Let’s get one thing out of the way up front; I loved Logan. Easily the best superhero movie of the last few years, as it used it’s R-rating smartly to deliver what I consider to be the quintessential superhero experience. It’s ability to tackle a familiar character in a new way without the restrictions of a PG-13 rating, ensured that audiences would receive a genuine and authentic Wolverine focused movie that wouldn’t shy away from the heroes darker side. While 2015’s Deadpool showed that adult audiences were ready to support an R-rated superhero film, its use of humor and being an easily accessible protagonist, made it an easy sell to the audience. Logan doesn’t have that working in its favor, as Wolverines character has a slightly more complex history, as well as it being a drama, which, let’s be honest, can be a hard sell for those on the fence about superhero movies. Fortunately, Logan proved that you can tell meaningful dramatic stories within the medium of superhero movies, and while I applaud it for this accomplishment, Logan proves that the medium still has to improve on core aspects of itself.
More specifically, superhero films are still largely plagued by their lack of compelling antagonists for heroes to overcome. This problem is infuriating for a number of reasons. First, unless it’s a film featuring a completely original superhero with no prior source material, smartly consult THE SOURCE MATERIAL! If we’re talking about a Marvel or DC comics movie adaptation, there are almost 100 years of source material between the two companies. Source material that features some of the best characters and stories to ever be printed in the written word. So, it is mind boggling that the villains in Logan were not only chosen but just how bland and uninspired they come off as. Now, I’m not suggesting that Logan should have included larger than life villains such as Apocalypse, The Juggernaut, or even Magneto, as part of what separates Logan from other superhero movies is just how grounded in reality it feels. Sure, at the end of the day it’s still about a guy with claws who can shake off a bullet to the brain, but the lack of spandex and over the top CGI helps facilitate Logan’s grounded tone. So the decision to not have Logan duking it out with well known classic X-Men villains was clearly a calculated and clever decision by Director James Mangold.
And despite his calculated decisions, Mangold followed in the flawed footsteps of countless other superhero movie directors who supplied the heroes of their films with underwhelming and frankly, lame super villains. There are three main villains in Logan, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), and X-24 (Hugh Jackman), X-24 being the most infuriating so I will start by addressing this character.
My absolutely biggest pet peeve with superhero movies is when directors and writers get together and decide that it will be cool for the hero to fight a super villain that is almost identical to them. In Logan, X-24 is a carbon fucking copy clone of Logan and thus has exactly the same abilities. This not only shows a lack of creativity and originality, but it’s tiresome and contrived to see countless directors still abiding by this trend. A trend that started long ago before Mangold, the first instance that immediately comes is 2015’s Ant-Man, as Ant-Man squares off against super villain Yellow Jacket, who despite suit having a different looking suit, features powers essentially identical to Ant-Man. This trend was also present in 2011’s The Incredible Hulk, where The Hulk fights Abomination who is a carbon copy of him. Two brief examples, and while it isn’t a trend that appears in all superhero movies, it’s frequent enough that it’s a trend that I would like to see end.
Next is the villain Dr. Rice, who is the lead scientist of the Transigen program which aims to capture and control mutants. His character is fairly one note in that he merely serves as a mad scientist who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. A typical character arch, but I had hopes that his prior connection to Wolverine – Wolverine killed Rice’s father who was a scientist in the Weapon X program which gave him his powers) would give his character some depth, but this is only ever mentioned once and then never revisited during the film. His character amounts to nothing more than a bland and uninspired, cliched vessel for Wolverine to direct his anger towards, and while he serves his purpose adequately in this regard, he is completely forgettable outside of serving as that vessel.
And finally, we arrive at the final poorly fleshed out antagonist of Logan, Donald Pierce, Transigen’s head of security and leader of The Reavers, the cyborg mercenaries who are hunting Wolverine. I’ll admit I was intrigued by his character since the first trailer for Logan. Equipped with a robotic arm, slick undercut, and a throat tat that would make Jack Sparrow jealous, Donald seemed an ominous villain, who I wanted to learn more about. And yet, just as those before him, he amounted to little more than another hired gun, whose only discernible differentiating characteristic from the other nameless Reavers is his southern twang. It’s a shame considering more could’ve be done to flesh out his character, other than providing “cool, southern variant” to the Reavers. And this is my only real problem with Logan, as while the villains served their purpose in terms of telling a succinct story that feels more concise and methodical in its construction more so than any other of X-Men films, they end up feeling like hollow shells of character who never leave an impressionable mark on the film.
Now that I’m done ripping on the film’s villains, I must say that I am appreciative that Mangold took an approach to a superhero film similarly to how director Christopher Nolan went about with his Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan delivered classic Batman villains, but grounded them all in reality by making them more believable both aesthetically and by removing their “superness.” Sure, that’s a word. Mangold did something similar in selecting villains for Logan that were somewhat grounded, with the exception of X-24, the villains are cyborgs or humans, and not mutants. I applaud him for that because, given the current superhero movie landscape, where every new movie is looking to one up the last one in terms of special effects and scale, Logan never abides by this. None of its marketing promised large set piece battles or mutants hurling fireballs or ice beams at one another, something that no doubt separates it from the competition.
Now that I have made my criticisms Logans villains known, my solution to it would have been this: Sabertooth should have been the main villain. Preferably, Liev Schreiber would reprise his role as Wolverines long time nemesis, and a what better than to see the two duke it out one last time. Before Logan’s release, it was made public that this would be Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stweart’s last foray as X-Men, as the pair has stared in X-men films off and on for the better part of 17 years. Sabertooth would have been a terrific casting for a somewhat grounded super villain, who superhero fans no doubt have some familiarity with, and more importantly a character who has a deep rooted relationship with Wolverine. Despite Wolverine and Sabertooth having similar abilities to one another – a pet peeve of mine as stated earlier- an analysis of their relationship to one another would have made for a more an impactful subplot to the film than The Reavers and Dr. Rice provided.
I suppose some will cry foul at this villain casting choice, “but he’s a mutant! The Reavers would never work with him!” Historically Sabertooth has always flip flopped between sides in the Brotherhood and X-Men conflicts, so it seems reasonable to me to assume that a character who loyalty is no an integral part of their character, would aide any group in their goals if it meant allowing him to fight Wolverine one last time. As for Sabertooth’s backstory, even if audiences weren’t familiar with it, it doesn’t matter, as the amount of time required to explain this backstory would require the same amount of time dedicated to The Reavers and Dr. Rices backstories. It’s a stretch I know, but having a character that a majority of the audience would be familiar with, which in tern understanding the villain helps to better understand the hero, was a missed opportunity on Mangold’s part.
I have been exceedingly critical of this one aspect of Logan, but it can’t be understated just how much I enjoyed it overall. It truly is unlike any other movie featuring Marvel characters and properties. Seeing the transformation and growth of Wolverines character amount to more than, “the guy with the claws” is a display of the true potential of the types of stories that are capable within the medium of superhero movies. I don’t think it’s grandstanding to say, “there can be more to superheroes than just capes and spandex.” Of course, the trend of big budget, larger than life superhero movies like The Avengers or the upcoming Justice League movie aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, just that films like Logan are possible and hopefully will continue.