It took three tries, but with Logan, Hugh Jackman finally has the Wolverine movie that lives up to the comic book mythology that’s made him such a beloved character for 40-plus years. Jackman himself has put 17 years into the character through nine films, and he goes out on the high note that he and the character which made his career deserve.
Logan very much depends on the history that Jackman and those nine previous films have put into Wolverine. This wouldn’t be nearly as powerful a story without the background and emotional investment that the audience has invested into Logan, the world he’s lived in, and the people who have come to mean so much to him. That backstory helps this film and its bleak narrative resonate, arguably more than any other Wolverine or X-Men movie.
This is a character we’ve come to love, largely because of the tough, tragic life he’s endured (and because Jackman has been so compelling in portraying him). So it’s especially heartbreaking to see what’s happened to him when this story begins 12 years in the future (2029, to be exact). Logan has not found peace, and a lifetime of brutal violence — including the experiment that provided him with his metallic skeleton and claws — has caught up with him. His world has been shattered. He’s a broken man, anything but heroic, yet still with an inherent nobility that causes many difficulties for him.
The trailers and marketing have made it clear that this is not a typical superhero movie. Wolverine isn’t in his faux-leather outfit, fighting alongside the X-Men against whatever new adversary threatens to overtake humanity or wipe out mutantkind. He’s not in a tank top and jeans, showing off a physique chiseled by strict high-protein diets and endless weightlifting, walking toward the camera like a Clint Eastwood-like badass.
(OK, Jackman is in a tank top and jeans at times, and still shows off a ridiculously impressive build. Those things are probably contractually required. But he doesn’t cut the stoic, heroic figure typically associated with Wolverine here.)
There arguably is some adventure to this story, though it’s more of a quest to be endured, especially as Logan’s body increasingly continues to fail him. Logan doesn’t have to save the world here, so much as help someone incapable of doing so for herself. Along the way, maybe he is helping out mutantkind — essentially paying forward the help and kindness that Charles Xavier provided to him — and whether he chooses to believe it or not, people still look up to him because of his previous heroic exploits.
However, Wolverine and the X-Men didn’t save the world. Mutants aren’t living together peacefully. When we pick up with Logan 12 years from now, he’s just trying to fit in and scrape together a decent life. He’s driving a limousine, a somewhat futuristic-looking luxury vehicle, making ends meet by transporting wealthy people and drunken bridal parties. It’s hardly the life we would have imagined for an iconic superhero, even one who may have been more of a reluctant hero as he embraced Xavier’s life mission to help and tutor mutants.
Mutants have essentially been wiped out and a new one hasn’t been seen in 25 years. The X-Men are gone, along with the other misguided superhumans associated with X-Men mythology, such as Magneto and Mystique. Logan has essentially gone into hiding, living in an abandoned factory outside El Paso, Texas. He’s become the caretaker for Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who suffers from a degenerative brain disease that causes seizures if not properly medicated. Logan may be driving a limo to give himself something to do, to stay in touch with people, but it’s also to pay for Xavier’s medications on the black market.
With Xavier’s vast abilities as a telepath, those seizures can be destructive, paralyzing or killing anyone within a nearby radius. Allusions are made to an incident in Westchester, the site of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (and X-Men headquarters), in which 600 people were paralyzed and the X-Men were killed. The government has classified Xavier as a weapon of mass destruction. Logan may be hiding Xavier to keep him from being captured and studied. But it’s also to protect humanity from the world’s most powerful mind, now damaged.
Logan’s plan to save up enough money for him and Xavier to buy a boat and live out the rest of their days on the ocean gets disrupted when a woman finds him, saying she needs his help. More specifically, a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), needs Logan’s help. She’s a mutant and is trying to get away from an organization that’s been experimenting on her. The older woman believes that there’s a mutant sanctuary up north in Canada and pleads with Logan to take Laura there. He’s the only one who can adequately protect her and get her to safety.
Unfortunately for Logan (and Xavier), being asked to take care of Laura also forces him to cross paths with Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a mercenary with a bionic right hand. He leads a team of cybernetically-enhanced operatives tasked with doing the dirty work for Transigen, a corporation that has been developing mutants as weapons, presumably for military use. Yet the head of Transigen, Xander Rice (Richard E. Grant), also helped wipe out mutants by lacing the corn syrup used in so many of our consumer products with a chemical that neutralized those superhuman mutations.
(The real message of Logan? Stay away from that high-fructose corn syrup, people!)
Yet few of Rice’s experiments worked out as planned and Transigen exterminated most of the mutants created in its laboratories. That is, except Laura, who escaped with the help of a nurse. And another creation which provides this movie with one of its most intriguing and lethal twists. Rice’s most successful work has resulted from cloning mutants from Logan’s DNA. (This was hinted at in the post-credits scene for last year’s X-Men: Apocalypse.) Whether Logan realized it or not, he essentially has a daughter, one with his abilities — and rage — whom he now needs to prevent from being exterminated.
A pre-adolescent female Wolverine could have been a bad idea for this movie (though the character, known as X-23, has been popular in the X-Men comic books). Would she be too cute or overly sympathetic? Of course, there’s always the risk that a child actor isn’t up to par with an adult cast. But Keen is certainly a strong point as Laura, holding her own on screen with Jackman and Stewart, and delivering on the film’s action and violence. Keen could have made her debut as a haunted child or apparition in a horror movie. Instead, she gets to be a badass action hero.
While Laura does give the movie some humor and helps humanize Logan, she’s not a mascot. She represents how warped this world has become, a symbol of how mutants are both disdained yet exploited by those who fear them. But Laura also embodies hope, which Xavier keeps trying to get Logan to understand. Maybe he can prevent her from living such a violent, lonely life by teaching her to embrace her gifts and the community of other outcasts like her. Perhaps she can help complete Xavier’s vision of a world in which mutants and humans peacefully co-exist.
Superhero comic books were never the same after Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in 1986, a dystopian take on an iconic character who was likely always destined for a sad end. What that series did for Batman, Logan does for Wolverine and the X-Men movie saga. It’s the final word on the character, the culmination of 17 years worth of stories — some great, some good, some awful — distilled to their essence. Director James Mangold gets this character so well, realizing that his story was best suited to end in a Western-style tale, rather than a superhero spectacle.
For movie fans, Logan does for superhero films what Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven did for Westerns. It’s the end for a character and archetype that brought us joy as escapist fantasy, yet reminds us that happy endings were probably never the ultimate path for these stories. Mangold takes some Mad Max: Fury Road and mixes it with Children of Men — along with Shane, whose influence is made entirely obvious — for a story that takes place in the future which isn’t far from the present. That’s not to say Logan is derivative. Mangold has always tipped a cap to his influences in his movies.
All of this combines to provide Jackman and Wolverine fans with the best story the character will ever have on screen. Jackman has said this will be the final time he portrays Logan, and he’s never been better, thanks to a film that’s faithful to the tortured antihero fans have loved since his comic book debut in 1974. Fox will likely reboot Wolverine at some point. He’s too popular to completely retire. But hopefully, the studio has the good sense and taste to leave him alone for a while and let Jackman’s performance be the definitive one. He and this movie deserve that respect.