In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan's attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.
The Wolverine (aka Logan) is the defining role of Hugh Jackman’s career, but the movies in the X-Men extended universe have never matched the standard set by their central star. Jackman plays the character as if he were Othello, with all the intensity of a brooding outcast whose anger is vulnerable to manipulation, and whose murderous impulses can only be quieted by remorse.
Jackman’s on-screen persona can’t be the only one angry about how he’s been treated over the years; Never mind being weaponised against his will and rebuilt as a time-travelling toy soldier, imagine suffering such indignities within a fractured franchise that too often lacks the regenerative powers of its own mutants.
However patchy the X-Men films have become, that all ends with Logan. The film marks Jackman’s last hurrah as the mutant malcontent, so the gory, glorious Logan rids itself of the burden of doing the advance marketing for other films in the franchise, which means it actually has an ending.
Logan opens in the year 2029. The Americas are a Wild West (and North, South and East), potable water is a commodity, and mutants are a dying breed. The cynical citizens don’t need another hero, and even if they did, their best hope for one is long past caring. He’s a shadow of his former self, he drinks like a fish, and he carries an Adamantium bullet.
"a film that’s acutely aware of the dangers of emotional exploitation"
Like the proverbial grizzled gunslinger who’s hung up his six-shooter, Logan (Jackman) has turned his back on his fighting ways. These days he suppresses his anger to keep his knuckles nice, and ekes out a living as a stretch limo chauffeur. He carts bawdy bachelorettes and pissed prom kids around town, and runs drugs across the border to medicate his ailing pal Professor X / Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). The professor is now 90 in the shade, and the onset of a degenerative brain disease has rendered his powerful mind a loose cannon. For his own good (and ours), Xavier has been banished to an overturned water tower in a remote Mexican dustbowl, where his telekenetic impulses are neutralised pharmaceutically by his disgruntled carer Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Along with breadwinner Logan, this unhappy trio of mutants avoid all talk of past glories (we’re “God’s mistake”, Logan declares) and they unite around the shared pipe dream of sailing off into the sunset.
As if from a comic book, a mystery woman enters Logan’s life with an envelope of cash and a surly child, Laura (Dafne Keen), who is not her daughter. They have an urgent need to skip the country, for a rendezvous in Canada with other surly tweens. Logan bats away the woman’s insistence that only his stretch limo can provide them with safe passage, but when she’s riddled with bullets by a corporate thug (Boyd Holbrook), he starts to see her point.
It transpires that Laura shares more with Logan than just an unwillingness to connect on an interpersonal level. She was created in a lab using X-Men DNA, and represents a now-thwarted bid to create a new generation of mutant corporate mercenaries. Her escape from the compound makes her both a weapon and liability, and the heavies want their little Wolveriña dead.
The impromptu road trip with Laura, Xavier and Logan, posing as a family, offers wonderful character moments that accentuate Logan’s dramatic integrity. In unexpectedly touching scenes, Jackman and Stewart convey the all-consuming mix of tenderness and exasperation that comes with caring for an invalid parent. Xavier forgets to take his meds, Logan loses his temper then feels bad for shouting, averts his eyes when he has to wheel his “dad” to the loo. These moments feel real to those who’ve lived through them, and emphasise just how far from the usual superhero narrative we’ve strayed, thank Zod. The current trend of Superhero movies is to strive for un-reality until a climax that pits two brickhouses with dead eyes against each other, as the world gawps; there’s a knowing nod to this within Logan, actually. I won’t spoil it but suffice it to say, the scene makes a great argument against both humanised weapons and CGI slugfests.
Logan borrows much from the western genre - George Stevens’ Shane is openly referenced throughout the film (maybe too much) as a touchstone for Logan’s tortured legacy - but it’s also pretty gripping as a slasher movie, too. Director James Mangold makes full use of the MA15+ classification to let the blood run free, and he even lets his most junior cast member in on the act. Keen is a revelation as Laura, holding her own against Jackman in the fight scenes, and watching her treat the bad guys who used and abused her to her very own gnarly knuckle sandwich is as unsettling (and as cool) as you’d think. (And maybe it’s just me, but a late-film reunion with other tween mutants had a momentary Children of the Damned feel to it…)
Owing to its agitated hero’s misfortunes through the ages, this is a film that’s acutely aware of the dangers of emotional exploitation, and it spares its audience a similar fate. With Logan, Mangold and co-writer Scott Frank tell the definitive story of the Wolverine, in an involving and deeply satisfying series finale. It shows the fate of mutants when age starts to weary them, with stakes that feel real, and empathy that’s earned.
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