Ironically, for an R-rated comic book movie about mutants, Logan possesses a tremendous amount of humanity. Its languid pace, tragic undertones and the way its characters pursue redemption and freedom make it one of the best X-Men movies to date, and a fitting swan song for Hugh Jackman's 17 year performance of an iconic character.
I mean, honestly, think about it: Sean Connery played Bond in 6 films over 11 years, Roger Moore 7 times in 12, but if you count the cameo in First Class, Jackman has portrayed Logan 9 times since 2000. That is more than 17 years of physically demanding and emotionally committed acting scrutinised by some of the most critically observant and opinionated fans in the world, and he has pulled it off with considerable aplomb. It was gratifying to see him bring the story to a close with such a well-crafted film.
Mark Millar's comic "Old Man Logan" about an even more aged Wolverine living in a dystopian future ruled by supervillains, is touted as an influence on this movie, but only in tone, and that is probably for the best. Director Joseph Mangold and Jackman both wanted a movie with elements of Shane, The Wrestler, and Little Miss Sunshine in it. Both the pace and the look of the movie are reminiscent of the '70s, despite the fact it is set in 2029. Even the IMAX poster evokes this period:
In 2029, there are nearly no mutants to speak of in the world. Logan keeps Prof. Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in hiding at a remote location south of the border because his aging mind can no longer control his immense psychic powers. Logan himself no longer strides with confidence onto the screen, but walks in obvious discomfort and stiffness, both his healing factor and his joints corrupted by his adamantium skeleton, now slowly poisoning him from within. There is friction between the two men, reminiscent of any child caring for an aging parent, but also complicated by hints of a tragedy that Charles may have caused.
Logan's plan to buy a boat and head out onto the ocean with Xavier is compromised when he meets Laura (an amazingly intense 11-year-old Dafne Keen), a young mutant who is regarded as property by the research firm who essentially created her. The movie shifts gears smoothly from western to road movie, as Logan, Laura and Xavier make a desperate flight to a potential sanctuary, and as Logan discovers the truth about his connection to the child he now finds himself caring for.
Richard E. Grant and Boyd Holbrook provide the villainy of a smarmy scientist and his hired muscle, but their brutal cynicism and almost complete lack of humanity somehow keep them from devolving into tired tropes.
Like all the best X-Men comics from the glory days of Chris Claremont, there is action galore, but brilliantly underscored by quieter moments; watching tv in a hotel room, sharing a family meal, a childish prank trimming Logan's beard into his signature muttonchops. But in this first R-rated Wolverine picture, the violence, when it comes, is sudden, brutal, relentless and savage.
Surprisingly, I think Mangold shows a fair bit of restraint when depicting the results of fighting an unstoppable berserker with a fistful of unbreakable ginsu knives, but while he doesn't drench the screen in gore, assailants do have extremities lopped right off, are stabbed through the head, or slashed across the face to devastating effect. And with Laura possessing her own claws and even less restraint than the titular character, well, I think it is fair to say that this movie is not for the faint of heart.
But Logan does have heart, and in abundance. After a typical family dinner that so many of us experience so often and take for granted, Xavier is profoundly moved. He tells Logan, "This is what life looks like. A house. A safe place. People who love each other. You should take a moment..."
I'm a fan of both the original character and his portrayal by Jackman, and sure, I like a lot of comic book movies, but this is the first time I've come away from one thinking, "we'd better see this one nominated for some Oscars." There is a great story here, well told, about the connections that make us human, that should resonate with most people, despite the sometimes intense violence and fantastic superhero trappings. Logan satisfies as both art and entertainment, and I honestly do not think that Academy nods for Picture, Directing, Screenplay and, yes, Acting for both Jackman and Stewart would not be out of line.
Because Jackman has said that this is his final outing as Wolverine, many, including myself, are referring to it as a swan song, but I wonder if shrike song might be more appropriate. Shrikes are beautiful birds with unsettling eating habits, in which they impale their prey of insects, small mammals and even lizards, on thorns, barbed wire and other spiky terrain. There are many such transfixative moments in Logan, both literal and figurative, but this movie makes its point not by saving the world, but showing desperate people trying to save themselves, and those they care about. And they don't always succeed.
There are some shocking moments which, if you have an appreciation for these characters, you owe it to yourself to be surprised by in the cinema, and to see a brilliant capstone to a 17 year portrayal of a pop culture icon which I'm certain will be unequalled for quite some time.