Directed by James Mangold | Written by Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green | 137 min
Hugh Jackman’s essayed the Canadian mutant superhero Wolverine in nine pictures since the X-Men in 2000. Logan is where he sheathes his claws. He saved the nearly best for last—X2: X-Men United remains my favourite movie of the franchise and its spin offs—but Logan, with it’s R-rated wallop, its spacious running time, and great character journeys, manages to reach a place even that earlier picture didn’t quite manage, a genuinely touching denoument. Logan‘s more a self-contained western than traditional hero’s journey, and it offers a definitive and dignified conclusion to the story, until such time as 20th Century Fox and Marvel choose to reboot it.
We’re in 2029 and things are much as they are now just slightly more shitty… plus self-driving trucks. Wolverine—now going by his aliases Logan aka James Howlett—is a limo driver working somewhere near the Mexican border. He’s in rough shape, his vaunted healing ability is starting to fail him, so he’s self-medicating. He’s also scoring anti-seizure medication for his mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who’s holed up away from people—and in even rougher shape than Wolverine—in an abandoned warehouse just over the border, joined by the sunlight-sensitive mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Looking for Wolverine is a woman named Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez), travelling with a little girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who has gifts of her own. And they’re being hunted by a group of cyborgs called Reavers, led by an unpleasant dude named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Behind it all is a nasty scientist played with relish by the always welcome Richard E. Grant.
Logan doesn’t skimp on the western and post-apocalyptic movie references, everything from The Shootist to Unforgiven to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The most overt debt is to Shane, which shows up on TV in an Oklahoma City hotel room. That said, Logan still manages to find its own voice, avoiding the obvious cliches in a rambling, road movie structure that leaves room for an appearance by Eriq La Salle as a horse rancher fighting against a Monstanto-like corporation. For a superhero movie, the political message here is timely—we even get immigrant mutants looking for sanctuary in the US but having to head to Canada to find it.
If you have a history with Wolverine and Professor X it will help, but you could still come to this film as a blank slate and find plenty to engage. It refers to a legacy, but doesn’t lean on it. Logan is damaged and cynical, any lingering sense of duty bled away by too many disappointments in his life, and Jackman is entirely convincing. Stewart gives an award-worthy performance as a man still able to locate his conscience through the haze of drugs and failing health. And Keen goes from adorable to electric, another recent example—see Lion and Moonlight—of a child actor matching or surpassing the adults around them.
If the frequent f-bombs and geysers of arterial spray are a turn-off, to me it feels like the characters, after so many years of fighting for respect while being hated and feared, have earned their pained, mature humanity and just a little satisfaction. If you’ve been along for the frequently bumpy ride all this way, so have you.