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Hugh Jackman first unsheathed his adamantium claws back in 2000, before superheroes were synonymous with summer blockbusters. Over the last 17 years, Jackman’s become synonymous with the feral X-Man with the metal skeleton, appearing as the character seven times, significantly longer than most other actors have held onto their costumed counterparts. But all things must end, even practicality immortal mutants. Logan gives Jackman an opportunity to do with Wolverine what no other superhero has before: take one last ride, claws out. And what a ride it is.
The year is 2029 and mutants are all but extinct. Logan works as a limo driver, living off the grid and squirreling money away to buy a boat for him and the aging Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) whose psychic powers have become increasingly dangerous and uncontrollable. The years have not been kind to Logan – we first see him sleeping off an alcoholic stupor in the back of his cab, when a gang attempts to steal his tires. Logan begrudgingly dispatches them, giving director James Mangold, who also helmed The Wolverine, an opportunity to show you just how different this X-Men movie is going to be. The on-screen versions of Wolverine have always seemed restrained by the PG-13 demand for bloodless violence. This is a man who fights with razor sharp claws in his hands. Logan finally shows us the violence he inflicts as intimate and bloody and devastating not just for his victims, but for himself.
Logan’s plans to escape out onto the ocean are derailed when a nurse named Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez, The Drop) enlists him to help a young mutant named Laura, played by newcomer Dafne Keen. Born in a lab, Laura’s powers are similar to Logan’s – she heals quickly and has claws coated in adamantium by the men who engineered her. Logan is asked to escort Laura to Eden, a safe haven in North Dakota, and agrees for a promised 50 thousand dollars. To get there, he’ll need to outrun the Essex Corporation, who made her. Leading the hunt is Pierce, a mercenary with a robotic hand played by Boyd Holbrook (Gone Girl), keen on recovering the stolen property.
James Mangold intended Logan to be something of a western with Logan playing the role of the road-weary gunfighter, coming to terms with his violent past. It’s a fascinating, meditative arc, and one that hasn’t been explored in this context. The X-Men films have always been a victim of their own scope, buckling under the weight of a massive cast, and global stakes. Logan enjoys a narrowed scope that allows characters to develop. Look at the latest grip of films coming from Marvel and DC, and you’ll find precious few character arcs that pass muster. Wolverine’s journey in Logan is fully realized – it has weight to it. Logan’s relationship with Laura is fraught and complicated and feels earned and grounded in a way that few relationships do in superhero movies.
Logan also benefits from the latitude its R rating affords it. I went into Logan with more than a modicum of skepticism about the film’s rating. After the wild success of the R- rated Deadpool, it was difficult to not see this as a prime example of movie studios learning the wrong lesson from a film. Deadpool was a success because it was a good movie, not because it was bloody and crass. And to Mangold, Jackman and Marvel’s credit, there’s nothing cheap or self indulgent about Logan. You simply can’t tell a story about the cost of violence without violence.
With Logan, Marvel has finally delivers a superhero film for adults. It’s a film that digs into deep, introspective questions about identity and purpose. Laura is a child who, like Logan, was designed to be a weapon. How do you strive to be better, when you are built for war? There’s a very powerful moment when Laura and Logan, both victims of terrible cruelty, discuss their nightmares. Laura is haunted by the people who’ve hurt her. Logan is haunted by the people he’s hurt. It’s a powerful moment between two people who are connected and divided by violence.
Watching Logan, you get a sense that this is the Wolverine that Hugh Jackman has always wanted to play full of grit, tenderness, regret and anger. It’s a rock star performance that makes him an early contender for ‘Best Performance The Academy Will Never Acknowledge’ award. Patrick Stewart’s latest turn as Professor X is unlike any before and his scenes with Jackman are some of the film’s most devastating. The young Dafne Keen is a fierce and silent presence as Laura, mustering more gravitas than most action stars in their prime in a performance that begs for more exploration in future films. But, while Mangold has discussed interest in seeing Laura’s character in future films, Logan does not depend on it. Logan manages to not just tell a complete story, something that fewer and fewer franchise films do; it manages to tell a damn good one.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
Logan should serve as a template for what comic book movies can and should be. Perhaps it’s fitting that the franchise that kicked off the comic book movie craze, should be the first to elevate it to the level of truly great cinema. James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have created something special here that’s worth taking note of. Fox and Marvel took a risk on Logan, creating something challenges the notion of what a superhero film can and should be. Logan is the swan song Wolverine deserves. It’s also the best super hero film ever made.