Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for 17 years. Think about that. Sev-en-teen YEARS. It’s been almost two decades since Hugh Jackman was made into a mainstream star by giving the most iconic X-Man a cinematic face, and according to the star, his time as Wolverine has come to an end. Logan is likely to be the last outing for this iteration of the character, and I couldn’t think of a better way for the cigar-chomping, foul-mouthed scamp to go out. After nine movies, three of which were “solo” adventures, we’ve finally been given the Wolverine movie we’ve all dreamed of since day one.
I’m an apologist for X-Men Origins: Wolverine (it’s fine), and a staunch defender of The Wolverine (it’s finer), but Logan needs no defense. It’s legitimately good. Great even. I’d go so far as to say it’s probably the best superhero flick since Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. This has everything to do with the fact that with 17 years under his belt, Jackman, an extremely talented performer, has become Wolverine. I mean this in more ways than one. He has not just fully embodied the character, he has become the official version. We all argue over which Batman is the true Batman; which Superman is the Superest Man; which Joker is THE Joker, but we all accept that Hugh Jackman is inarguably Wolverine, and that even though the yellow guy from the comics came first, he’s now second.
Set in 2029, Logan follows our titular “hero” through a world that has passed by. The last mutant was born in 2005, and an unnamed event (or series of events) has left the terrain dusty and depleted, giving the world a classic “post-apocalyptic” lack of shine. In referencing the bloody remains of a fight with Wolverine, a character notes that the bodies looked as if they had met either Freddy Krueger or a tiger, but “one is extinct and the other’s a fictional character.” It’s a throwaway line that does more world building than miles of green screen ever could.
The script is filled with small touches like that, my favorite being the inclusion of in-world X-Men comic books. “Only a quarter of it happened, and it didn’t happen like that,” grumbles Logan in reference to a faded old issue. The suggestion is that what we’ve come to know as the candy-colored, expressly PG-13 film franchise is all just a bunch of tall tales, and that Logan is the only segment which actually ‘happened.’ This certainly explains the myriad continuity issues of the series, and gives reason to Logan’s newly acquired foul mouth.
It’s fun to watch Logan off the chain, but it’s an unexpected joy to watch Professor X drop F-bombs left and right. He even calls someone a prick. But the moments of levity are few and far between. Watching Xavier do anything at all is also quite sad. Now that he’s in his 90s, his powerful brain is in serious decline, which can cause big problems for anyone in the vicinity during one of his seizures. As such, Logan keeps his former teacher heavily medicated. In his moments of clarity, Xavier laments that little headway has been made regarding their lifelong ideological struggle: Xavier has hope for progress, for goodness, while Logan only wishes to put in his time and die. He has faith in nothing but doom. The adamantium bullet he carries around in his pocket as a potential escape from existence represents what little shred of hope he has left simply by virtue of not having been fired.
When Logan’s day job as a limo driver puts him in the path of a young girl with abilities similar to his own, a road movie happens complete with a ticking time bomb (something is poisoning Logan’s aging body), a villain (some government agency wants the girl), and a dubious rumor that a sanctuary for mutants exists somewhere in the wilderness of North Carolina.
It’s a bleak, depressing film, sometimes punishingly so, and it matches Logan’s outlook perfectly. Can he really be blamed for being such a downer? Immortality, to him, is nothing but a curse, and it hurts the hero in him to watch the world crumble, especially after having put in more time and witnessed more suffering than anyone else in the world. It also sets him up for a character arc that is so commonly absent from superhero cinema. Granted, Logan could hardly be called a superhero film so much as a neo-western/samurai flick, but it’s still a refreshing change. This film is not beholden to the cold reset rule of the MCU, where a status quo must be maintained, story be damned. I forgot what it was like for a comic book movie to stand alone, and Logan reminded me of the joy and satisfaction it brings.
The violence in Logan is BRUTAL with a capital GAH! More extras get speared on claws than don’t, but it’s not throwaway violence either. It has proper weight. Life is real – valued, even. Very few times did a fight break out where the audience didn’t gasp or cringe, but never was it at the expense of high-quality action. James Mangold has figured out a way to deliver gripping, super-powered clashes in a way that scratches the blockbuster itch while keeping a foot in the door of the real world. There are consequences to the violence, which is thematically tandem to Logan’s faltering healing factor. Every cut or blow is visceral, painful, lasting.
I have to go back to where I began. Hugh Jackman is next-level GREAT in this. This is up there with Prisoners as career-best work for him. His intensity is matched only by his weariness. There is pain behind his eyes; an untold story behind every scar. It’s as easy to root for him as it is to see why he craves relief – why he’s all but given up on altruism. He might be a super-human, but he is still a human, and his hardened heart still beats even though he’d give anything for it to stop. Jackman owns this struggle and it oozes from every pore. And when he’s stuck playing Dad to young Laura (Dafne Keen, who steals every moment with her strange, lovely performance), he becomes that much more lovable, that much more tortured – that much closer to salvation.
Sir Patrick Stewart, too, has defined his character for almost two decades, and while he wasn’t alone in doing so (McAvoy is my McABOYEEE), watching his mental and physical decline is heartbreaking and real. This is likely going to be Stewart’s departure from a legendary character as well. Logan is a dual swan song, and it’s handled with an incredible level of care and empathy.
Logan is a powerful, excellent film – a fitting farewell to what turned out to be one (or two) of the most enduring character portrayals in film history, and it serves as a potent reminder that even in a world where brand management tends to hold sway over content, it doesn’t mean it has to be at the expense of great storytelling.
Logan opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.