Film Review – Logan
It has been seventeen years now since Hugh Jackman first sprung the adamantium claws of the titular character Logan, aka the Wolverine, from between his knuckles. When the casting choice for Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) was first announced Jackman initially received criticism for being both an unknown, an Australian with a background in musical theater, and too tall. The comic book character’s origins were short and fierce, like his animal counterpart. Now, having appeared onscreen as Wolverine nine previous times, Jackman returns for his tenth and reported final time in James Mangold’s Logan.
At this point it’s obvious fans have shred that initial criticism, which happened almost immediately upon X-Men’s release, and embraced the Marvel hero, only for us now to come to this bittersweet end. And bittersweet it truly is. In many ways Logan is the Wolverine movie fans have been clamoring for from the start. Set in the near future of the year 2029, Logan is now moonlighting as a limo driver and has long since hung-up his superhero ways. Instead, he spends his waking hours drunk and when he’s not driving he’s taking care of an aging and now mentally dangerous Charles Xavier, aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart in what is now his reported last outing as the character).
Forget your Marvel Studios movies, this thing harkens back to the earlier days of superhero blockbusters like the Blade series, while combining the plot and esthetics of a Clint Eastwood vehicle. The first Wolverine movie to be outright rated R means that those stronger than steel claws do exactly what you’ve always imagined they’d do when used against human flesh. Visceral might be the start of how to describe claws popping through people’s heads, again and again and again. And yet, it’s undeniably enjoyable in that primitive and deranged way that never gets old. As director, Mangold controls a deliberate pace that seeks to maximize the impact of the action and violence so that it’s never inundating. When the action does occur, the camera work is rather steady and cutting, though quick at times, is minimal in terms of hyperkinetic filmmaking.
Hiding out in Mexico, Logan, Xavier and another mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) are part of the scattered remains of what’s left of the mutant population. To add to their endangered place in society, no new mutants have been born for some time. Xavier is suffering from what appears to be dementia which makes his mental powers highly dangerous to everyone else. So, Logan keeps him dosed on a drug that suppresses his powers and helps keep him cogent, while Caliban uses his powers to look out for other mutants, ensuring their anonymity and seclusion. Everything appears to be going fine towards a gradual but slow death for them all eking out their existence in such a place, when a woman named Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) shows up looking for the Wolverine’s help, with a child named Laura (Dafne Keen) in tow.
In your classic Hero’s Journey fashion, Logan wants nothing to do with her or the child she’s protecting. And whether he likes it or not, Logan finds himself wrapped up in the situation when he’s left to care for Laura and a group of mercenaries led by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) show up at their hideout looking for her. The tables get turned when Laura reveals her hidden mutant identity, calling into question how she even can exist and where she came from. The movie subtly weaves in an X-Men storyline as base for creating an action film that aside from claw-poppings and regenerative healing features little of the usual superhero spectacle.
What this does feature, aside from a whole lot of gleeful violence, is a somber and woeful story of the last days of two iconic figures who are forced to face the cumulative repercussions of the weight of their lives’ actions. It’s welcomingly unexpected that Xavier’s arc is about facing the effects of his powers on others. A good deal of the movie is spent watching Logan, Laura and Xavier interact as they are doggedly pursued by Pierce. Most of the movie’s character is defined in these moments, which don’t playout in the clichéd way they so easily could have, given the familiarity of the plot. This unexpectedly works to the movies advantage.
There really isn’t a movie here you haven’t in some form seen before, yet you really haven’t seen a superhero movie like this before. Don’t mistake it though as something trying to reinvent any wheels, it’s certainly not. It is however trying to be as good as it can be at doing exactly what it does. And maybe given the intended rating and the concept of a “final-outing” there’s a freedom the movie exudes that allows it to be the genre movie it wants to be without ties to continuity or fanboy fetishism. Jackman and Stewart give their best performances as these characters and there’s a finality to their positions that together create a lasting impression not usually held by movies of this sort.