What do you get when you strip Wolverine down to his core? Besides an adamantium skeleton, you get a man who has lived too long a life and outlived everyone he ever cared about. You get a man who became the best at what he did, in spite of it not being a very nice thing, and has lived long enough for it all to haunt him. You get a man who searched his whole, long life for something worth dying for, only for death to sneak up on him slowly, and after he has nothing left to fight for. Logan is the best X-Men movie by a mile, and that’s because it’s a full reflection of the character who endured despite the middling-to-awful quality of most of the movies he’s starred in. And true to character, everyone in this movie is broken, no good deed goes unpunished, characters die without ceremony, and it keeps on going until it just can’t anymore.
Logan takes place in 2029, and an almost two-hundred year old Logan (Hugh Jackman) has finally begun to falter under the weight of his long, hard, life. He’s outlived all of the other mutants – who are no longer being born – besides the albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant), and an elderly Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who’s deteriorating mental state throws him into seizures that cause a telepathic blast-zone of hundreds of feet. Logan has retired from being the Wolverine, and for the most part, his powers have followed. The elder Wolverine is covered in scars that his weakened healing factor can no longer completely erase, and his adamantium skeleton is slowly killing him from the inside-out, giving him a terrible cough through the entire movie. He makes a living as a chauffeur, using a rented limo to drive bachelor parties and other such folks across the US/Mexico border, hoping to save up enough to one day buy a boat for himself and Xavier so they can live the last of their days without risking the life of anyone else.
But his plans changed when he’s approached by a scientist who charges him with making sure a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), gets safely to “Eden,” a supposed safe haven for a handful of lab-grown young mutants. Logan initially refuses, but Xavier, excited to see that mutants haven’t gone completely extinct, convinces him to ferry the girl cross-country and keep her away from the Reavers – a cybernetically enhanced government strike-team that wants to turn her into a weapon.
Logan is a latter-day Western through and through, at one point even having the three leads take time to watch Shane. Like those Cowboys, Logan is a hero who no longer makes sense in this world. His life of violence has branded him unfit; and the one good thing he can do is to protect the next generation from having to suffer through it as he did. In previous movies, Wolverine has been a loner in search of a team, but in this one it’s made clear that his destiny was always to keep on heading towards the sunset on his own having done whatever work he needed to.
The quality of performances in this movie are fitting for a couple of actors who have worn these roles as long as Jackman and Stewart have. At this point, Jackman isn’t Wolverine – Wolverine is whoever Jackman wants him to be, and this version of the character is irreparably broken. There’s no one left to stop him from indulging in his worst habits, nobody to keep him from the loneliness that’s called him his entire life. He’s tired and grumpy, and keeps a magic bullet with him for the moment that he can finally put himself to rest.
Having recently cared for an elderly relative myself, Stewart’s nonagenarian Xavier was the hardest performance for me to watch. He realistically switches from kindly and knowledgeable father-figure to a ticking time-bomb in much the same way that mood-swings turned my relative from affable to abusive without warning. He has an understanding of the burden that he puts on people, but still resents it when they seem him only as that burden. He knows that he’s responsible for a lot of pain in this movie, but his deteriorating mental state has stopped him from completely processing all the grief and guilt he feels.
But the breakout star in this movie is Dafne Keen as Laura, a preteen clone of Wolverine in more than just genetics. She’s a fireball, exploding into action scenes with a flurry of slashes and flips, and smoldering in emotive silence when alone with her new fathers. She’s a kid who wears obnoxious pink gas-station sunglasses and plays with the lock on a car door, but who has also lived her entire life up to this point raised to be a living weapon, and having seen the peak of human cruelties against other children like her. She’s mute for the first two acts of the movie, and even in the third act, speaks mostly in Spanish, but the audience is never unclear on exactly what’s going on in her head at any given moment. Keen has a control of body-language and emotion that escapes some actors thrice her age, and is most-definitely someone to keep an eye on.
Logan probably works great on its own, but what puts it over the top is that, if you’ve seen enough of the seven other movies Jackman has played Wolverine over the past 17 years, it does feel like you’ve reached the end of his journey with him. It works especially well as a sequel/foil to Mangold’s The Wolverine, where, like the Magnificent Seven, Wolverine has made the transition from samurai to cowboy. His tragic arc takes him from someone looking for something to honorably die for and finding something to live for, to a character resigned to a death without honor – unable to continue living with the people who give him purpose.
Logan makes full use of its R-rating to deliver on a comic-book movie that’s viscerally thrilling, with some of the heaviest fight scenes to come out of the “genre” that deliver on all the promises that Wolverine’s claws have made since 1974. But besides that, R-rating or not, Logan is the most mature superhero movie to come out yet, working as a straight mood-piece in some scenes to communicate its ideas about the use of violence, aging, death, and legacy. While not as immediately deconstructive of the genre as something like Watchmen, Logan does feel like it should mark the end of an era of superhero movies. With any luck, filmmakers will take away the idea that R-ratings can be used to take the superhero to new places of character-driven drama, and not just as an excuse for more gore.
Logan made me do something I never expected to do while watching a superhero movie, much less an X-men one, it made me tear up. In the same way that The Avengers was the first real adaptation of the comic-book crossover event, Logan feels like the first example of an earned ending. I’m not sure where FOX, or any other studio, can take the character after this movie without pissing off a whole lot of fans without rebooting the entire franchise. And maybe that’s a good thing; it’ll give us time to really reflect on how to handle the legacy of the Wolverine.