With all the comic book movies out there, none have endured as long as the X-Men franchise. Beginning in 2000, Logan/Wolverine was front and center from the get-go and he has since appeared in every single movie in the series. 17 years is an impressive run, especially with an ageless character. But all good things must come to an end, so 2017’s Logan marks Hugh Jackman’s 9th and final portrayal of the titular clawed character. And I daresay it may even be his best!
The year is 2029. No new mutants have been born in over 20 years. An aging and sickly Logan (Hugh Jackman) now drives a limo near the U.S./Mexico border, scrapping together what he can to buy powerful drugs for an ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Charles has regular seizures, and his mind is now so powerful that a seizure can have the effect of a weapon of mass destruction. Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a nurse for a pharmaceutical company called Alkali Transigen (a name from Logan’s dark past), begs Logan for his help in taking a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to a place called Eden. Logan refuses, multiple times, but it’s not long before Transigen’s security team shows up looking for the girl. And when Laura’s claws come out, literally, that’s when Logan realizes that she’s like him. Very much like him.
The X-Men are no more, and Logan is NOT Wolverine in this movie. If you’re expecting him to snap out of it later on and suddenly behave like the Wolverine of the earlier X-Men movies, don’t. He doesn’t. He is a flesh and blood man who walks with a limp, suffering his mutation and the unnaturalness of his adamantium skeleton. We’ve never seen him this vulnerable before, able to be beaten down by regular people and struggling to make his claws come out. And Hugh Jackman plays it to perfection. He’s a tired, worn-out alcoholic who refuses to play hero anymore. An unkillable man who wants to die. But the appearance of Laura reawakens a fire, however small. There’s a line by one of the villains, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), who says that people never really change. And as much as Logan tries to — and he really really tries to in this movie — he can’t change who he is deep down, not completely. He may not be Wolverine anymore, but he’s still Logan. These are some of the powerful themes found throughout this movie. It’s action-heavy, as expected, but it’s also moving and heartbreaking. Everyone is deeply flawed and vulnerable, from Charles to Laura to Logan. It may seem like an action-packed chase movie, but the real heart of it is family. Logan, Charles, and Laura give each other real meaning and purpose, something that’s usually handled one-dimensionally in comic book movies. But not here. Their family dynamic is strong. I could have listened to them bicker and argue forever. And that is no small accomplishment in a 17-year-old franchise.
One of the enduring aspects of these movies is that they like to try different approaches. A prequel here, a trip to Japan there, and now an R-rated Western. And they make especially good use of that rating. I lost count of how many severed limbs went flying. It’s bloody and visceral, and F-words are aplenty. The dusty Western setting combined with the gritter tone make it the most realistic X-Men movie by far. There’s a lot of driving on country roads rather than flying around in a supersonic jet. A lot of up-close hand-to-hand brawls instead of colorful effects-laden superpowers exploding on the screen. Some may prefer the more “comic book” style for a movie like this, but live-action has an expectation of realism, at least on a small-scale, and cranking that up can do wondrous things (just look at The Dark Knight Trilogy). The story is smaller than a traditional X-Men movie, and significantly more personal, but it draws you in so much more. You never feel like you’re watching heroes. You’re watching complex individuals try to live their lives the best they can. It’s funny how global devastation can pale in comparison to someone pointing a gun at a loved one, but that just goes to show what’s really important in a movie. Not WHAT the characters are, but WHO they are. And this movie leaves you feeling much better connected to characters you’ve known for years.
As the 9th X-Men movie, one thing that’s abundantly clear is that Logan’s life was never easy. His ability to heal was of little comfort to all the pain and betrayal he was forced to endure. And now here, at the end of his very long life, struggling to get by with his mutant abilities on the out, his story comes to a poignant end. It feels like an ending right from the beginning, and the final moments are handled with care to remind you how it all started. Not a lot of characters get the final film that they deserve, but even fewer are handled as powerfully as Logan. X
4 out of 5