Mild spoilers ahead for Logan — no character deaths, but details on the story, the villains and their motives. Read on if you don't mind or you've already seen it.
#Logan is a brilliant movie on several levels. It's a rejuvenation for the character of Wolverine, not just his most accomplished solo outing by some distance but also a triumphant farewell for Hugh Jackman, cinema's longest-serving superhero actor. It's a rare example of the genre with a tight script which treats the audience with respect. It's very adult, brutally violent and makes excellent use of its R rating. And, perhaps most importantly, it actually has strong villain for the hero to contend with.
The villain has become the superhero genre's biggest problem, and #Marvel in particular have struggled to create a memorable villain in the MCU. Their bad guys are disposable. Most either have a boring mirror-image set of skills which don't really challenge the hero (see Yellowjacket in Ant-Man, for instance), or their motivations are weak and thus their scheme feels overblown and ridiculous (Zemo in Civil War).
So it's to Logan's major credit that this movie features multiple villains who actually do a great job of creating a sense of real danger, and are driven by a realistic motivation. Let's talk about them (again, some spoilers ahead!), and why the #MCU could learn a thing or two from this movie.
Although Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) is pulling the strings of Transigen's Head of Security, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), both men are working toward a shared goal — track and retrieve the young mutant X-23. She is a weapon, and if she can't be used by Transigen, she'll be used against Transigen.
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The relative simplicity of that scheme contrasts wildly with, say, the cloudy-at-best motivations of Civil War's Baron Zemo — seek revenge for the death of a loved one by plotting an elaborate scheme, framing others and pitting hero versus hero for reasons nobody seems quite sure of — and it's the reason Logan works.
Too many superhero movies fall apart because the villains are an afterthought, but comic book heroes only exist as a reaction to the bad guys. Logan is happy to strip everything back to basics — Rice is simply a scientist who wants to take back the lab-birthed child he sees as his "property," but that property shares Logan's own blood. He is, reluctantly, her father, and we care because he cares.
But while the characters of Rice and Pierce are strong on the page, it's the actors who bring them to life, particularly Boyd Holbrook's superbly sleazy performance. Like all of the best bad guys, his bad behaviour doesn't entirely render him unlikeable — in fact, when Pierce is off-screen for a while in the middle of the movie, it misses his charismatic Southern drawl and the ridiculous grills adorning his teeth.
In a Marvel movie, Pierce's bionic hand would probably be the reason he turned bad, or his defining character trait. Iron Man would definitely make an eye-roller of a quip about it. But in Logan, it's barely even referenced, and that's infinitely more satisfying. The lack of convoluted backstory for these villains actually allows them the freedom to do what they have to do as bad guys without the audience questioning it and walking away feeling that the explanation didn't quite cut the mustard.
Marvel have a good shot at finally producing a brilliant villain in the form of Thanos, assuming they get him right in Infinity War. But 12 movies deep, the MCU's inability to produce a truly impactful villain (The Winter Soldier probably came closest, for my money) feels like a problem which needs to be remedied fast — and they could do a lot worse than turn to Logan for a few tips.
Logan hits theaters this Friday, March 3.
Did Logan's villains do it better than Marvel's bad guys?