I know that we will get plenty more X-Men movies over the years, and eventually, a new interpretation of Wolverine, but with James Mangold’s “Logan,” it feels like a period of time in the history of the “X-Men” movie franchise is coming to a close, and not just because both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have said this will be their final time playing Wolverine and Professor X, respectively. We have been on quite a journey with Marvel’s mutants since they made their debut in Bryan Singer’s 2000 film, and Jackman’s Wolverine along with us. Some of those places have been gripping and exciting (“X2: X-Men United” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”), some have left much to be desired (“X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), while others have been somewhere in between (“The Wolverine,” “X-Men”), but all have given us important information about the character of Logan, with his healing powers and adamantium skeleton with retractable claws, and who the character is at his core. “Logan” returns to some of that information, coming from a new direction, and the result is one of the most powerful superhero films of all-time.
The year is 2029, and the years have not been kind to Mutants. The human bloodline no longer allows for evolutionary mutations, meaning people like Logan and Charles Xavier have to go into hiding, and indeed, they are on opposite sides of the Mexican border when the film begins. Charles has seen the onset of Alzheimer’s, which makes his telepathy difficult to control- to Logan, it sounds like the rantings of an old man who is losing his mind. Charles is looked after by Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a mutant friend, but Logan is the one bringing him his medication, and cares for him. One day, Logan gets visited by a nurse who wants him to protect a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) an deliver her to a safe haven in North Dakota. Logan is reluctant, but when he finds the nurse dead, he relents. Laura is a girl from a medical facility in Mexico that has specialized in genetically-enhanced humans…mutants. Laura has a lot in common with Logan, and we find out that is not by accident, as Logan, Laura and Charles go on a road trip while trying to be a step ahead of the nurse’s killers, called Reavers.
There’s not a lot that is flat-out terrific about the first X-Men film Singer made in 2000, but the greatest part of the film, for me, was the bond between Jackman’s Logan and Anna Paquin’s Rogue. In different ways, they were our entry point into the world of mutants Singer was creating, and helped shepherd for most of its near two decades of films. With their adaptation of Mark Millar’s beloved Old Man Logan storyline, Mangold and co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green have built an arc around a similar narrative with Logan and Laura, although we don’t get the sense that this is the beginning of a story, but the end. Comparisons to Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” of a gunslinger forced back into the fray, are apt in some ways, but a bit tortured in others. But it’s obvious that, in every sense, Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma,” “The Wolverine”) has been inspired by Westerns for this last go round as Logan for Jackman. At one point, we see the main characters watching the classic Western “Shane” in a hotel room, and that is a fitting comparison for this film. He and Jackman are very much in sync with their second collaboration, and he brings the very best out of not just his lead actor, but Stewart and Keen, who gives a riveting performance as the daughter Logan never expected. You see the family resemblance come out in the film’s action scenes, which are bruising and brutal in a way we haven’t seen before, and is befitting the film’s R-rating. “Logan” moves at a very different pace, but with Jackman in the lead role, we still keep our eyes fixed on him every step of the way. Whoever wears those claws after him has a very high bar to go over. I don’t envy them one bit.