February 20, 2017
Ever since director Bryan Singer’s 2000 release X-Men, Hugh Jackman’s been synonymous with Marvel Comics’ ultimate assassin: the unstoppable Wolverine. Though not the original choice for the role, Jackman made an indelible mark upon pop culture with his performance. Logan, the ninth X-Men film and third solo-outing for Wolverine, sees Jackman saying goodbye to the character that defined him for nearly two decades with a narrative that’s more evocative than expected from the superhero genre. Director James Mangold (The Wolverine/3:10 to Yuma) bravely casts off the colorful costumes, the spectacle-focused narratives, and the winks to the camera to produce a character-driven story that cuts to the soul of Wolverine – the oft-battered, manipulated, and world-weary James Logan Howlett. Logan elevates itself beyond superhero tropes by examining the man well known for his healing ability, sharp claws, and short temper through themes of finality and family.
In the year 2040, a fatigued Logan (Jackman) and deteriorating Professor Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart) live a quiet life hiding in Mexico. Once a giant man, Logan has been reduced to driving a limo to earn money to care for himself and the Professor. When a mysterious young girl (relative newcomer Dafne Keen) appears seeking help, bringing dangerous forces in her wake, Logan is forced back into action. Reluctant at first, Logan soon realizes that protecting the girl may offer his aching soul some peace.
Each of the films in the solo series or the larger X-Men universe borrows from the Marvel comics. For Logan, Mangold takes inspiration from the themes within the eight-issue mini-series Old Man Logan. Here, Logan is world-worn, an old gunslinger that’s lived in an embattled state for centuries and now wants to live peacefully. In the adaptation process, Mangold also appears to conscientiously select which aspects of the cinematic world to carry forward into Logan. Whether this is to remove aspects that would hinder the story he wants to tell or to take advantage of Days of Future Past’s slate cleaning, Logan only carries forward a few hints and elements of the other eight films, which serves in creating a lean and surprising narrative.
By this point, audiences are familiar with the Wolverine/Professor X dynamic, so audiences will be delightfully surprised by the opportunity to examine the relationship of Logan and Professor Xavier from a reversed perspective. Xavier’s held the power position for the bulk of the cinematic universe, but as Xavier is now an ailing man, Logan possesses the power, along with the responsibility of care. Unused to such a relationship, conflict of a familial variety appears, leading to some of the greatest emotional scenes between Jackman and Stewart in the last seventeen years.
Dafne Keen, as the mysterious Laura, is comparatively far less experienced than her co-stars, yet proves completely capable of matching them beat-for-beat, punch-for-punch. When not taking out hordes of bad guys, her performance conveys depth and pain beyond her age. Executing an intensely physical performance throughout the bulk of the film, Keen not only pulls off the brutal physical work, but the quiet, internal moments as well. On the trio’s heels for the film’s duration is Richard E. Grant’s Dr. Rice, a different antagonist from prior X-Men films. He doesn’t seek glory, fame, power, or wealth. He simply wishes to understand and replicate the gene process that creates mutations. Grant conveys this without any malice or emotion, which is made increasingly more impressive as revelations are made about his connection to Logan. Rice serves as catalyst for the narrative, but also a reminder from Logan what we do creates consequences.
Out of the gate, Logan deserves every bit of its R-rating. Though some may suggest that the success of 2016’s Deadpool – another 20th Century Fox/Marvel release – paved the way for this rating, it’s all due to Jackman’s push to tell a story with real grit and impact. Wolverine is an impressive killing machine, but directors can only let him go so far to maintain a PG-13 rating, resulting in relatively neutered action sequences. Now, longtime fans can finally witness Logan dispense his enemies in the hack-and-slash glory they’ve been craving. The violence, while plentiful, is never gratuitous or overbearing. The focus is always on moving the narrative forward, not stopping to slay bad guys along the way. That said, neither the camera nor the narrative attempt to hide the violence when it comes. Doing so would undercut the theme of finality – the idea that the events of Logan are directly connected to Logan’s past and the choices he’s made. Everything has a beginning and this all leads to Logan’s end.
Logan is far from being a perfect film. The continuity can be horribly inconsistent and the refusal to remove nonsensical concepts introduced in previous films may continue to aggravate cinema and comic fans alike. However, if Logan were the last X-Men feature, it would be the shining cap on a long-running series that is admired as often as it’s admonished. It ties up many loose ends, possesses amazing symmetry that highlights the character’s intense cinematic journey, and elevates what the superhero genre is capable of accomplishing. Logan is a beautiful, heart-wrenching goodbye for both Wolverine and Jackman, serving as both touching tribute and final closure.
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5