It’s that time of year again. Blockbuster season is over, the dark nights are coming in, and, with the exception of some little-known sci-fi film called The Last Jedi, movie geeks are gearing up for awards season.
This is one of the rare moments in the movie calendar where you can take your pick of a veritable array of fascinating indie films, the likes of which frequently struggle to get recognition amid the studio tentpoles and A-list spectacles. By now you’re probably sick of hearing which films have that coveted Oscar buzz, since most of these conversations have been taking place since before this year’s Academy Award winners were even announced. There’s tons to enjoy, and I heartily recommend you check out some of those little movies that could – from The Florida Project to Call Me By Your Name – but frequently, it’s not so bright a time for genre lovers.
Historically, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror have struggled to gain traction with the very traditional voters of the Academy. Call it genre snobbery or just a misunderstanding of what speculative fiction can do, but the gap between what Oscar voters frequently consider "awards-worthy" and the genre crowd-pleasers that most ticket-buying audiences enjoy is a stark one.
That could change this year, as Jordan Peele’s staggeringly good satirical horror Get Out has become an unlikely frontrunner in the race. Not only that, but a certain movie called Wonder Woman is making history, with Warner Bros. funding a major awards push for it (referred to as For Your Consideration campaigns), which is a rarity for any superhero film, much less one helmed by a woman. Either of these films making it to the podium next year would be a major breakthrough for genre lovers, but there’s one film whose incredible achievements are being overlooked during this season, and it’s become increasingly baffling.
Logan, James Mangold’s deconstruction of the Wolverine story, is easily one of the best films of the year: a neo-Western dystopia that takes on the cruel realities of ageing alongside a deeply political story of crossing the border from Mexico to America and a fable-esque exploration of a strange young girl’s fate. And on top of that, it’s an ultraviolent superhero movie! Even the most ardent X-Men fan couldn’t have predicted how ambitious and daring Mangold’s film would be. After all, the Wolverine film series is spotty at best, and that was before we reached Peak Superheroes. Hardened cynics to the genre quickly warmed to this brutal tale that wasn’t afraid to go bleak or interrogate the smothering realities of getting older, sicker, and sadder. If you took out the adamantium claws and all the mutant talk, it’s easy to see the film going all the way to the Academy Awards as the dark horse contender of the year, much in the same way Hell or High Water pulled it off in 2016.
And yet Logan has been notably absent from awards talk. How does one of the most intense and deftly handled stories of 2017 find itself on the outskirts of these conversations? It can’t all be genre snobbery, surely?
It’s easy to downplay Logan’s achievements, or pretend that what it’s doing really isn’t all that interesting or challenging, when in reality it’s a near-acrobatic feat of ideas, styles, tones, and cultural contexts. Anyone coming to Logan would be aware of the many years Hugh Jackman has put into the role, of the evolution that character has taken, both in live action and on the comic book pages. They may even be aware of the Old Man Logan run in the comics that inspired the film, but none of that would prepare them for the magnitude or emotional impact of Logan, a film that wearily wears the weight of history on its shoulders and shows the scars that leaves.
Jackman has never been better in the part. He fits the role of Logan like a well-worn suit, and now you can see the fraying edges. This is the least heroic Logan has ever been, struggling to make money in a poverty-stricken region where his previous life as a legendary hero is all but myth, even to himself. He’s ably assisted by Sir Patrick Stewart, who brings new layers to his work as Professor Xavier. Never before has the character been so tragic or difficult to watch, now in his 90s and barely holding it together as control over his powers deteriorates. He brings dignity to those moments of pity, somehow still the kindly professor of eternal optimism for the world even as he swears like a trooper while Logan helps him to use a public bathroom. If you’ve ever known anyone who’s suffered from brain damage of a degenerative brain condition, a lot of these scenes will hit very close to home, and it’s to the film’s credit that this exploration of illness is not cheapened by faux shock or turned into a gruesome spectacle. Dafne Keen, the 12-year-old Spanish-British actress who plays Laura, manages the tricky feat of being an authentically tough child who's still deeply broken and desperate to get by.
In its own way, Logan is one of the great political movies of the year: a story of poverty, child exploitation, racism, and refugees, with the striking scene where masked agents chase a group of Mexican mutant children through the forest standing as one of the most pertinent and unforgettable moments on film in 2017. Logan handles these issues better than many straightforward dramas do, yet so many viewers still have trouble getting over the genre trappings surrounding such themes.
Whatever way you slice it, Logan is a brilliant film, and even in a year where we haven’t been short of brilliant films across a variety of styles and genres, it remains at the front of the pack. Some critics groups have taken notice and awarded Patrick Stewart nods for best supporting actor, but surely it deserves more. Logan is visceral yet poignant, an ultraviolent western that’s also a metatextual meditation on the superhero genre; Hugh Jackman’s finest performance and the birth of a future star. Perhaps it's slid by the wayside in part because Jackman has another big Oscar contender this year with more realistic chances at nominations – his P.T. Barnum musical The Greatest Showman – but Logan still needs people in its corner. One of 2017’s great films, and undoubtedly a future superhero classic, deserves better.