Review: Hugh Jackman concludes his superhero run with the violent, grounded ‘Logan’
Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine nine times. Over those 17 years, the clawed and tortured anti-hero became a fan favorite, and Jackman became the face of the “X-Men” franchise. Known to himself and others as Logan, Wolverine’s popularity was unmatched outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But after nearly two decades of rigorous diets and growled one-liners, Jackman decided to call it quits. One final film, he announced, and he would leave Logan behind.
With Jackman’s intentions in mind, writer-director James Mangold avoided large-scale battles or conflicts in his story treatment. Instead, Mangold went small, focusing on the relationship between Wolverine and Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), the former leader of the X-Men, in a barren and bleak futuristic setting. The result is a grounded, violent story that serves as a fitting farewell to both Logan and Jackman. With heavy thematic and emotional material, “Logan” is a contemplative action-drama that sets new standards for superhero films.
Part of the success comes from the backdrop. Set in 2029, the film envisions a world practically devoid of mutants. Logan (real name James Howlett) is headed toward the ripe age of 150, thanks to healing powers that have begun to fail him. His indestructible metal skeleton is rotting him from the inside, and he spends his days haunted by an unspeakable tragedy. To keep himself busy, Logan houses the very old, now seizure-prone Xavier in an abandoned smelting plant south of the border. He moonlights as an Uber driver. His reasons for living have grown harder to recall.
When he is given the opportunity to lead a small mutant girl named Laura (embodied convincingly by newcomer Dafne Keen) to safety, he hesitates. But Xavier implores him to go. And after a vicious battle with a militarized government agency, the three of them set out on a bloody road trip. A partially cybernetic bounty hunter (Boyd Holbrook) traces their every move.
Death hangs over this story as both threat and theme. Mangold generates much of the film’s excitement through a series of well-staged action sequences, pushing the R rating to its limit. The violence is bloody, visceral and horrific. “Logan” is not for the squeamish. As Wolverine gets dragged back into the brutal world he left behind, the whirlwind of wounds, claws and bullets proves exhilarating.
Jackman’s, Stewart’s and Keen’s performances anchor the lulls in the action. All three are excellent. Stewart, in particular, brings tragedy and regret to a character previously defined by his wisdom and guidance. Keen, meanwhile, is a revelation. Laura’s stoicism and prolonged silence through much of the film make playing her a challenge. Keen knocks it out of the park, adding a feral ferocity to her that is jaw-dropping when unleashed. And her chemistry with Jackman is funny, dramatic and magnetic.
“Logan” has flaws, and most come from its blunt symbolism. In particular, a certain villain comes across as a bizarre creation, unfit for Mangold’s brooding vision. The attempts to provide some thematic depth while adhering to a comic book story are admirable. But that dichotomy produces several elements that just feel out of place. It’s disappointing to see a movie begin with a dark, realistic tone and then throw it out the window. Other characters, including one played by the always clever Stephen Merchant, function mostly as plot devices.
Minor quibbles aside, “Logan” is a wild, entertaining ride that brings humanity to Wolverine. The story acts as a novella, capturing a hero at his weakest and providing him one last shot at redemption. Jackman ends his run on a bittersweet high note. Wolverine has never looked so bad yet felt so good to watch.
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