'Logan' movie review: 'Wolverine' trilogy concluded 'in surprising and rewarding fashion'
The trailer for Logan, the final film in the standalone Wolverine trilogy, is set to Johnny Cash's funereal cover of “Hurt,” the already-depressing song by Nine Inch Nails. If there was ever a warning that a superhero film was going to trudge down a grim path, that's as unsubtle an indication as you're gonna get. It's a warning worth heeding, though. Logan is a long, grave, and violent neo-Western; a Dark Knight of the soul that earns its R-rating before its first scene is complete.
For audiences whose appetite for Marvel's vaguely juvenile destructo-thons has congealed into cultural obligation and drudgery, Logan is a welcome expansion of what a superhero saga can be. And even if there's something a little self-satisfied and derivative about the whole heavy thing, director James Mangold sticks to his guns (and Adamantium claws) and concludes the Wolverine saga in surprising and rewarding fashion.
Bitter, haunted Wolverine a neo-Western hero
If any character in the X-Men universe is apropos for this kind of minor key treatment, it's Wolverine. Over the course of his nine-movie career, he was the mutant who never behaved as if he was gifted with something; he behaved as if he was robbed of something. And he remains very angry about it.
Logan takes place in 2029, with Wolverine bitter, grizzled, and haunted. There have been no mutant births in 25 years and the ones he fought beside are either dead or, possibly, working children's birthday parties. His healing powers are waning with his advancing years and the Adamantium in his body is slowly killing him, a fate that no amount of booze is going to reverse.
With his every step along the barren landscape – shoulders broad, chin square, face weary – Wolverine emerges as a classic Western loner-hero in the Clint Eastwood mold, one of many archetypes and genres that Mangold pilfers for use in a superhero context. It's unsurprising he would approach the character in this fashion, considering his 1997 urban crime drama Copland is, more or less, High Noon, and arguably his best film, the crackerjack 3:10 to Yuma, is a pure Western.
'Old Man Logan'
Instead of a horse, Logan straddles the dusty Mexican border in the driver's seat of a limo, carting around drunken bachelorettes to earn enough money to buy a boat while, in the meantime, helping a certain wheelchair-bound friend.
Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart, has he ever given a bad performance in anything?) has shed whatever dignity he exhibited in the previous films and become a hollowed-out old man who needs anti-seizure medication to avoid attacks of such force that everyone in the vicinity is rendered immobile. He's tended to by albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) in a smelting plant so rusted out that Mad Max would probably rather sleep on the ground.
The movie takes its cue from 2008-2009's Old Man Logan, an eight-issue DC Comic as downbeat as the film that resulted from it (or so I'm told). The adaptation, as loose as it is, has the muddy footprints of a script fiddled with by too many people (Mangold, Michael Green, and Scott Frank are credited) synthesizing too many disparate influences and shoving them into a single film.
At one point, Xavier lays in bed watching George Stevens' classic Western Shane, as if copping to your influences somehow forgives the appropriation. Oddly enough, though, it does.
At least Logan is influenced by something other than quarterly earnings reports or the whims of 17-year old boys or the China Film Group. In a genre that revels in the modernity of its effects, humor, and storytelling, Logan is brave enough to look for inspiration in Hollywood's distant past.
Its recent past, too. Memories of Man on Fire, Children of Men, Aliens, Terminator 2, and Léon: The Professional (should I keep going?) are triggered by the introduction of Laura (Dafne Keen), a pre-teen girl with powers suspiciously similar to Logan's.
Hunted by a quasi-government organization repped by the oily and bland Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) and part-cyborg Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), Laura has the feral stare of someone who does not want to return from whence she came and will lop off the head of anyone who feels otherwise.
Laura is mute, but her existence speaks volumes about the controversial past and uncertain future of the mutant race. She convinces Logan and Xavier to drive her to North Dakota, where a sanctuary for mutants possibly awaits, allowing Mangold to throw a bone to the themes of family and sacrifice.
Hugh Jackman owns 'Logan' movie
As cathartic as the F-bombs and skull-piercing claw attacks feel, Logan would be next to nothing without Hugh Jackman, who has been playing Wolverine for 17 years and has owned every ornery, irritable, rage-filled on-screen moment.
The same actor who, time and again, ably unleashed his berserker fury, also won a Tony Award as the effeminate Australian singer-songwriter Peter Allen … and was the tormented father of a kidnapped girl in Prisoners … and was in fine voice as Jean Valjean in the film adaptation of the iconic musical Les Misérables.
Jackman, in other words, has got game, and in a collection of superhero films featuring guys and gals in funny outfits, his Wolverine was always a man – a troubled, angry, mature adult. And more than the previous X-films, where the on-screen burden is shared, Logan needs Jackman's commitment and range because heaviness of tone is not a substitute for exploration of character.
Indeed, there are deaths in this movie; some of the victims are people we've spent a lot of time and allowance money watching over the last almost two decades. Yet their deaths have little impact because the script is, ultimately, rather straightforward. We're not given much information about what happened to Logan and Xavier during their wilderness years, let alone what they feel about it.
'Commendable risk' results in one of the best superhero movies
Plus, let's face it, as crucial as Jackman is, the real stars of Logan are the profanity, violence, grit, dust, and downbeat tenor. They're the sell, the first thing you'll tell your friends after seeing the film.
That doesn't make Logan less of a commendable risk by 20th Century Fox, who has mostly done right by this series. Nor does it undermine the effectiveness of the 48-year-old Jackman, whose weary voice and greying mutton chops enhance the film's autumnal quality. Even if the dire tone gives off the whiff of calculation, its violence and profanity are liberating, a closing of the gap between comic book fantasy and life as we recognize it.
Upon Logan's conclusion, Marvel will return you to the pop art colors, bloodless killing, and sugar rush editing of its traditional style. But we'll always have Logan, the least “superhero” and therefore, one of the best, superhero films.
Dir.: James Mangold.
Scr.: James Mangold. Michael Green. Scott Frank. From a story by James Mangold.
Cast: Hugh Jackman. Patrick Stewart. Dafne Keen. Boyd Holbrook. Stephen Merchant. Elizabeth Rodriguez. Richard E. Grant. Eriq La Salle. Elise Neal. Quincy Fouse. Krzysztof Soszynski. Stephen Dunlevy. Jeremy Fitzgerald.
Logan movie cast info via the IMDb.
Images of Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine and Logan movie trailer: 20th Century Fox.