Through something like eight films leading up to LOGAN, Hugh Jackman has given us a few different versions of Wolverine, but they’ve all been rooted in the inherent threat that at any given moment, he could lose control and unleash something so dangerous that he could rip a roomful of people to shreds without breaking a sweat. To date, we’ve only gotten glimpses of Wolverine’s feral side, but with Logan, set only a few decades in the future, the promise of previous X-MEN movies and Wolverine appearances is finally delivered. This is largely because in LOGAN, we find that Wolverine’s healing powers are fading and the adamantium, a fictional metallic alloy that was infused into his skeletal system which allows him to have weaponized claws, is poisoning him.
Working again with director James Mangold (THE WOLVERINE, 3:10 TO YUMA, COP LAND), who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Frank and Michael Green, Jackman is going for a manifestation of Logan who is older, in constant pain, and is one of the few remaining mutants alive. In LOGAN, we quickly discover a startling truth that no new mutants have been born in 25 years and the X-Men are dead except for Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) whose ability to keep the voices of others’ thoughts out of his head only works with pharmaceuticals. When the drugs aren’t working (or he doesn’t take them), he has stroke-like seizures that put anyone in the immediate vicinity in danger of having their minds fried.
Logan has the Professor hidden away, looked after by the mutant Caliban (a wonderful and surprising turn by Stephen Merchant), who can occasionally glimpse the future and is allergic to sunlight. To try and stay off the radar but still make some money, Logan has taken a job as a limo driver, but is soon discovered by a woman named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who has a little girl under care named Laura (the intense and badass Dafne Keen). She wants to hire Logan to take them somewhere safe, but before long Logan and Laura are on their own, and he brings her to the Professor in hopes of figuring out who and what she is.
Pursuing Logan and Laura is someone named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who works for a man named Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), who is interested in collecting Laura for reasons unknown. It’s made clear though that wherever she’s from, Gabriela broke her out and is attempting to get her to safety. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by mentioning that Laura is based on the character X-23 and has claws (as well as a sweet single blade that comes out of each of her feet) and a healing factor just like Wolverine, and a savage viciousness of her own. She doesn’t talk much, but she kills with a ferocity and efficiency that will give you no choice but to give her a standing ovation. And before long, Logan, Charles and Laura on on a life-or-death road trip with the devil at their heels.
It’s sometimes tough to watch Jackman in LOGAN. No longer healing the way he used to, the battle scars on his body are clearly visible and sometimes simply don’t heal properly. He’s in constant pain and has become something of a painkiller junkie and even more of a boozehound. He shuffles more than walks; even the tops of his hands bleed and get infected every time he pops his claws. He’s not a pretty sight any longer, and I’m fairly certain he knows he days are numbered.
LOGAN as an R-rated exercise is pure brutality. The violence is graphic and hard to watch at times, and the body count is high, and not just among the bad guys. But it goes beyond the gore and death; Logan attacks like a wounded animal, because that’s exactly what he is. While Laura is something of the protective cub who is willing to die to protect the elder. My first thought after watching Logan was that it was an epic Western set in a hopeless future. This is the true last stand of mutantkind, and even good people who attempt to help them pay an unexpected price. Mangold and Jackman have given us a film that could only have been made after Wolverine has been through hell and back in all the other films. He’s earned the right to be cruel, cynical, and selfish. Jackman embodies Logan’s lifetime of fighting back; he’s earned the right to sever a few limbs.
If I had one issue with LOGAN, it’s that I never found Dr. Rice a particularly menacing character. I get why his thinking is evil, but I never got goosebumps when he appeared on the screen. Holbrook’s Pierce is a bit more of the tradition, affected bad-guy type with a hint of Southern charm and a few metal limbs of his own. There’s another, more suited villain for Wolverine that I won’t spoil but he pops in late in the film and really does a number on Logan.
LOGAN is an outstanding work that moves far beyond the framework of any superhero film we’ve seen today, especially in the X-MEN universe (unless I missed it, there’s not even a Stan Lee cameo). This is a lived-in, mature take on the lives and (for some) deaths of those with powers. It felt legitimately strange to be watching a film in which the age of mutants was effectively over, perhaps to be replaced by something else, but that chapter in earth’s history is closed. Above all his angrier emotions, Logan is also habitually sad and lonely. His dream is to save enough cash to buy a boat and hit the high seas alone with his dark thoughts. It’s what we want for him as well, but we have a sense the dream will elude him.
LOGAN works best if you have a history with the Wolverine character, but it’s also remarkably impactful as a standalone film. Either way, watching a film with these stakes, characters we care deeply about, set in a world hellbent on crushing them, you can’t help but be moved by this movie in all its complexities. This is not simply a superhero film or a sequel; it’s high drama about a man at the end of his journey, and you’re just going to have to sit there and cry a little as his world falls apart. There is hope, for sure, but LOGAN is one that’s going to make you feel something deeply.