It’s still unclear if the massive commercial success of Deadpool (2016) will usher in a wave of R-rated comic book superhero movies but it has given us Logan (2017), the third (and supposedly final) movie focused on the titular character (a.k.a. Wolverine), played by Hugh Jackman, the popular mutant from the X-Men franchise. Fans of the violent antihero had been frustrated with how the character had been depicted in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Wolverine (2013), as they were watered-down adaptations that, at best, were sporadically faithful to the source material.
As a result, anticipation was high when it was announced that Logan would not only draw inspiration from the Old Man Logan graphic novel by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, but it would be decidedly darker in tone, graphically violent and delve deeper into the character than previous installments with some comparing it favorably to the Clint Eastwood revisionist western Unforgiven (1992).
Director James Mangold sets the tone right from the start when a bunch of gang-bangers attempt to steal the hubcaps from the limousine Logan drives. He’s not as fast as he used to be but still as deadly with his adamantium claws as the hapless would-be car thieves find out the hard way in a sequence that features blood, cursing and severed limbs as Logan hacks and slashes his way through the assailants.
Logan is much older than we’ve seen him before and the world is largely absent of mutants. He lives under the radar, driving a limo to make ends meet. He lives in Mexico where he takes care of an enfeebled Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who suffers debilitating seizures and has to be given drugs to keep his mental powers in check. These initial scenes between Charles and Logan carry a dramatic weight as we see what tragic figures both men have become. They are no longer heroes and are living day-to-day on the margins of society, numbing the pain with alcohol and drugs. It is a shock to see Charles so weak and helpless and Logan so bitter and beaten down by life, tormented by his past.
He wants to avoid trouble and be left alone but, of course, trouble finds him in the form of a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) who has mutant powers uncannily like Logan. She is being pursued by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), the leader of a militant group of cyborgs known as Reavers. What makes her so significant is that a new mutant hasn’t been born in 25 years. Her guardian hires Logan to take her and Laura to North Dakota for $50,000, which will allow him to fulfill his desire to buy a boat and live on the sea.
The action sequence that reveals Laura’s powers is a bravura one as we see this little girl slice and dice her way through a heavily armed group of mercenaries with a little help from Logan. She has the quick and deadly moves that Logan used to have and this sequence shows them off quite effectively with brutally efficient economy by Mangold.
Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine in various movies for 17 years and this is his best performance as the character with the actor finally given a meaty screenplay (courtesy of Scott Frank) to sink his teeth into. The Logan of this movie is a broken man that doesn’t care much about anything or anyone. The actor also looks the part with his graying hair and full beard. It is the little touches, however, like the way Logan walks with a limp or has to use reading glasses that show the gradual ravages of time that have taken their toll on him.
Patrick Stewart matches him scene for scene as an old man that can no longer control his powers and has to be given a strict regime of drugs to keep them in check. He and Logan bicker like an old married couple as they argue about what to do with Laura. The two actors play well off each other – something that comes from making several movies together – and there is something touching about seeing how Logan cares for Charles. They share poignant moments that ground the movie and give it an emotional weight that was lacking from previous Wolverine movies. We actually care about what happens to these characters because over the course of the movie we’ve become invested in their struggle.
More than any other X-Men movie, Logan tries to go deeper and examine what motivates these characters. It goes beyond the usual mutants are different and discriminated against because of their otherness tropes that we’ve seen many times already. The movie presents a world where mutants are created and experimented on like lab rats only they’re being manufactured as living weapons. It’s this brave new world that clashes with Logan’s old school ways.
Comic book superhero movies are often criticized for being too superficial – sacrificing things like character development in favor of spectacle. Logan maintains a balance of both better than most. It is refreshing to see a superhero movie where the protagonist doesn’t have to save the world. This movie’s scale is much more modest, more intimate. Perhaps the weightiest theme it wrestles with is that of mortality. Wolverine is no longer the nearly invincible fighter we’ve seen in previous movies. He’s a burnt-out shell of a man painfully aware of his limited time left on earth. The dilemma he faces is what does he do with the time he has left? He’s not searching for a purpose in life – it finds him in the form of Laura. He is tired of fighting and the toll it has taken on his body. He just wants it to end and Logan gives him that closure. It’s not the Unforgiven of superhero movies – Logan really doesn’t change all that much – but it’s damn near close.