers, most of which were revealed in the trailers.

It takes a lot to surprise a room filled with jaded film journalists and critics. A notoriously guarded bunch who often like to keep their arms folded at press events, lest more than a few of us accidentally clap, it’s the type of crowd that even the Fox Showcase last December could find pockets of resistance, fighting the urge to be impressed by a bevy of early blockbuster content. However, any holdouts at gasping had to finally be taken aback when it was revealed we’d be screened the first 40 minutes of Logan.

To put it in some context, this is not normal. Rarely do we get about a third of a major studio film screened more than two months in advance of release (at least in a non-festival environment). Stranger still is the idea that a blockbuster, a superhero movie at that, would lift its veil of secrecy so freely, thus offering a vast gander at what to expect from a film like Logan, director James Mangold’s second Wolverine movie and, more importantly, Hugh Jackman’s last.

But they have a reason to be so open with this movie, and maybe even a little bit cocky: Logan, or at least its first 40 minutes, is good. Really bloody good. In fact, it’s better than any superhero movie we’ve been forced to drudge through in 2016. And that is because it appears to be an actual story with a distinct voice and tone, as opposed to a product. Hence, as sure as the Snikt! sound that follows any emergence of claws, there will be blood. Lots of it. Like within the first two minutes, too.

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Without seriously spoiling the plot twists of the first act, I will say that Logan reminds me of an old school, 1990s action movie crossed with Children of Men. And I mean that in the best possible sense.

While the first trailer for Logan emphasized the dramatic, Western undertones of a film about old men slowly dying outside of a border town near El Paso, this is definitely not going to be mistaken for a Coen Brothers picture. There is a lot more rapid urgency to this movie’s opening moments. There’s some graphic violence early on unlike anything we’ve seen in this franchise before. Let’s just say the movie earns its R-rating from the word, “Go.”

The picture is set in the year 2029, which is roughly six years after the “future” events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, but that’s assuming of course that movie occurred in this timeline (more on that in a moment). It seems that in this future, life’s gotten really rough for Old Man Logan. As revealed in the trailers, the X-Men are gone—we do not learn how or why in the first act—and worse still, there hasn’t been a mutant born in the past 25 years. According to a now very cynical Logan, this is just more proof that, “We were God’s mistake.”

Hence, Logan’s despair while living on the American side of the Texan border. To the south, Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier is living in a capsized water tower, which is being used by Logan and Caliban (Stephan Merchant) mostly to trap Charles’ mind. Apparently, the metal barrier helps blunt some of his psychic powers’ reach, which is incredibly useful considering he now has dementia, and if he misses his meds (which Logan routinely brings and administers), he might have an episode that could wipe out anyone within seeming miles.

In essence, Logan and Xavier are both waiting around to expire. Logan is resigned to that, but Charles is pissed. It’s hard to explain just how jarring it is to hear Xavier using so many F-bombs this freely. At times, you might think that you’re also watching the first act of a David Mamet play. However, given that I have seen what dementia can do to a loved one, I can attest it is not an unjustified creative choice.

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Beyond this, I don’t want to give away too many more plot specifics at the risk of spoiling some fun twists, however I can say that the movie has a real verve and confidence in its style that I really haven’t seen in the genre since James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. That is not to say this is anything like that picture, but it knows what it is, and what it is not. Rather than being built around action set-pieces or even sitcom premises, the action (of which there is a lot) is driven by the characters, the best of whom I have not mentioned yet.

More than even Hugh Jackman, who is admirably committed to giving a scruffy and extra cynical take on his Wolverine archetype, Dafne Keen’s Laura Kinney is flatly amazing when she goes into X-23 mode. Almost entirely silent during the first act, she has a feral quality in her eyes, which is primarily how she communicates with the others. There is still an innocence and preciousness to the young performer, who was 12-years-old when she filmed the movie, but there is also a wrathful intensity that makes X-23 unique, and far away from being mistaken for a Hit-Girl or Mathilda archetype.

As explained by James Mangold, who discussed the film at the Fox Showcase after the footage played, he “wanted to take the kind of cute stink off Laura. I didn’t want it to turn into a kind of Kewpie-doll actress.” His mission was accomplished, because Laura is compellingly enigmatic, but engages in plenty of the movie’s R-rated moments.

The violence in this film, as mentioned, is plentiful with claws going through heads, and legs being cut off, and all sorts of carnage that could only ever be hinted at in other X-Men movies. Unlike Deadpool, the R-rating is heavily utilized in the action. And other than a few shots, including some of X-23’s backflips and a gnarly effect where Logan uses a barbed wire fence to ensnare a motorcyclist in pursuit, it’s mostly done with practical effects.

As a result, it feels less like a Western and seems more along the lines of an old school actioner with the thematic momentum of Children of Men. Still, Logan’s arc obviously mirrors the one Clint Eastwood enjoyed in Unforgiven, only with more optimism for the future as embodied in X-23. And similarly, inside the picture book given out after the press event, there’s a telling quote on its first page from the Shane screenplay. “Tell her everything’s alright. And there aren’t any more guns in the valley.”

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On that note, Mangold spoke liberally after the footage about focusing on the characters, specifically Logan, Xavier, and Laura. While talking about how the superhero movie genre all kind of blurs together, Mangold said, “I find the X-Men, or you know, Justice League or Avengers movies are always a kind of round-robin where each character gets about eight minutes to have a kind of quick personal arc. Set it up with a mini-scene in the beginning, check in at the middle, and then… I was just like, what would happen if you made one of these movies where the imperative was somehow on a huge arc for the superhero character?”

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Mangold also teased for us that Logan is set in a different timeline from the other X-Men films, suggesting, “The idea for us was this idea that they live in a world in which the legend of them exists, but it’s not really what happened, completely.  Or is it?” We unpack all of that, and its fascinating implications, right here.