How do you say goodbye to a character that has appeared in nine different films over the course of the last seventeen years? How do you cap one of the longest runs in any role by any performer in film history? How do you finish telling the cinematic story of a character that originated in a comic book forty-three years ago? One that’s on-film journey has experienced more than a few bumps along the way? The team behind Logan set out to answer those questions as they took on the responsibility of crafting Hugh Jackman’s swan song as the character of Wolverine, capping a seventeen year run as the character on our theater and television screens. The answer they seem to have arrived on for the most part is “give them what they want” as they have crafted a film that gives fans of the character almost everything that they have been begging for since the character first appeared in X-Men back in 2000, for better and for worse.
When I say almost everything, I should be clear that there are some things that you will not be getting in this film. If you have been holding out hope for that classic yellow and blue outfit, it’s time to give up on that dream because it isn’t coming true. Fox never figured out a way to make that particular outfit work and have instead decided to end the franchise the exact way they began it, contemptuously laughing at the very prospect of it. And it’s time to accept that the Deadpool team up is almost certainly not going to happen. Once you have accepted what you will not be getting in this film however you gain the ability to appreciate and reflect on what James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have served up to us as their final installment in the series. This gory hyper-violent semi-futuristic comic book western they have crafted is the type of insane concept that should be appreciated, even if it sometimes misses the mark.
The story of Logan is quite simple. Borrowing from about fifteen different stories in the X-Men lore, it paints a stark picture. The year is 2029 and mutants are all but extinct. Almost all of the known ones have died out and new ones are not being born. While the story never confirms what has happened to the X-Men, hints abound throughout the film. Logan is broken down, his healing abilities are beginning to fail him and pain is now a reality of his daily life. He’s working as a limo driver to save up money so that he can take a now 90 year old and rapidly deteriorating Charles Xavier away from the world to some place where they can finally find peace. Before this can happen however, he runs into a little girl named Laura in dire need of help. Thus kicks off an insane road trip filled with more than its share of violence and gore, and surprisingly a handful of beautifully human moments.
As mentioned above, Logan very much feels like a response to the cries from fans to make the franchise more “adult”. Since the character’s cinematic debut fans have been begging the creators to really set Wolverine loose and allow the full effect of his violent skill set to be realized. Gone are the more reserved and bloodless action sequences from the previous X-Men films, replaced instead with some of the most frenetic, visceral, and gory combat to ever come out of a major blockbuster. For the most part this is to the film’s credit as it serves to allow the audience to feel the action while also dramatizing the dark reality of Logan’s life of violence. He is a killer and that is driven home through scene after scene of eviscerations. That being said there is something to be said for a little restraint, something which this film is totally lacking in. On more than one occasion throughout the film I found myself thinking that the violence and gore on screen had crossed the line at which it served a dramatic purpose and lost all value beyond shock. That combined with several other elements of the film create the sense that Mangold may have been trying to justify the much advertised R rating and had gone overboard in the process, resulting in a film that’s accessibility may prove to be limited. There are sequences in this film that make Deadpool feel sensible and restrained in comparison.
Tonal control also at times becomes an issue in this entry in the X-Men saga as Mangold occasionally can’t seem to be certain of the mood he is attempting to evoke. The film bounces from moments of hope and genuine human emotion to moments of deeply dark cynicism so quickly that the viewer may at times find themselves experiencing whiplash. One moment in the second half is particularly egregious in this regard serving up a moment of darkness that for this viewer crossed the line from merely cynical to cruel, completely undercutting a touching moment that had occurred just prior. There are also times within the film in which the visual language and narrative choices being made do not seem to mesh with the overall story being told, which when combined with the somewhat vague nature of the storytelling causes one to question whether or not a significant amount of material found its way onto the cutting room floor. There are moments throughout the film however that truly soar. Most interestingly enough these moments were often not found in the combat but in the smaller character moments, when Logan, Xavier and Laura begin to truly feel like a family.
I would be remiss to leave out the many excellent performances in this film as they are truly some of it’s greatest highlights. Patrick Stewart’s performance as a now 90 year old Charles Xavier proves once again why he is one of our greatest living actors. The sense of pain and loss rooted in 90 years of dealing with the hurt and oppression directed at mutant kind is felt in almost every one of his moments on screen and his slow loss of his grip on reality is utterly heartbreaking. Hugh Jackman is once again stunning in the role of Wolverine, pulling out all the stops in one final performance as the clawed warrior. His portrayal is that of a man haunted by the life he has lead, with sincere doubts as to whether he has contributed anything of value to the world around him and a pain both physical and emotional that will not go away. It is however the performance of Dafne Keen as Laura that deserves the most praise. The 11 year old actress is a revelation in her role as a young mutant desperately in need of love and hope. She conveys the pain of a childhood lost with utter sincerity and emotional truth and will absolutely be one to watch going forward.
Logan is on the whole an audacious and unique film quite worthy of discussion. Its highs are some of the greatest in the history of its franchise, though they are counterbalanced somewhat both by the baggage of the franchise itself as well as the film’s somewhat uneven nature. All in all though it serves as a fitting goodbye to a character many of us have grown to love, and to Hugh Jackman’s career defining stint in the role. It is most certainly not a film for everyone, but if you are a fan of the character and have come this far along the journey, you owe it to yourself to give this final chapter a chance.