Early for Logan, the latest solo Wolverine film from director James Mangold, has been fairly enthusiastic, with colleagues who had witnessed the first 40 minutes of the film as “The Wolverine movie you’ve been waiting for.” A statement like that might generate a certain level of excitement from me, but I remember all those other times I heard similar sentiments about Wolverine on the screen and each time feeling that the results never matched the hype. Now that I’ve seen what has been billed as Hugh Jackman’s last turn as Wolverine, I can say that Logan is a pretty solid action flick that consistently delivers with gruesome action violence and a surprising emotional core. While I don’t know if I can speak for everyone in saying that Logan is “the Wolverine movie you’ve been waiting for,” but I can say that it’s the first X-Men movie in a long time that takes the series in a different direction, and overall the second best X-Men movie of them all behind only First Class.
The year is 2029 and mutants have all but faded from the world. The birth of the seemingly next step in evolution ceased about 15 years ago. Logan (Jackman) has shed his past a member of the X-Men, driving as a chauffeur along the streets of El Paso, Texas. When he’s not working, Logan goes south of the border where he’s cares for an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart) with the help of the albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Professor X is dealing with an array of issues, including telepathic seizures that negatively affect those around him, and Logan and Caliban work to get Charles Xavier the medication he needs. Logan is working tirelessly to save up money for a boat for the trio of reclusive mutants to live on in a form of high seas retirement free from the burdens of their past. However, Logan himself is suffering from ailments of his own. His healing abilities are waning and he’s plagued by a persistent cough. The only comfort the aging mutant seems to find comes in a bottle which is always in his hands.
Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a Mexican nurse, tracks down Logan and implores him for his help in transporting a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), to a safe spot in North Dakota. But Logan has little use for heroism these days and is much more focused on his goals of oceanic retirement. When a shady and devious character Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) comes asking questions about Gabriella, it becomes apparent that the grizzled mutant has just been dragged into a brand new fight. Of course, Laura isn’t just any young girl with heavily armed villains on her tail; she’s the product of experiments on mutants conducted by Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) as part of a program to weaponize genetic mutation. Compounding matters for our reluctant hero, Laura, aka X-23, is a genetic clone of Logan with the same adamantium claws and healing ability to go along with her feral rage. The group of fugitive mutants go on an extremely violent road trip with ruthless forces always on their trail as they race to get the young girl to a sanctuary before it’s too late.
As he did in The Wolverine, James Mangold finds tension in the character by undermining his well-established ability to instantly heal. There’s not too much that’s interesting about a character who is practically invincible, and Mangold is smart enough to realize that vulnerability adds drama to the story. A lot of credit must be given to the screenplay by Mangold, Michael Green, and Scott Frank for taking the established characters of Logan and Professor X and taking them down to low points that we’ve never seen before at the start of the movie. And while the film’s mutant heroes are being chased by nefarious villains that want to exploit them, Logan avoids the redundancy of mutant persecution that runs through practically every X-Men movie over the past 17 years.
The R rating for Logan isn’t something that just occurred because of some borderline violent scenes. This movie is a hard R and it makes apparent the level of violence that will be on display throughout in its opening scenes where Logan lays waste to number of gangsters trying to steal his car. James Mangold’s film is liberal with its F-bombs and bloody violence yet avoids that prevailing juvenile attitude that dominated Deadpool. At a point where most superhero films have taken up the mantle of bloodless violence, there’s something refreshing about a superhero film that presents some gruesome violence in all of its ugliness, providing the audience with its basest thrills while simultaneously making its horrific and repulsive.
For his final turn as Wolverine (and ninth if we’re counting all the cameos), Hugh Jackman delivers his best performance as the iconic X-man. There’s the right balance of reluctance and heroism in the character, a balance that has always seemed elusive. As good as Jackman is, the real standout performance comes from the young Dafne Keen as Laura. It’s an impressive feat for a young actor to deliver such a captivating performance in the first place, but it takes on a whole other level when you consider that most of the performance is mute. The muscular frame of Hugh Jackman gets his moments of visceral carnage but these moments always take a backseat to the mayhem created by X-23, most of which are shocking and brutal. Aside from the intense violence, it’s impressive the level of emotional connection that the two characters build over the course of the film. Attempts to craft an emotional storyline for Wolverine have never been successful on the screen, and Logan is actually able to break that curse with this unlikely bond between the aged eponymous hero and his genetically cloned daughter.
There’s a refreshing finality to Logan that isn’t seen in superhero films (and I certainly hope that none of its retconned in the near future). James Mangold ties the tale of mutant to that of the classic western Shane in a surprisingly effective nod to the George Stevens classic. Over 17 years, Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine through all sorts of highs and lows. If this is definitely his final turn as the character, he’s going out on the highest note yet. Logan is a lean, mean piece of action filmmaking, one that is astute in blending practical effects with CGI enhancement. Rare for an X-Men film, Logan isn’t overstuffed with minor mutant characters as it retains its focus on its limited roster of mutants, which makes for a more character driven piece of superhero storytelling. It isn’t just the ultraviolence that makes Logan different from its peers in the X-Men series. It is different because it focuses on aspects that these movies haven’t attempted to before and succeeds immensely. The X-Men movies (with the exception of First Class) seem as if they’ve been written by a template that hasn’t changed in nearly two decades. Logan takes that template and shreds it to pieces. Thankfully, that’s not all he shreds.