Logan is necessary. It is vital. Often flirting with perfection, it is the closest thing resembling the ideal finale for Hugh Jackman. It celebrates little of his iconic run as the legendary comic book character, instead opting for an aching, solemn, and resonant dissection of the series. It’s thoughtful and violent—gritty and nuanced—in equal measure, just as the character should be.
Based loosely on Mark Millar’s dour Old Man Logan series and expanding on the strongest thread of 2013’s The Wolverine, this story finds an aged Logan in the year 2029 working as a Lyft-style limo driver out near El Paso, Texas. Just south of the border, he and Caliban (Stephen Merchant) live in an abandoned factory, tending to Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and saving for a seafaring retirement. It’s a bleak and lonely existence.
The world itself, however, is just as bleak and lonely. For some unknown reason, mutant births have halted with newspaper think pieces blaming water contaminants and the like. Charles has grown senile, his overwhelmingly powerful abilities requiring constant sedation and medication. And Logan’s own healing factory has been weakened to the point of debilitation as it fights off something within himself, scars taking the place of soft tissue while chronic pain hobbles his gait.
This opening act is unadulterated brilliance. It sets expectations immediately, playing with the long awaited R-rating and telling you precisely the state we find ourselves in. The premise seemingly goes deeper and darker without end until it suddenly subverts itself, flipping its own marketing and framework over on its head. It’s certainly funny despite being painful all the way down.
Then the singular and base theme comes barreling through with full force in the form of the 11-year-old Laura Kinney (Dafne Keen). She smashes into the start of the second act with a savagery and barbarous leer we haven’t seen since Jackman himself first stepped into that cage fight all those years ago. Her mere existence puts on full display the Skyfall-esque idea of the future fighting the past, a future that simultaneously reveres what paved the way while finding a complete necessity to bury its progenitors.
It’s shocking for all the right and grave reasons. For many fans, Jackman is the superhero they grew up with, outlasting any of the numerous Spider-men or Batmen or even James Bonds (Bend?). To see this irrevocably seminal and undying figure that formed millions of childhoods pale in comparison to something that so purely and impossibly evokes the constituent parts we fell in love with is heartbreaking. Paralyzing, really.
The presence of Stewart’s Professor X takes on a similar sensation, though exemplifying a different facet. He’s long been the grounding wire for the whole X-Men franchise, his natural gravitas and soothing delivery bolstering the character’s tremendous and unrealized potential. To see him broken down as a lost, doddering, totally dependent figure—more mascot of the prime of an entire species than anything else—would be unimaginable if not laid out before us, especially as we have James McAvoy’s sharp and youthful portrayal far more fresh on our minds. It’s a meaty and grounded question of what’s the worst thing that could happen to the world’s most powerful mind.
Together, these three actors form a prodigious and potent core. They are intimate and desperate in the same way you find the hard-pressed and reluctant love in things like Little Miss Sunshine and The Last of Us. It’s easy to forget Jackman’s dramatic and award-winning acting capabilities when he became so widely known for a wild and manic Wolverine, but his darkness and abrasiveness is subtle and powerful here in ways we’d not yet seen.
Keen’s film debut is just as remarkable. Every single thing she does in this movie quickly and irreversibly became My Favorite Thing. She’s primal without speaking, imposing without fighting. But when she does a thing, the bar she previously set is casually passed as if it were nothing so important or taxing to be so talented. Keen is going places, and missing this turn of hers would be a mistake.
That’s not to say it’s all peaches and bloodied cream. As soon as the slick and impeccable first act closes, it struggles to find a workable pace in a couple instances. It indulges in slower, more deliberate scenes too often that are only broken up by undiluted exposition that somehow still fails to build up the fully formed antagonist. They are, however, brief and to the point and somehow full of a joy you wouldn’t expect, some moments even emerging as the best of the whole film.
And as poignant and gorgeous as the ending is, it strangely feels unsure of itself. That’s not to say it’s not 100-percent clear on the way it ends, but rather there were myriad ways it could have landed, and the ways it teases them feels more accidental than meaningful. The parts of that vacillation that work, however, are exceptional. It raises the stakes and the tension to all-time highs, forcing you to ask if it has the audacity to do it and if you have the constitution to watch.
Part of it has to do with the visceral and gushing violence. In the same way that Deadpool uses its R-rating to give the merc the mouth he has always deserved, the action here isn’t gratuitous so much as it is fundamental to the final impact of the story. It visually and graphically puts the consequences in stark relief with the glib destruction and fighting of the other X-Men films.
It’s in your face and intimate to the point of being uncomfortable, but it needs to do that so that you understand that this story is crucial. This is a bookend that grabs you by the throat and forces you to look at it, scars and blood and all. The contrast is what makes these delicate themes actually work, making such tiny flowers stand bright amongst the dirt and debris. (And thanks to director James Mangold and cinematographer John Mathieson, both flowers and debris look stunning.)
The evolution of the character is a spiderweb of themes. All his follies and all his vices fall to the wayside—ablative and painful—to reveal not a transformation 16 years in the making but a discovery. It’s a gestalt that takes him full circle with a raw, cold sincerity, stripping away the bravado and the pain and the past. There’s beauty in this character leaving us the same way we met him, living in the present and nothing more. No James Howlett, no Weapon X.
Final Score: 9 out of 10