It’s quite strange to think that Hugh Jackman first played Wolverine seventeen years ago. Equally odd to think that he wasn’t the original casting for the role, which originally went to Dougray Scott, before a scheduling conflict with Mission Impossible II caused him to drop out, putting Jackman, then a TV and theatre actor who was practically unknown, at least outside his native Australia, into the role. It’s very much become a signature role for him and it’s as good as impossible to imagine anyone else in the part. He’s appeared, to some degree or other, in all bar one of the ten movies currently in Fox’s X-Men franchise and has a lead role in seven. The movies haven’t always been great, some far from it, but Jackman has, at the very least, always been pretty watchable in them and it’s never been difficult to detect his sense of commitment to the part.
So it’s understandable that, having made it very clear that this would be Logan’s swansong, everybody involved would be looking to make it a good one. And, fortunately, that’s exactly what they’ve done.
The movie opens in a pretty bleak place, if we’re honest. Not Days of Future Past bleak, for followers of the franchise, but still not a particularly happy place. Mutantkind is dying out, as no more are being born, and the few survivors are generally doing their best to stay out of sight. Logan is making ends meet as a limo driver in Texas, using the money to illegally buy drugs for the ailing Charles Xavier, who he keeps stashed in a secure location over the border to prevent his powerful seizures from killing anybody nearby – one of the film’s bleakest concepts is that the X-Men are no more, slain en masse when Charles’ first seizure took hold. Working with mutant tracker Caliban, Logan keeps Charles safe, from both others and himself, but it’s clear that Logan, whose healing factor is failing after nearly two hundred years of keeping him alive, has given up. With the adamantium lining his bones gradually poisoning him, he’s pretty much just waiting to die, and caring for Charles is about all he has left.
Unfortunately for him, he’s still pretty recognisable (probably not helped by the fact that the X-Men have apparently allowed comic books to be published about their adventures) and, as such, the call to adventure isn’t far away, as Logan finds himself being sought out by a woman who begs him to take her, and Laura, the eleven-year-old girl travelling with her, to a safe haven in North Dakota. While he initially refuses, not wanting to get involved in the troubles of others, her offer of a substantial amount of money, enough for the boat that he wants to buy for him and Charles to live on for the rest of their lives, he ultimately relents, only to find the woman murdered by forces who want Laura, revealed as a young mutant genetically engineered from Logan’s own DNA, back, no matter what they have to do to get her. And so, Logan and Charles set out on a road trip to get her to safety.
Logan, as a film, is pretty much unashamedly shot as a Western. The plot mirrors almost exactly the concept of the aging gunslinger, reluctantly called out of retirement to take part in righting some final wrong. The overall aesthetic also strongly recalls the traditional western look, with a relatively muted palette, particularly the early sequences in Mexico and Texas. The film even includes a quiet sequence with Charles and Laura bonding over the classic genre movie Shane, something that resonates through the rest of the film.
Casting-wise, everybody is on form. Jackman is positively magnetic in his final outing as Logan, taking the character to a whole new place where you feel every last ounce of tiredness that he feels as his body gradually fails on him. Patrick Stewart, who has also strongly suggested that he is unlikely to play Xavier again after this, pulls out all the stops portraying his failing mind, being at turns cantankerous and confused, with occasional flashes of the wise mentor that he once was, and it’s positively heartbreaking when he begins to remember what happened to his beloved X-Men. The supporting cast generally do good work, although often in rather underwritten roles. But eclipsing all others is Dafne Keen, the eleven year old newcomer playing Laura. By turns curious about the world around her and utterly bestial, she readily steals every scene she appears in. Mute for much of the film (an intentional choice by the director to steer well away from the “snarky kid sidekick” archetype), she does more with a look, a grimace or a snarl than most would with a good line. Her gradually growing bond with Logan forms much of the heart of the film and she handles it with considerable aplomb.
Of course it wouldn’t be a superhero film without a considerable amount of action, and Logan is no exception to that. And, be warned, it is brutal. Freed of the family-friendly requirements of most other films of the genre, the film pulls no punches whatsoever in depicting what would happen when we’re talking about a mutant with six razor-sharp claws as his primary weaponry. Blood is spilled in copious amounts, limbs are removed, heads are impaled, it’s all pretty graphic. But it is done well, with a good eye behind the camera as director James Mangold puts his actors (and stuntmen) through their paces. After seven films of largely bloodless violence, Logan finally gets to cut loose and they don’t hold back. It’s not just Logan, either. Laura, despite being about half the height of most other characters in the movie, is a force to behold in combat, using her agility to make up for anything she lacks in raw physical strength. Lacking Logan’s years of humanity to temper her genetically-wrought berserker side, she’s far more terrifying in a fight than he is, and the movie doesn’t hold back much in showing it.
Taken as a stand-alone movie, it’s fair to say that Logan does have its flaws. The script is a bit clunky at times, even as it revels in the freedom of the film’s certificate to make it by some distance the most foul-mouthed movie in the franchise (only Deadpool, which shares Logan‘s certification, comes close). For those used to the regular X-Men movies, it’s a bit jarring, although I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t some amusement value in hearing noted Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart crankily cut loose with the f-bombs. It could also be argued that it relies a little too heavily on some very standard tropes. But, as a send-off for a highly popular character, the movie works very well. Jackman’s loved playing this character and, for the most part, watching him do so has been enjoyable. And if this is the last time we’ll see him, and all indications are that it will be, he’s going out on a high.