4.5 out of 5 stars.
Eight years ago, leaving the theater after watching the terrible, clichéd, first stand-alone Wolverine movie, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” I never would have thought the franchise would be here now. And yet, here we are. “Logan” is the third Wolverine standalone (following a middling 2013 effort simply titled “The Wolverine”) and supposedly the final feature film appearance of the character as played by Hugh Jackman (who has inhabited the role so fully over the last 17 years, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else playing him). And it is more than a great “X-Men” movie. It is more than a great superhero movie. To the astonishment of probably a lot of people but especially me, it is a great movie.
Directed by James Mangold, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Frank and Michael Green, “Logan” is set in the year 2029. Mutants are all but extinct, thanks to a virus created by the Transigen Project. Logan (Hugh Jackman), the mutant known as the Wolverine, is trying to escape his past and the legacy he’s left as one of the most famous members of the X-Men. He’s living in Mexico, where he cares for the ill Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and spends his days across the border in Texas, working as a chauffeur and scavenging for drugs to help control Xavier’s seizures. He is older, and his body isn’t healing like it used to.
One day, Logan is approached by Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a former Transigen nurse who is now on the run with one of the project’s patients, a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen). Laura, along with several other children, is a mutant who was bred using DNA samples from other mutants. Gabriela wants Logan’s help in getting them across the border to Canada, where there is a safe place for mutants called Eden. It’s no surprise that Logan initially refuses; he wants to make enough money to buy a boat so he and Professor Xavier can go live on the sea, away from all of this. But when the head of the Transigen Project, Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) traces Logan to his hiding spot, he, Xavier, and Laura have to go on the run.
In many ways, it’s a stretch to refer to “Logan” as a superhero movie. Sure, we see him whip out those claws on several occasions, and we do get a glimpse of some of the other young mutant’s powers as well. But as the title suggests, this movie isn’t so much about Wolverine, the X-Man. It’s about Logan, the person whose body and life was altered decades ago, who has been forced to kill good guys and bad guys alike, who has lost almost everyone he has ever been close to, and who is now slowly dying, and drinking heavily to numb the pain. He constantly clashes with Xavier, whose outlook on life is much sunnier, although we can glean from details later revealed in the film that one of his powerful seizures resulted in the deaths of seven X-Men. But while he acts like he doesn’t care, or that he’s selfish, we know the opposite is true, especially as the film progresses.
Much of the film’s effectiveness is due to the cast. Jackman has never been better playing the character he is most known for. He appears a good decade older than he actually is, his worn face a map of all the battles he’s fought and struggles he’s gone through. He’s extraordinarily gruff, but that makes his more reflective scenes all the more impactful. If this truly is Jackman’s last time playing the character, then he certainly made the most of it. Stewart, meanwhile, is also at the top of his game as Xavier, giving us a side of the usually collected Professor that we haven’t seen before. He’s losing his mind, and he’s losing patience with Logan, but at the prospect of new mutants he is back to his old self. Keen is a revelation, and deserves just as much praise as Jackman. Eleven years old at the time of filming, she steps into this very violent world and owns it, playing a character who barely speaks throughout the whole film, but is moody, volatile, and also curious about the world around her, having lived her whole life in a hospital up to that point. She is truly astounding.
“Logan” is a very violent movie, and that’s likely the thing most people will be talking about. It’s rated R, the first “X-Men” movie outside of last year’s “Deadpool” to receive that rating. But an R-rated “Deadpool” and an R-rated “Logan” are two very different movies. “Deadpool” is a comedy, and virtually celebrates its exaggerated gory sequences. “Logan” is deadly serious, and violence in this movie is something to cringe at, not laugh at. Perhaps a good reason why the previous Wolverine movies have never hit their mark is because they were too restrained by their PG-13 ratings. But the violence in “Logan” is also a good indicator of the environment it’s set in, and helps distinguish it from the previous “X-Men” movies, which followed glossy costumed heroes as they used their powers to save the world from villains. In “Logan,” there are no heroes. The lives of a few children are at stake, but not the world. And moving the story away from urban settings and to the desolate American West, it feels like the law is no longer present. This sort of violence would have never worked in the “X-Men” films, but it works perfectly in “Logan.” I’ll also add that, unlike the previous “X-Men” movies, this one isn’t overloaded with computer-generated effects; the spectacularly choreographed action scenes appear very natural.
“Logan” is gritty, perhaps too much so to make watching it an entirely enjoyable experience. It’s also longer than it needs to be by 10 or 15 minutes. But it’s also surprisingly poignant, and what could be seen as a downer ending is actually filled with hope. Like the life of its title character, “Logan” is a more than fitting conclusion to a series that had a below-average beginning.
Runtime: 137 minutes. Rated R.