There are actors that embrace a role and then there is Hugh Jackman and Wolverine. While some shirk a role that may bring about typecasting, Jackman has gone to another level in his love and admiration for the character that took him from a relative unknown to worldwide megastar. “Logan” is his ninth time playing this character on screen and not only is it the best movie in Fox’s X-Men franchise, it’s perhaps the finest movie ever made of its kind.
“Logan” takes place in 2029 with an aged, broken Logan (Jackman) working as a limousine driver while dealing with functional alcoholism. His healing powers have slowed and he struggles when defending his limo from a handful of gang members, but not so much that he doesn’t slice off a few limbs from these would-be thieves.
The entire movie plays out like a noir/Western, which makes the El Paso, TX desert setting even more impactful. Logan works in the states, then shuffles over the border to Mexico where he’s holed up in an abandoned factory while caring for a elderly Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is in much worse shape than Logan.
Charles’ mental powers are weakened, making him unable to search for newly born mutants in a world where nary a mutant has been born in 25 years. His mental instability leads to seizures, which causes him to involuntary almost kill anyone near him.
Logan is content to waste away in Mexico with Charles and another mutant, the albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant), who helps care for Charles. Their world is turned upside down when 11-year old Laura (Dafne Keen) shows up at their doorstep. Laura’s caretaker, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), has tracked Logan down in hopes that he will take them to the North Dakota-Canadian border where an alleged mutant safe haven is located.
Laura is the creation of the evil Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), a geneticist who experiments on mutant children who are essentially DNA-copies of other, more famous mutants. Dr. Rice employs a group of cyborg-ish military types called The Reavers, who are led by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), and will stop at nothing to track down their pricey weapon, Laura.
Scott Frank, Michael Green, and director James Mangold’s script then takes Logan, Charles, and Laura on a road trip across the country with enough bloody, frenetic action to keep the comic book junkies entertained. However, “Logan” really soars as a character study that highlights the rage and optimism of Laura, Charles’ paternal grace and charm, and the reluctant heroism of Logan.
Mangold and cinematographer John Mathieson wisely stay away from CGI and create a realistic, gritty world that never seems like “super hero” movie. It’s shot like a post-apocalyptic western that even makes Las Vegas look like a ghost town trapped in the 1980s. Unlike previous X-Men flicks, the action is bloody and jarringly violent, particularly when the tiny Laura gets involved.
There’s no doubt that breakout star of “Logan” is Dafne Keen, who barely speaks for half of the movie, but her reactions and wild dog snarl do more than enough to let you know who she’s modeled after. Keen carries the emotional baggage during the second chunk of “Logan” and yes, tears will be shed over her performance.
Patrick Stewart is heartbreaking in his final performance as Charles Xavier. It’s fairly shocking to hear an actor playing a character he’s crafted with such care to drop F-bombs, but his snarky adoration and care for Jackman’s Logan is truly touching. This is a lovely farewell to a truly beloved character and Stewart doesn’t let it go to waste.
If “Logan” is indeed Hugh Jackman’s goodbye to Wolverine, he’s going out with an iconic and wonderfully understated performance. There’s nothing showy about this role and Jackman shows the humility required for a part that shows his age. If you never thought an actor in a comic book movie would make you cry, it’s because you haven’t seen “Logan” yet.
The heavy R-rating allows “Logan” to show what this character has deserved for almost twenty years. The ending is bittersweet and bravely employs something most comic book movies desperately need: an ending.