We might as well get this out of the way early. The solo Wolverine movies have not been very good so far. From Marvel Comics to Twentieth Century Fox, writers have never been quite sure what to do with the character. Except that, whether on comic books or movie tickets he seems to be good for sales whenever he shows up so, clearly, doing nothing is not an option. The first X-Men movie cleverly played with this notion by shifting the focus away from the character in a 3rd act reveal with Ian McKellen’s Magneto delivering one of his many wry lines, “You? My dear boy, whoever said I wanted you?”
Despite that offhand snub, The Wolverine was very much in demand and spinoff flicks soon followed. But the solo films had no such easy way to skirt around the issue of how to make the character interesting, what with Wolverine being the central figure, and the results were less than inspiring. One of the main problems was having to tame down the inherent violence of its protagonist in order to secure that lucrative PG-13 rating and in the process turned what was a savage and vicious character into something the whole family could enjoy. Long time comic books fans will happily tell you that, whatever Wolverine is, he is not Captain America.
For the 3rd solo outing of ol’ Weapon X director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman have fought and secured an R rating and here, at last, we have the Wolverine movie that we were promised. Reportedly the star and director lobbied the studio tenaciously with Jackman going so far as to take a pay cut in order to convince timid studio executives. Their efforts paid off and the studio was convinced. One suspects persuaded in no small part by Deadpool’s hefty box office receipts. The results are that here we have a serious enough film befitting the source material with Mangold finding depths to the character previously unfathomed. And with the film geared towards an adult audience, we can finally see what actually happens when a man with metal claws protruding from his knuckles goes into a berserker rage.
Logan features some of the most graphically violent scenes in any comic book movie. Some even shockingly so; and that’s a good thing. For this is the next step in the evolution of X-Men movies. Based in part on the excellent alternate-future comic book “Old Man Logan” by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, the film finds Logan, or James Howlett, as is stated on his driver’s license, working as a limousine driver. James is worse for wear, that legendary healing factor not as quick as it used to be. He keeps his head down and tries to stay out of trouble in a world where most superheroes are gone and mutants are almost extinct. He keeps mostly to himself barely making enough money to buy medicine and occasionally goes to visit a certain aging former telepath until a desperate woman comes asking for help. Logan is forced to confront the legacy of his past and has to make some tough choices. Is there any remnant of the anti-hero he once was or has he given up completely?
Helping him answer these questions is his former mentor Charles Xavier also feeling the ravages of time. Patrick Stewart is obviously enjoying himself playing the cranky, old grandpa version of Professor X, who despite his advancing age is still one of the most powerful mutants on earth. Incidentally, this is the first X-Men flick to really showcase the dangers of unchecked mutant powers and in doing so contributes to enhancing the mythos of the entire series.
But that’s not the whole story, for this film has a secret weapon (X). The X-Men movies have been defined by some genius casting choices (Can you even picture anybody else but Stewart and Jackman in their respective roles?) and here the tradition continues with Spanish actress Dafne Keen Fernández. In Logan, she is a revelation, scarily good in her scenes, acting way better than an 11-year-old has any right to be and holding her own opposite grizzled, old, veteran actors. Wait until you get a glimpse of that thousand-yard stare. Keen, who wasn’t even born when Wolverine debuted in the first X-Men flick way back in 2000 plays Laura, a mysterious mutant that comes across Logan’s path and doubles as the film’s McGuffin. Laura is a lost soul and Keen imbues the character with depth and personality, going from wide-eyed, sweet little girl, in constant wonder of a new world she has never seen before to a raging, vicious killer, attacking anything within range in the space of mere seconds. Going between vulnerable victim of abuse to murdering killing machine within a whole movie would be a remarkable feat for any respectable actress with decades of experience. That Keen manages to do it so effortlessly within single scenes is nothing short of uncanny. It will be very interesting to see where the career of this young talented actress will lead.
But despite the stellar performance of its cast, it is the strength of a meaningful story compellingly told that elevates this from being yet another tired, derivative sequel and places it among the most relevant of the comic book flicks. The human moments stand out as much as the head stabbings. The age difference between its cast can be seen as a guide for the film itself. Logan is a film that uses the old as a lodestone to find the new. While mining the Wolverine mythology for context the film attempts to find closure to his arc while opening up new potential storylines in which to place his legacy.
In setting the story in his twilight years the writers have managed to find new meaning in a character that many would have thought would be played out by now. And Jackman snarls and slashes through it all with gusto. The filmmakers’ refusal to compromise has produced a film that stands way ahead of its predecessors, severely upping the action scene quotient while packing a surprisingly emotional punch. A comic book film that deals with themes of redemption, senility, alienation and even manages to throw in a little current political commentary on the issue of immigration and border security. (And as a native speaker, I thought the Spanish was a nice touch.) Not bad for a character that started out as a 3rd rate antagonist for the Hulk.
If this is indeed to be the last Hugh Jackman Wolverine movie it could not have made for a better send off. The best Wolverine movie by far, one of the best movies from the X-Men franchise overall and one of the best comic book movies of the whole genre.
Running Time: 2h 17min
On Sex, Violence and Nudity:
No sex. A pair of boobies appear briefly on screen. On the violence front, there is plenty. People get decapitated and limbs get cut off with impunity. Also, people get graphically stabbed in the face. A lot. And there is a fair amount of blood.