Review by Rob Vaux
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Eriq La Salle and Richard E. Grant
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green
Original Year of Release: 2017
Run Time: 137 minutes
I never thought I’d say this about a superhero movie, but bring a hankie.
Before we get to the meat of the movie itself, we should stop and say thank-you to Hugh Jackman for bringing such honor to this figure for so long. In our current golden age of comic book films, it’s easy to forget just how much of it depended on the success of the X-Men franchise… and the man it turned into a star. Complain about the X-Men movies all you like (they’ve certainly executed their fair share of missteps), but remember that when the first film came out, comic book movies were far from a sure thing. The Batman series had crashed and burned under Joel Schumacher, while a quality Superman film was a good 20 years in the rearview mirror. Beyond those two figures, and perhaps a scattering of others, no one besides the comic nerds knew who the heck most superheroes were.
Longtime fans of the X-Men couldn’t imagine a big-budget movie starring our favorite heroes. At best, we wanted something that wouldn’t embarrass us: something that showed some glimmer of what we loved about Marvel’s Merry Mutants, and hopefully something that put its most popular character on the pop-culture map. An actual enduring franchise? Forget it. That was pie-in-the-sky stuff.
Initially, that first movie didn’t look promising, at least as far as Wolverine was concerned. Director Bryan Singer eschewed the obvious choices in favor of an unknown Australian best known for playing Curly in a West End production of Oklahoma! THIS guy was going to bring comics most famous anti-hero to life? We feared the worst and braced for a disaster.
Then a miracle occurred.
With that, all doubts were silenced, and through good films and bad, the former stage actor remained an indominable presence. Jackman went on to plenty of other roles, and even scored an Oscar nomination (for singing no less), but now, at the end of his journey with this character, it seems impossible that anyone – ANYONE – else could have possibly brought James “Logan” Howlett to life.
God help the poor bastard who tries to replace him.
Jackman made it clear well before shooting on Logan began that it would be his swan song for the character, and ye gods what a curtain call it is. With the aid of director James Mangold – whose previous Wolverine film stands as one of the high points of the saga – he delivers one of the strongest entries in the franchise yet and ensures we don’t forget the straw that stirred the X-Men movie drink. Thanks to the success of Deadpool, director and star have permission to get bloody, and the resulting adventure takes full advantage of it: savage, brutal… and surprisingly touching in ways that may catch you off-guard.
I can’t say for sure which timeline it takes place in or whether it belongs to “official” X-Men movie canon or not. Truth be told, the movies’ continuity is such a hash that it likely doesn’t matter. It’s best to take the film on its own merits and leave the speculation for another time. Some dozen years in the future, mutants have vanished, as have the X-Men who swore to defend them. Wolverine survives, however, broken with grief and protecting an aging Professor X (Patrick Stewart, who gets a fine last bow of his own), whose encroaching dementia presents a clear and present danger to everyone around him.
Right away, we sense something wrong not only with this world, but with the hero slowly succumbing to its despair. Logan’s healing doesn’t work right. He looks old and haggard and exhausted. We don’t know precisely what happen to the other X-Men, but the film leaves little doubt how ugly it was, and the memories of it hound Wolverine and his crippled charge towards silent, defeated graves.
And then comes the wrinkle: a little girl (Dafne Keen) sporting the same temper, the same healing factor and the same metal bones upends their increasingly hopeless death watch… with a bevy of cranky bad guys in tow. (They’re officially the Reavers, for those keeping score at home.) Time to hit the road, and see if the old Canucklehead can pull one last heroic rabbit out of his hat.
Mangold grasps the need for finality in his leading man’s run, and crafts the material with satisfying and yet permanent closure in mind. The film’s dark tone permeates every frame, reflected in both Jackman and Stewart as they stretch towards their end game. But the movie tinges it with hard-earned hope: the notion that Xavier’s dream can live on if they only pull out of their funk long enough to act on it.
That comes with a heaping fistful of splatter, as Logan’s berserk rage finds plenty of targets even as his vaunted healing factor grows progressively weaker. We’ve not seen him this violent before – even the director’s cut of The Wolverine was less intense – and those thinking of taking their kids should probably think again. And yet it feels fitting that Logan finally lets its titular hero soak in the gore. The character’s dilemma remains unchanged: how to use the rage at his core to do some good. But with a tremendous failure to live down and extraordinary abilities beginning to crumble, his struggle holds ramifications here that previous X-Men movies lack.
Logan also gives Jackman and Stewart some serious screen time together, and it makes you wonder why we waited so long for it. Both actors relish the richness of this end game and use it to show the complexity of their characters’ relationship in surprising ways. Jackman performs a similar feat with Keen, and Logan knows just how to elicit our deep sympathies at his halting efforts to act as a father figure.
The results are so effective because they remain rooted in the character, and with that as a guide, Mangold never makes a false step: delivering the power and poignancy that a farewell like this deserves. If Jackman wanted to go out on top, he couldn’t have picked a better vehicle for it. The very notion of replacing him feels blasphemous, and Fox would do well to let Wolverine lie fallow for a good long time before talking about a reboot. It’s hard saying good-bye… but God what a way to go.