Even before the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it has always felt like Fox’s X-Men franchise has been a bit of a redheaded stepchild superhero series. Although they have tried hard, the results have been wildly inconsistent since 2000’s franchise launching X-Men. For as much work as they put into them, none of the films have ever quite achieved the greatness that the premise of the series promises.
That is until Logan.
The year is 2029. Super-powered mutants have all but disappeared off of the earth with no new superpower person being born in the last quarter of a century. Logan (Hugh Jackman), aka the Wolverine, has been hiding out in El Paso, Texas, living a quiet life earning money as of all things a limo driver. He has also been secretly taking care of an ailing Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who has slowly been succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease, make his telepathic powers unpredictable and dangerous. But like every other time that Logan tries to live a quiet life away from the world of superheroics, that world seems to find him. This time it is the form of a young girl (Dafne Keen) who exhibits powers very much like his own. Logan very quickly finds himself on a journey north towards Canada, being pursued by a paramilitary group who have ties to both Logan’s and the young girl’s own origins.
Logan is a film really wears its R-rating on its sleeve. The first line of dialogue is the first of many, many F-bombs that will be dropped throughout its two-hour-plus run time. The violence is all so much more extreme and graphic then it is in the regular X-Men films. Logan slices and dices his way through the movie, with all the splattering blood and airborne severed body parts one would expect from someone with infinitely sharp claws popping out of their knuckles to generate. But it is not these elements that make the film more adult than the other installments in the X-Men franchise. It is the film’s major themes of looking back on one’s life, living with the violence one has caused and seeing if it is even worth trying to change one’s violent nature. The film’s retrospective nature is appropriate for both the character and, by extension, the franchise itself, given that Jackman has stated that this will be the last time he will be wielding the Wolverine’s claws on the big screen. The actor has played the character for 17 years now, actualizing on the screen over 100 years of the character’s life. While Logan is finding a new aspect of the character to explore, I still have to wonder if some of the world weariness we see the aging hero exhibit isn’t some of Jackman’s own.
Having the world’s mutant population all but gone does sound on the surface as if the franchise is going to be doing their version of Children Of Men. But that would be only a superficial comparison. For one thing, the movie’s setting of twelve years in the future doesn’t feel all too removed from today. Although there are some hints that things like climate change are still a concern impacting society, director James Mangold resists making the world a dreary, semi-post-apocalyptic landscape.
If anything, the cinematography’s dusty browns are more indicative of the film’s roots in the Western genre more than in any kind of science fiction or comic-book fantasy source material. And while the movie directly references the 1953 western Shane, there are plenty of parallels to be found to 1976’s The Shootist, which featured John Wayne as an aging gunfighter trying to convince a young headstrong hotshot not to make the same mistakes with their life that he did.
Special mentioned should be made of Dafne Keen, who plays the young girl at the center of Logan’s sudden cross-country trek. It’s a mostly non-vocal, very physical performance, not just in the action sequences but in how she reacts to things being said around and about her and she handles it with aplomb.
Although Logan has been the biggest fan favorite character in the X-Men franchise since its launch, the previous Wolverine solo-billed films have never been great or rarely even good. In fact the first one, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was down right terrible, giving us a story the audience could have pieced together from various things mentioned in the first two films of the main franchise. A marked improvement was 2013’s The Wolverine, which placed the superhero character in a more traditional thriller style film that down played the world-ending histrionics of the main franchise’s features, even though its third-act did veer back towards more traditional comic book territory. This third and final film in the Wolverine spin-off trilogy not only makes a fitting send off for the character, but is without a doubt the best film of the entire franchise.