Great characters can step into our plain of existence and stay there for a lifetime. Great scenes and shots can be unforgettable, but great characters become family. We love them and they change us in ways that can be quite surprising. The way that Hugh Jackman’s formidable take on Logan (Wolverine) has sept into my soul is one of the great surprises of my moviegoing existence. I was always a big fan of the X-Men, and certainly thought Wolverine was bad ass (one of my favorite bad asses), but he wasn’t one of the X-Men that I had an emotional attachment to.
My first foray into the mutant world was through ‘X-Men: The Animated Series’ in 1992. At the ripe old age of 9, Wolverine and Gambit were about as cool as characters could get. I was hooked. I tuned in every Saturday morning for years. Yet, despite being enthralled with Wolverine, I cared more about what happened Jubilee, Storm, and Professor X. They were the heart of it all. Wolverine was impenetrable. There was some heart to him in certain episodes, but you were never concerned for his safety and he stayed an asshole for most of the time I remember.
Bryan Singer largely remedied this problem. I’m sure there is more nuance to Logan in the comics, but the first time I saw him as more than just a bad ass was in the original ‘X-Men’ film. He was still a bit of a prick, but his paternal instinct towards Rogue (similar to his connection to Jubilee in the animated series) showed a hint at humanity. Still, he was a bad ass dickhead that wanted to steal Cyclops girlfriend and couldn’t be hurt. Which is why critics like Roger Ebert complained he was not relatable. A fair assessment.
However, Singer made him relatable through his painful struggle over the years. If his backstory of constant war, amnesia, and the unbelievable pain of the adamantium process wasn’t bad enough. He was forced to lose the love of his life (Jean Grey) multiple times and his mentor (Professor X) half way through the third film. After all that, he’s forced to struggle through intense physical pain when his powers are taken from him in ‘The Wolverine’ and must watch robot sentinels track down all his kind before being sent back in time to save his species in ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ (my favorite of all the films). It is at this point that Logan’s transformation from troubled student to wise teacher comes full circle and he helps teach a young Charles Xavier to hope again.
After 17 years of watching this man fight, lose, grow, and change, we have finally come to this film. ‘Logan’ is unlike any superhero film you have ever seen. It is a somber and ponderous modern western. It’s a movie that delivers more intense violence than any ‘X-Men’ movie has ever done, but also finds time for more reflection than just about any movie in this genre. The plot still possesses some of the hot burning social and political metaphors the series has always had, but it is more interested in the human side of things. This is very much Logan’s story. The story of a man who has lost almost everything and is spending his days caring for the last person on the planet that matters to him.
That man is he’s caring for is Charles Xavier and he is suffering from seizures that could not only kill him, but many around him when his powerful mind loses control. Patrick Stewart has played this part for years and you’d think that there was nothing more he could have done with it. Yet, he is so good here that some people are talking about Oscars. The talk is quite justified. He is truly unforgettable in this film and the writing provides him with something unique to give. Much of his scenes are with a young mutant named Laura. Laura has powers quite similar to Logan, and she is the first new mutant that Xavier has made contact with in many years. In fact, she is the first new mutant he is even aware of existing in years.
Further revelations are made that I don’t want to dwell on. They should be left to surprise you. What I do want to point out is the direct correlation I felt between this film and the masterful game ‘The Last of Us’. This “Game of the Year” winner is one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life and the parallels to this story are undeniable. In that story, an older (bearded man) must take a child to a supposed sanctuary in a post apocalyptic world. They are chased down by lunatics at one point, she must commit great acts of violence to survive, the man becomes injured and she must be caretaker, etc. I write this because it is rare to get a pair of characters that I care about as much as that game gave me. This movie comes pretty damn close, in a very familiar way. The intensity of emotion that surrounded the road trip of that game is well on display here. And is pretty breathtaking to watch.
The most important reason for all of this is Hugh Jackman. This is his character and the movie he wanted to make. He has been this character longer than any movie actor in this lifetime and the last few films have allowed him to completely transform. Logan is a broken man in this movie. He feels lost in a world that has passed him by. He is an old man and a caregiver. Then this little girl walks into his life and shakes everything up. It takes him nearly the entire length of the film, but Logan truly grows over the course of this film. And Jackman’s performance as Logan in this movie is nothing short of unforgettable. He is broken, brutal, caring, and heartbreaking. He owns every scene he is on screen and he does it with an ease that only comes with experience. This was the role he was born to play, and he knows this is the last time he will play it.
Many actors don’t get the chance to go out on top with the characters they love. Thanks to director James Mangold, Jackman gets that and then some. With a a darkly beautiful story about overcoming child enslavement and some villains worth wanting torn to shreds, ‘Logan’ is the first great movie I’ve seen this year! So, thank you Mr. Jackman for going out on top. You have owned this role for nearly two decades and all we can do is hope that the next person to step in your shoes will be half as good as you.