Seventeen years ago, comic book movies were a dead genre. In 2000, the first X-Men movie was released and jump-started a renaissance of adaptations. The franchise succeeded in no small part because the most popular X-Man: Wolverine, was cast to perfection. Hugh Jackman was an unknown. He’d done more musicals on-stage than movies on-screen, but from the moment we saw saw him cage fighting in a bar, he owned the Wolverine in a way that no actor perhaps has ever fully become linked with a fictional character (Bond and Connery and Downey Jr. and Iron Man being the only comparisons I can come up with). Logan is Jackman’s 9th film as Wolverine and his last. The film that bears his name is a nearly perfect Wolverine story. Unlike the PG-13 Logan that had to be leashed for the team films, this is the Wolverine from the comics, and yet, this a Wolverine unlike we’ve ever seen. It’s unremittingly grim, wonderfully acted, violent and gritty, redemptive and tragic. After all, Logan’s was a story that was never going to end well.
The year is 2029. The X-Men are dead. Logan is sick. He walks with a limp. He needs glasses. He’s healing, but not quickly and his body is covered in scars; scars that once would have disappeared in seconds. He’s sick; being poisoned from the inside out by the metal covering his bones. Though he works in the United States, he crosses the border into Mexico nightly where he’s hiding a Charles Xavier who is fraying at the ends. The world’s most powerful mind is coming apart at the seams and Logan, with the help of Caliban (Stephen Merchant) are keeping him sedated to prevent seizures that quite literally choke the life out of the region where they occur. This bleak status quo comes with many questions: WHY isn’t Wolverine healing? WHAT happened to the X-Men? WHERE is that delightful wall that should be looming over the border by this point (sorry, couldn’t resist)? This is a spoiler review, btw, as the film has been out over a month, so don’t venture further if you’re waiting for next month’s Blu Ray.
One of the reasons that Logan works as well as it does is that James Mangold, whose The Wolverine was derailed by FOX’s insistence that costumed villain be shoved into a tale that was clearly supposed to feature the samurai aspect of Logan’s personality. This time, he wasn’t having any of it, and if a typical comic book film does one thing; Logan usually does the other. Very little of it feels like a comic book film. It’s more of a western where the aged gunslinger straps on his claws for one last battle. The only time the film falters is when it strays from this tone. I think films like Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy have proven you can tell all kinds of genre films under the banner of the “comic book movie”. Deadpool proved there’s a place for R-Rated, definitely for adults only, films that can be extremely profitable (unfortunately Hollywood will be stupid and think it’s the R that’s the point rather than the story and characters that fit the rating and we’ll suffer a glut of unnecessary ones). When Mangold stays on task the film is pretty flawless in doing what it’s trying to do: tell the last Wolverine story.
How does all this fit in with the continuity of the other films in the X-verse? Don’t really think too hard about it. The X-verse continuity has so many holes in it by this point that you really are best just taking each film and enjoying it for what it is. To that end, my theory that Wolverine would not be recast immediately but would be replaced by X-23 seems a little at odds with the 40 year gap in where she is versus the current team franchise (not that a little time travel is beyond the X-Men). But, that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Life in exile is upended when Laura is dropped in Logan’s lap with The Reavers and the Weapon X program hot on her heels. If you’re not familiar with her from the comics, Laura is Logan’s daughter. She’s not a clone; she was made with his genetic material and carried to term by some poor woman in a Weapon X factory to produce children as living weapons. She has two claws on each hand, one on each foot, and a temper to match her father’s married with the self-control of a seven-year-old. Dafne Keen is a casting coup. It’s hard to find a little girl who can be at turns, a little normal girl who likes rainbow t-shirts and big sunglasses, and by others a buzzsaw of death. It’s the violence inflicted by her and on her (she also has Logan’s healing factor) that should keep even the most irrational of parents from letting kids near this. It’s one thing to see Hugh Jackman take a bullet and heal. The man’s carved out of granite. It’s very different when it happens to a child. So try not to be idiots for once.
For people who have waited since 2000 to see how Wolverine (and Laura) really fight, you get your gratification within three minutes. The team and previous solo films did a dance of editing cuts and neutering of the character, but the reality is that Logan has six butcher knives on his hands and he doesn’t fight by punching and kicking, he fights by slashing and stabbing. Obviously, I understand why FOX couldn’t have this in the team films, but it’s not that they raised the level of violence in the character gratuitously for a cash-in on Deadpool’s success. THIS is how the character really is.
Once they’re flushed out of their hidey hole by the people on Laura’s trail, the film becomes a road trip to a possible mutant haven on the Canadian border. This is my favorite part of the film: the dysfunctional three-generation family with Charles as grandfather, Logan as the disappointing son, and Laura as the highly unpredictable daughter. The future of 2029 is done very well in that a few things are different, but not much, and in the world we live in where technological advances seem to occur only in select areas (not going to get into my theory as to why), I doubt the world of 2029 will seem radically different than 2017. Besides, a more science fiction world would have detracted from Mangold’s laser focus on the characters and the highlight is when the trio stop at a farmhouse for the night to stay with a family they help along the way. Unfortunately, this is also when the movie’s biggest flaw enters.
I don’t think X-24 was in any way needed in this film. He is, a de-aged, Hugh Jackman clone, and I think that the entire film would have been better without him. He’s responsible for the deaths of both Charles and Logan, and to have such iconic characters fall to a tabula rasa just seems a little weak. The two most powerful scenes in the film are their burials though. Jackman delivers one of the best scenes in his career trying to say something over Xavier’s grave, and the final shot of Logan’s grave is a haunting and fitting farewell to a character that captured the imagination of fans for nearly two decades.
Logan isn’t perfect, and it’s not a fun farewell. It’s grim and tragic, but then most of Logan’s life was, as well. I hope we see more of X-23, but if this is simply the finale for all the characters involved, it’s a very good one. Hugh Jackman is a brilliant actor and will go on to do many other films and inhabit many other characters, but as Sean Connery will always be James Bond, Jackman will always be Logan, and he seems fine with that. He should be. He brought a character to life and will be the benchmark by which any other actor who has the misfortune to follow him in the role is measured. I doubt any will measure up.