From the first, ultra-violent, gory confrontation between a drunk, alcoholic Wolverine/Logan/James Howlett (Hugh Jackman) and three of the unluckiest gangbangers ever put on film, Logan, Jackman’s second collaboration with writer-director James Mangold (The Wolverine, 3:10 to Yuma, Night & Day, Cop Land) and reportedly his last time out as the title character, announces itself as a new, different superhero movie and not just because it’s R-rated (we saw plenty of ultra-violence last February with Deadpool) but because Mangold, his screenwriting partner, Scott Frank (The Lookout, The Interpreter, Minority Report, Out of Sight, Get Shorty), and Jackman, every bit a co-equal partner, go where no superhero genre movie has gone before: Into exploring the long-term physical, mental, and emotional consequences of living above and beyond what we otherwise consider normal or natural with depth, nuance, and genuine emotion. All this achieved with stakes – saving a life, saving a handful of lives – would be considered marginal, tangential, or even irrelevant in the typically overblown, bombastic superhero entries from Marvel, DC, or the X-Men universe prior to Logan.
The Wolverine we meet in Logan no longer goes by that name. He’s left the leather outfits and spandex behind for a life of relatively quiet solitude as Professor Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) caretaker. Age has caught up to both men in different, but familiar ways. Pushing 90 in Logan, Xavier suffers from dementia-like symptoms, often resulting in uncontrollable psychic disturbances that paralyze anyone within several hundred yards. Logan might be two hundred years old, but he’s slower, grayer, slower to heal from the catastrophic physical injuries that a younger Wolverine would simply shake off. Paralleling ex-professional athletes, Logan suffers from near permanent physical pain (he walks with a near constant limp), pain he controls through massive amounts of alcohol. Their relationship, once student-mentor, has devolved into caretaker-caretakee. The X-Men and the brighter, more hopeful world they represented (the next stage in human evolution, protectors and defenders of the weak and powerless) are gone (echoing Children of Men, new mutants haven’t been in 25 years).
Ex-superheroes don’t exactly have marketable skills, leaving Wolverine to drive a limo on the Texas side of the Texas-Mexico border. In just a handful of scenes, we get a hint of the fallen world that Logan and Xavier – at least in this timeline – live in as Logan drives one group of self-entitled, obnoxious Americans after another from party to party. Wolverine’s past – like any ex-warrior/gunfighter – comes back to haunt him. A mysterious woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), begs for his help at a funeral. An ex-military soldier-turned-mercenary, Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), warns Logan not to get involved. Ever the reluctant warrior-hero, Logan agrees until Gabriela’s daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), enters Logan’s life, leaving him with little choice but to return to his Wolverine persona and keep her safe long enough to reach a promised sanctuary on the other side of the U.S.-Canada border.
The R-rating finally gives Jackman-as-Wolverine to go into full-on berserker mode, something that was repeatedly missing from earlier X-Men appearances or his two previous standalone films. When Logan unsheathes his adamantium claws and slices and dices his opponents, often going for the most vulnerable parts (the head, neck, heart), it’s not just the added spurts of blood or visual of claws going through soft, malleable skin that make an impact, but Wolverine’s feral, animalistic nature finally getting a chance to come out and play. Always an underrated actor, Jackman invests this version of Logan – old, battered, beaten – with just as much humanity. His desires – to be left alone, to be allowed to care for Xavier in his last days – make him all the more relatable (because every son or daughter has to face similar issues as their parents age). Mangold and Frank also invest the Logan-Xavier relationship with a pathos rare in the X-Men (or any superhero) universe, in part because Mangold and Frank have their priorities straight: Characters first, plot and b
Logan, of course, delivers plenty of hardcore action to satisfy both Wolverine’s longtime fans and casual moviegoers. Without the smart-ass, sarcastic quipping of a Deadpool to soften each blow (or turn each blow into a joke), every blow, punch, or stab feels like it has weight, importance and consequence because it does. Mangold and Frank fill Logan with plenty of standout moments, dialogue exchanges between Logan and Xavier, Logan and Laura, Logan, Laura, and Xavier and a farming family that briefly take them in, offering them a brief break from the carnage and mayhem to follow, that Logan feels like the rarest of rare superhero movies, a superhero movie made with admiration, appreciation, even love for the characters, a superhero movie made out of a genuine – as opposed to corporate – desire to give beloved characters the sendoffs they need and we want. On that level and more – minus a few, forgivable stretches where Logan sags slightly – Logan succeeds. It succeeds not because it “transcends” the superhero genre, but because Mangold, Frank, and Jackman fully understand and exploit the genre’s near infinite possibilities to give moviegoers an emotional journey that’s worth going on. If Logan really is the end of the superhero road for Jackman (and Stewart), it’s hard to imagine a better, more emotionally satisfying sendoff.