After two solo movies that didn’t quite connect with the fans, director James Mangold returns for his follow-up to 2013’s The Wolverine, with Logan taking the basic premise of the “Old Man Logan” storyline for what is likely to be Hugh Jackman’s very last Wolverine movie.
Set years in the future in a timeline in which the future of Days of Future Past never took place and mutants are few and far between, Logan has given up on being any sort of superhero, grown out his beard and is working as limo driver “James Howlett” (Logan’s birthname, in case you didn’t know) in Texas. As we meet him, a street gang makes the mistake of trying to steal his hubcaps and when Logan intervenes and is shot in the chest with a shotgun, he unleashes the claws and goes crazy on the gang.
Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier is still alive, living in a metal water tank across the Mexico board where his powers are being kept in check by medication fed to him by his caregiver, mutant tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Meanwhile, Logan is being followed by a number of people, including a Mexican woman named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and a sleazy cowboy with a mechanic arm, who we’ll learn later is Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Gabriela is trying to unite Wolverine with her young ward, a Mexican girl named Laura (Dafne Keen). You’ll probably figure out that Laura is really the mutant X-23 long before claws emerge from her cute, little hands, and she goes berserk on a group of Pierce’s similarly enhanced mercenaries (referred to only once as “Reavers”)
This leads into a journey for Logan and Charles taking Laura to a sanctuary called “Eden” where she can be safe with other mutants, a place Logan believes is merely something Gabriella read about in comics. (You see, in this existence—just like our own-- the X-Men’s adventures have been documented in comic book form.)
That’s the set-up for a movie that leans hard on the family dynamics of the main trio, while taking them from Mexico to Las Vegas and beyond, all the while being chased by Pierce and his Reavers. Along the way, we learn more about how Laura got her powers and implanted claws—stuff we’ll let you find out for yourself when watching the movie—as Mangold and Jackman give us the most brutal and memorable Wolverine movie yet.
There’s no need to reiterate how fantastic Jackman is in this role, as that’s been a constant of the X-Men movies since Bryan Singer first brought them to the screen in 2000. This movie gives him a lot more chance to show different sides of the character than we’ve seen before, so we’re not just watching an older, world-weary version of the character. Even more entertaining is the somewhat senile and potty Charles Xavier as Stewart gives a performance that shows him to be at the top of his game, as well. Fox would be wise to put some money into an awards campaign to try and get Stewart a long-deserved Oscar nomination, because what he brings to Xavier in Logan (besides a string of expletives) proves him to also have been the perfect choice by Singer.
And then you have newcomer Dafne Keen, who is quite an amazing discovery. The fact that this first-time actress can be so expressive without uttering a word of dialogue, holding up against the likes of Jackman and Stewart sometimes with merely a glance. She’s also amazing to watch in action, as her diminutive figure creates quite a contrast to Wolverine when she goes feral on the much-larger men. We’re actually given a fairly acceptable origin story for young Laura/X-23, as well.
Ultimately, Logan is another impressive addition to James Mangold’s filmography. He's done such a fine job playing with genres in the past, and this one combines the futuristic Western that is Mad Max with the more downbeat tone of some of Mangold’s dramatic work. Some things are a little on the point like the clips from the Western Shane (a clear influence on this story) being watched by the group in a hotel room.
Beyond the exemplary character dynamics, Logan is a fantastic showcase for Mangold’s stunt team, doing much of the action practically and with some of the most graphic blood-letting we’re likely to see in any movie, fully warranting its R-rating. (We have Deadpool to either thank or blame for that.) In some ways, the movie tends to go overboard with the violence in the same way as the John Wick movies do, but maybe that’s necessary to show what kind of world from which Logan and Charles feel they need to protect Laura.
Another interesting aspect of Logan is how much it’s unlike other comic book movies by not trying to be so reverential to the comics by going overboard with Easter eggs or overt nods to the fanbase, keeping its comic references more veiled. If you’ve never read a single X-Men comic or even seen any of the other movies, you could just as easily enjoy Logan without knowledge of those connections. It’s very much a stand-alone movie, which is so rare these days.
The movie does have a couple noticeable lulls, the worst of them coming when Logan and Laura finally arrive at their destination. Things almost grind to a halt until the final climactic face-off with Pierce and his men. That last act still ends up being the weakest part of the movie even if things are left off in a relatively satisfying way.
There’s so much to like about Logan, especially if you’ve felt Wolverine has been watered-down in previous solo movies. Even so, this is by no means your typical “superhero movie” with flashy costumes and lots of noticeable CG visual FX, which might throw some fans of the “genre” off. Instead, Hugh Jackman’s last Wolverine story ends on a grim, gritty and ultra-violent note that wins points both for being cinematic and for being so different.
Logan opens nationwide on Friday, March 3 with previews on Thursday, March 2.