Few actors have stayed with their iconic roles as long as Hugh Jackman has with Wolverine. Even Sean Connery – whose reign as James Bond ranged from 1962 until 1983 – took a 12-year, Roger Moore-fused hiatus before the non-canon one-off, Never Say Never Again. But Jackman has grown into the part over the last two decades, matched by only David Suchet (Hercule Poirot), Mickey Rooney (Andy Hardy), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Peter Cushing (Victor Frankenstein), and a handful of others.
If reports are to be believed, Logan – out on March 3 – is the actor’s swan song as the legendary anti-hero. It’s a fitting, impressive goodbye. More than ever, the tragic arc of the X-Men series’ star is on full display, as is the brutal carnage expected from a man with enhanced physical capabilities, the ability to heal, and six retractable bone claws in his hands. Like any classic world-weary hero, his rage has consumed him. Here, it’s literally poisoning him.
Logan is not your average comic-book adaptation; it’s more of a monster movie that really wants to be Shane. (Actually, while characters watch the famous Alan Ladd-starring Western, Jackman probably owes more to Clint Eastwood, namely Will Munny from Unforgiven.) It also feels like the first big film set in Trump’s America, a savage dystopia where animosity toward certain people – in this case, mutants – runs amok. The overtones are unmistakable – the antagonists are an army of dicks chasing after a small Mexican girl, Laura. Her protector is the ever-grizzled Logan (Jackman), haunted by the violence he’s caused and his reputation as, well, a superhero. After his life in anonymity with a dying Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant) is compromised, Logan takes Laura on the run for one last bid at salvation.
Bryan Singer may be the franchise MVP – his X2 remains the series’ high watermark – but it’s tough to downplay writer-director James Mangold’s contributions, forging a separate, scarred path for Jackman’s Logan. It’s possibly the source material, Old Man Logan, but the film builds on Mangold’s previous foray, 2013’s The Wolverine. (Out of Sight scribe Scott Frank’s contributions to this film could be a factor, as well.) Likewise, the violence can’t be understated – it’s “real” and no-holds-barred, but not in a Poochie way. The R-rating suits Mangold’s ambition for the story; when a character dies, it’s alarming. (In that sense, Logan owes more to Terminator 2: Judgment Day’s aesthetics than, say, Man of Steel.) The explosions and distracting CGI effects are kept to a minimum also, another testament to how well the character-driven story works.
Besides Jackman, no one better embodies Logan than the mute Laura, played by Dafne Keen. When she’s cornered, or defensive, she lashes out with a fury and raw, feral intensity that makes Hit Girl look like Pollyanna. Her evolution with Logan, as they learn to trust one another, ground the goings-on in unexpected ways.
It’s a riveting, bloody travelogue of a movie, complete with a surprising subplot featuring Eriq LaSelle’s battle for his farming family’s right to clean water. Logan concludes (spoiler) with a broken Wolverine summoning his strength and perseverance to battle his literal doppelganger (his outer demon, so to speak, which could bes a manifestation of his inner demons) on behalf of a troupe of cute kids/Lost Boys/hairless Ewoks. Superman III did it first, but dare I say, Logan does it better.
Transcending its origins, Logan’s mission to save the supernaturally gifted, vulnerable Laura is reminiscent of a lot of things, including last year’s Midnight Special. Or, not too finely, it taps into Jackman’s own Oscar-nominated, tender portrayal of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, who dedicates his life defending the orphan girl Cosette. It’s mostly touching and well-earned, the culmination for a character who has suffered a lot since 2000’s onscreen X-Men debut. The result is easily the most varied, earnest and interesting take on a comic book character since The Dark Knight.
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