Directed by James Mangold.
2017. Rated R, 141 minutes.
Richard E. Grant
Eriq La Salle
It's 2029, no mutants have been born for a quarter of a century, and only a very few even remain alive. One of them is Logan (Jackman), better known to movie-goers as Wolverine, the one common thread across all the X-Men movies. He's scratching out an existence as a limo driver, which occasionally causes him a problem or two. All he really wants to do is save up enough money to help a friend in need. That friend is none other than former leader of the X-Men, Charles Xavier (Stewart) who is suffering through what appears to be a particularly dangerous form of Alzheimers. Their world gets turned upside down when a woman and a little girl come looking for Logan's help. It turns out the little girl, named Laura (Keen) is a mutant, with some very familiar powers no less, and has some extremely dangerous people after her. Against his better judgement, Logan tries to help her get to a safe haven that may, or may not, exist.
Wolverine has endured as a character because he has always been an emotionally vulnerable person in spite of his phenomenal gifts. He's a man constantly wrestling with his past and trying to alter his future. Most of the X-Men films and the two previous solo flicks for him have exploited this in pretty similar fashion. He begins a movie at the height of his powers, has some external force greater than he diminish that power, which he must then overcome. Logan cuts to the chase. When we catch up with our hero, he's already in pretty bad shape. His famous healing powers seem to be barely holding him together. This immediately makes him more of the type of hero we in the audience like, a guy struggling to get by. Wolverine is weary from all the battles, physical and mental. Hugh Jackman himself seems appropriately worn down. All seventeen years of playing this character lean heavily on his shoulders. The man is worn down from carrying an icon around with him for more than a decade and a half, and it's so perfect.
Also fatigued, and just as good, is Patrick Stewart. This version of Professor Xavier is lacking the one thing he has desperately clung to all his life, control. He doesn't like it, but he's resigned to the fact his fate is in the hands of others. However, the emergence of a new mutant has rejuvenated him, as much as that's possible. His relationship with Logan also keeps him going. Xavier realizes that as much as he needs Logan, Logan needs him. The father-son dynamic they've always shared has grown from being one of uneasiness way back in 2000's X-Men to being something undeniably natural. The chemistry between Stewart and Jackman has never been better. They truly feel like two men who have been through many harrowing ordeals together and saw their bond strengthen with each one. The plot requires them to focus on Laura, but the love they share fills up the screen even through their bickering.
Despite all my gushing, however, Logan is not all gooey emotion. This is very purposely, an R-rated action flick. Our heroes drop a number of f-bombs, but this isn't where the rating is most effective. It is most effective when Logan bares his claws and the fighting starts. For the first time on screen, we get the full impact of what it must be like to be on the receiving end of Wolverine's, and Laura's, fury. The two of them sustain plenty of damage, as well. The result is a film peppered with wonderfully gory action sequences. These scenes combine with our hero's vulnerability to ensure that we know the stakes are real. Far more than most superhero movies, the story presented to us goes deeper than the usual superficial battle between good and evil. That aspect is certainly there, but of a more immediate concern to Logan, Charles, and Laura is that this is clearly a matter of life and death.
Even as the fate of its characters hangs in the balance, the film still realizes this all started with a comic book. In that regard, Logan is an intensely meta piece of art. It is easily the most self-aware of all the X-Men, with the exception of Deadpool (if we're calling that part of the franchise). Logan does it in a way completely different from how it's handled in Deadpool. That film relentlessly skewers the genre while managing to function within it. Logan also functions within the genre, but doesn't poke fun at it. Instead, it chooses to use its knowledge of its own history as a tool in its self-examination. The questions it seems to constantly ask are 'what are we doing this, for?' This is all just comic-book stuff, right? By giving this fact a prominent position, the film illustrates how superheroes have transcended their initial medium (comic books) and their second medium (movies) to become a huge part of our everyday culture. To make the point hit its mark, the film takes a cue from Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy and sets the film in a world as closely resembling reality as possible while still being able to accommodate superheroes and super-villains.
There are a couple of missteps within the film. The biggest may be the inclusion of a group of other kids. It's a two-fold problem. First, their presence lessens Laura's importance. Scarcity creates value. In this case, she is not quite as special as she should be because she is not a singular entity, but one of a group. It doesn't help that, aside from Laura, these are all half-baked characters. They are only here to either be featured in a ten second shot showcasing their powers or to provide more bodies on the screen during fight scenes. The other issue is that the story is fairly predictable. We're never really having to guess what's coming next. The steps taken in most chase movies are dutifully followed, here. If there is one area where the movie really dropped the ball is in its handling of Wolverine's doppelganger. This is a character ripe with possibilities, especially as it pertains to the overall meta tone of the film. Still, in the grand scheme of things, these are small problems. Logan overcomes them by emphasizing relationships. This gets us absorbed enough in the film that we're not sitting around nit-picking. We're invested in the process, even though it's one we've been through before.