It’s no fun being James Howlett/Logan (Hugh Jackman) in the year 2029. You throw down bottles of whiskey, you limp exhaustedly, and your rapid healing factor is not what it once was. Battle scars adorn your body now. And the days of “The Wolverine” of the Uncanny X-Men are distant, but haunting memories. You haven’t seen another mutant in years, save for the ailing Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart) and the mutant-tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant), who helps you manage Charles’ symptoms of senility.
Day-after-day, you commute across the Mexico border to the U.S., where you drive around prom queens, businessmen, and frat boys alike in your limo, scraping up money for Charles’ medication. If “washed-up has-been” was a person, you’d be it. But suddenly, you’re thrust back into action when a mysterious woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) begs you to drive a young girl, Lauren (Dafne Keene) to a place called “Eden”, which is somewhere in North Dakota. Turns out the young lady is just like Wolverine, with metal claws popping out both her hands and feet, created in a lab to do one thing: kill. You begrudgingly take on the responsibility of driving her there, all while evading the dangerous government officials who want Lauren back.
It occurred to me that Wolverine is not a fun character. Bad-ass, sure. I mean, at what point would it not be awesome to have razor-sharp claws or a nearly-indestructible body? But the person behind these powers is a tragic illustration of a man who, despite saving the world, keeps losing in life. Immortality can really only breed abandonment issues; it’s the inverse of that Mcconaughey quote from Dazed and Confused — “As they get older, I stay the same.” All of Logan’s friends eventually pass on. And that’s not to mention the homo-sapien prejudicial fear of mutants, nor the forceful weaponization of his body to be a killing machine. There’s a reason behind the gruff exterior. I tend to forget it because his character is often over-shadowed by fights with robot ninjas, but that’s not the case in Logan.
There’s an interesting relationship that develops between Lauren, Logan, and Professor X in this American road-trip picture. Films like Up or Hunt for the Wilderpeople come to mind when I saw Logan: that gruff, older figure and the precocious youngster who accompanies him. And Professor X, ever the kindly older mentor, is the buffer between these two angry forces. What this relationship represents for Logan, according to Xavier, is a chance to redeem himself, to let go of his anger. Obviously, we’ve seen similar redemption arcs in other films, so the concept is not necessarily new. But the simplest stories are sometimes the most powerful. And Hugh Jackman, who has carried this role (and the franchise) for over 17 years, gives his swansong his all, brilliantly straddling the line between grizzled pacifist and opportunistic fighter.
A word on violence: James Mangold, who directed this movie and wrote it with Scott Frank and Michael Green, strips away the flamboyant tendencies of previous X-Movies and replaces them with a less-bombastic picture, but all-the-more brutal. Already reluctant to chaperone Lauren to North Dakota and much more to even consider fighting again, when the opportunity does arise to pop out the claws, Logan slices and dices goons with a fierceness unseen in previous iterations. The violence is not glorified, and its simple verisimilitude adds a gruesome kind of grit that grips the audience with suspense.
It has been a criticism of Superman that the only way to make him interesting is to shove Kryptonite in his face, as to give him some sort of weakness. Wolverine, in the past, has been similarly over-powered, and hasn’t really generated much of a reaction from me (despite the character traits noted above). Now, with his adamantium skeleton poisoning him, Logan faces real bodily adversity, being more susceptible to harm during his mission with Lauren and Charles. There’s no ominous laser beam in the sky, but I feel more attached to Logan than I have ever been previously, because the stakes laid out are humble and down-to-earth.
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Scott Frank, Michael Green, James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keene, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant
Distributed by: 20TH Century Fox