I was watching an interview the other night with Hugh Jackman in which he pointed out two facts about his big screen interpretation of Marvel’s Wolverine. The first fact was that his new movie LOGAN was his 9th time portraying the character in a film (if you count cameos). The second fact was that he’s been playing Wolverine in some form or another now for 17 years… that’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Hardcore fans of the comics will be quick to tell you that those portrayals have been somewhat hit and miss, usually not the result of Jackman but rather the scripts he’s given. X-MEN (2000) did a good job introducing the character, and X2 actually improved on it, but by the time X-MEN: THE LAST STAND came out, things were starting to sour. Fox tried to give the beloved superhero his own movies, which also met with mixed results. It seems like they kept getting close to what everyone wanted to see, but never quite got it just right. The newest effort is said by many (including Jackman) to likely be the last time Hugh plays the part, and let’s just say if this is to be his swan song, it’s a pretty damn good exit.
Set in the near future, 2029, many mutants have died or are now in hiding. Logan (Jackman) is now an older and more weary version of his former self, working as a limo driver in the South under a pseudonym. He’s lost some of his strength and healing ability, but not his attitude, which still finds him getting into trouble now and then… the difference now is his battle scars aren’t disappearing. When not on the road, he secretly takes care of an ailing 90-something Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who still has extraordinary mind powers but is now suffering with Alzheimer’s. They are assisted by Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino who has the ability to track other mutants, but now serves these two men in secret as his own way of hiding. One day Logan is approached by a nervous woman with a young girl, who asks him for help. He keeps trying to avoid her, but eventually finds himself stuck with the girl, who never says a word but who Charles believes is special. And it’s because of her being special that a man named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and an army of cybernetic-enhanced soldiers are trying to find her. Eventually Logan learns young Laura (Dafne Keen) is not unlike him in many ways, and must make a decision to look after her when no one else can. But these soldiers have another surprise in their possession, one that even the former Wolverine may not be strong enough to defeat.
Those going into LOGAN expecting a comic book movie, or anything even slightly resembling one of the X-MEN films, will very likely be let down or at the very least shocked. Director James Mangold (who also helmed THE WOLVERINE) has crafted what is essentially a Western that just happens to have some comic book elements in it. It’s gritty, dirty, at times mean, and incredibly violent. The F-word is thrown around like crazy (even Charles Xavier says it at one point), and none of the characters in the film are looking to behave like heroes. This is actually done intentionally, as a bulk of the movie is based on the Marvel comic book series “Old Man Logan” which follows an older Wolverine living in a much more grim existence. And while some may not take to the new movie’s aesthetic, this is in many ways the Wolverine movie a lot of the fans have always wanted to see. It’s important to note that the character was never supposed to be a plucky hero type, but the X-movies felt pressure to use him as much as possible as he was easily the most popular and well known mutant from the comics. It became such a problem that the first three X-MEN movies (and at least one after it) turned into ‘the Wolverine show’ that just happened to co-star a few other superheroes. But it always seemed like Jackman “got” what the character was about. He knew what needed to be done, and in a big way he’s the reason that LOGAN was made the way it was, and the reason it’s actually titled “LOGAN” and not something more flashy. This is a character that was never going to get a happy ending, or have things wrapped up in a neat little bow, and thank God both Jackman and Mangold understood that. The end result is what many will likely soon call a necessary final chapter in the Wolvie saga… and perhaps an appropriate beginning for a character that can carry over for a new generation of comic book movie fans.
With a little assistance from convincing makeup effects, Jackman really sells the old and weary look for Logan in this outing, spending most of the film sporting a thick beard, quivering hands, and a withered walk of a man who is slowly dying inside. There is no glamour in this outing, no snazzy spandex suits or even slick biker jackets. Hugh plays this Logan very similar to the Clint Eastwood “Man With No Name” motif, and it works very well within the story. That’s not to say there aren’t a few carefully placed laughs throughout, but this is hardly a comedy. There’s even a nod to classic Western movies like SHANE, which feels ever so appropriate as the story progresses. Patrick Stewart is excellent as the withering Charles Xavier, a shell of the man he once was, but still with some faint glimmers of hope to hold on to. It’s really great seeing these two back together again, and this story and these particular portrayals make their reunion feel much more special and poignant. Stephen Merchant is equal parts melancholy and charming as Caliban, a character I would have liked a little more exposition on – we never really find out how he linked up with Logan and The Professor, but he does serve as a nice middle man in their relationship. The villainous Piece played by Boyd Holbrook serves as a great foil for our characters, but again feels a little underdeveloped from a writing standpoint. I wanted to know what drives him, what keeps him jumping into dangers he has to know aren’t totally worth it. Richard E. Grant shows up as Dr. Rice, a mutant-making scientist responsible for the children experimented on alongside Laura, and someone who ultimately is behind Pierce’s actions, but outside of being a direct connection to the comics and the X-23 storyline that served Laura’s tale, there’s just not much to him either. If the film has one weakness, it’s in the villains, especially since they’re nowhere near as interesting at the heroes in the script. But the true standout of this movie is Dafne Keen as Laura, the experimental clone of Wolverine who barely utters a word throughout most of the film. She’s exceptional just with her body language, facial expressions, yelling in anger and overall behavior, she really holds her own with pretty much anyone she shares the screen with, and is the kind of performance that’s a magnet for our eyes. She’s so good I would watch a movie right now that’s just about her character, this is a star-making role for the talented newcomer.
What LOGAN lacks in character development or story, it more than makes up for in execution. This is a bold attempt in dramatic comic book storytelling, and should really open some doors for other serious adaptations. Comic book movies are going to have to evolve if they are to survive, as audiences are already dangerously close to superhero movie fatigue. Heck, two of the biggest comic films last year involved superheroes fighting superheroes! Outside of the box fare like DEADPOOL and LOGAN could be the shot in the arm the film industry desperately needs. Just know this is not a kids’ movie, not some sort of typical comic book family fare that will sit well with young minds. This is a hard R-rated punch to the gut that will stay with you for a bit. There’s plenty of bloodshed, innocent folks taken out for no reason, cussing-a-plenty and more… even a gratuitous boob shot to really make the most of that rating. But hey, we’ve had 17 years now of PG-13 Wolverine on the big screen. If this is to be the last hurrah, might as well go out with a bang.
Side note – there was not post-credit tag scene at our advance screening, though we’ve heard rumor there might be on the final prints. I always stay through the credits anyway, and if you do, you’ll see some nice nods given to many of the influential comic book creators that helped shape Wolverine into the character we all know and love.