He’s the best at what he does, and what he does isn’t very nice. This paraphrase of the iconic Wolverine slogan applies not only to the character himself, but much of the critical reception levied against many of Hugh Jackman’s appearance in nearly twenty years of playing the role. A ride filled with many highs (X-Men and X2: X-Men United) and many lows (the messy X-Men Origins Wolverine), but one thing has remained constant throughout the X-franchises of the years: Hugh Jackman was always great as Wolverine. Now with the multi-talented Aussie actor ready to hang up the claws (reportedly), Jackman gets to go out on his own terms with Logan, and those terms are emotional, brutal, and nearly perfection.
Major plot revelations are omitted, but beware mild spoilers below
For those not inside comic book circles, Logan is loosely based on the Old Man Logan stories from the Marvel comics about an older, aging Wolverine whose regeneration powers are waning, resulting in most likely only a few good years for him left. This film adaptation sees Logan in a nearly mutant-less future, living under the radar as a limo driver in El Paso while commuting across the border to Mexico to secretly care for a mentally ill, elderly Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) with the help of the frustrated albino mutant Caliban (in an excellent dramatic turn for Stephen Merchant). But as fate would have it, a little girl comes into their protection and Wolverine and Professor X venture out on the road for one last quest.
Dafne Keen co-stars as that little girl, Laura (better known to comic book fans as X-23), a very special mutant with personal ties to our heroes. If you aren’t familiar with X-23’s comic background, I suggest you just let the story in Logan play out first, but if you must know, a quick Google search will fill you in on how nicely she fits into this particularly story. Keen is a wonderful young actress and she kicks so much ass in the role it made my nerd self giddy. Seeing her in action alongside Wolverine is an absolute joy, and their chemistry is off the charts. Logan wouldn’t have near the emotional weight and gut wrenching punches (both psychological and physical) without her character or her individual performance.
The entire cast is unbelievably good from top to bottom, but Jackman and Stewart are bringing their best work to their respective roles. The material they’re given is layered and complex and both actors rise to the challenge in tremendous fashion, truly showing their passion for this somewhat unusual installment of the franchise that they helped launch. Nearly every facet of Logan feels like an indie film, and has more in common tonally with Hell or High Water than any of the last decade of X-Men films.
As much heart as this film has (and it has tons), it also has some unflinching brutality the likes of which you haven’t seen yet from this character on film. Logan showcases Wolverine in his purest comic book form during a number of stellar action sequences that will have longtime fans cheering at the creative and incredibly bloody (and very R-rated) ways he dispatches his enemies. You haven’t seen a live-action Wolverine “Berserker Rage” until you see Logan. Period.
if there’s any area of the movie to gather any nitpicks from me, it’s the somewhat stock X-Men villains Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), but even both those actors turn in fairly charismatic performance with little screen time. There’s even a few elements on the villain’s side of things that are quite surprising and cool, but I’ll avoid here for the sake of preserving the experience for the audience.
Hollywood is now at a very interesting juncture for major superhero property franchise films. Many of the big stories and characters have successfully had their due on the big screen, but the interest for this genre hasn’t deteriorated, much to the surprise (and chagrin) of many critics. If Logan is both the critical and financial success I expect it to be, this could open the door for studios to finally dig deeper into the vault of fantastic source material and make smaller character-driven films with their properties – the kind that have been told in comics and graphic novels for decades. Logan proves you don’t need an alien invasion, a giant monster, or a big light pillar in the sky to provide a superhero film that entertains and endears its characters to the audiences. Personal stakes always connect better than CGI.
Logan isn’t your typical comic book movie and that’s a great thing, and huge kudos go to Fox for letting director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman make the film they wanted. While it’s too emotionally heavy to be a personal comfort movie for me, it is no doubt a great film that transcends its genre. Grown men will shed tears during this film – maybe more than once – and Hugh Jackman can end his inexplicably impressive run as Wolverine on the highest of notes.