“It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” When he summed up the aging process back in 2008, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) was typically terse and frank. His description is a useful setup for the latest entry in the lucrative X-Men franchise. Logan dares to imagine a world in which a superhero must face his own mortality.
As Logan (Hugh Jackman) ponders going out with a bang, he provides plenty of such bangs — including enough Wolverine-style headshots (such as stabbing people through the head in a most graphic fashion) to rival John Wick 2. Director James Mangold, however, dedicates most of his film to deciphering the whimpers, instead. This somber approach is largely successful, giving us a realistic look that makes Logan a singular viewing experience.
It’s 2029 and Logan is driving a limousine in El Paso, Texas. This might sound like the setup for a corny joke, but it’s an inevitable conclusion for a loner like Logan. He’s haunted by the screams of his victims, some innocent and some deserving, along with the adamantium eating away at his insides. All are constant reminders that being a superhero has steep consequences.
Not that he’s much of a superhero these days. Logan lives in a bottle of booze, now. He’s content to pass out in the back of his limo and avoid the obsessive fans of his comic books (what Logan dismissively calls, “Ice cream for bed-wetters”). When a group of thugs tries to steal his ride, Logan rouses enough energy and outrage to demolish the entire crew. Watching him separate arms from bodies and impale heads on his claws, you realize that Logan is a different kind of Wolverine film. Inspired by the “Old Man Logan” comic storyline, this grizzled Wolverine doesn’t give a damn about the world, humanity or even his own well-being.
Why should he? All the Mutants are gone, victims of a systematic eradication program by their corporate nemesis, Transigen. The only ones remaining are Logan, a decrepit Dr. Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose mind is so fragile that a spontaneous seizure can take out whole buildings, and the albino Mutant tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant). They hole up in an abandoned warehouse in Mexico, tending to Xavier, who spends his days spinning in a wheelchair and reciting the lines to the latest Taco Bell commercial. It looks like the sad end of the once proud X-Men.
Both Jackman and Mangold have long advocated for an aging Wolverine installment. Jackman took a pay cut to ensure an R-rating and so prevent Logan from pulling punches. Mangold, returning to the franchise after 2013’s The Wolverine, also directed Copland, which contemplated similar themes in 1997 by way of an aging Sylvester Stallone. The result is legitimate character drama that happens to include bouts of gratuitous murder and mayhem.
That’s not to say that Logan is thoroughly original. To force Logan’s return to the superhero game, the movie introduces a new Mutant, a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), whose fiery temperament and razor claws bear an uncanny resemblance to Logan’s. She’s part of a Transigen program helmed by the evil Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) to create younger, more controllable Mutants. After the youngsters escape (“You can’t nurture rage,” Rice laments), a Reaver named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) is dispatched to find them and kill anyone foolish enough to hide them. That’s where Logan and Xavier come in…
Mangold uses the loose structure of a road movie to chart Logan and Laura’s egress to Eden, an enclave in Canada where the last Mutants reportedly reside. Mainly, it’s an excuse for Logan and Laura to connect while Xavier makes cantankerous observations. It’s an effective formula that sustains much of the film. Once the main action kicks in, however, and the cast is depleted of primary characters and polluted with secondary subplots, Logan loses its way.
It may sound odd to say that Logan suffers from the excellence of its sporadic action sequences. But they are so stellar in their execution — a perfect mix of fight choreography and digitally enhanced gore — that when each is over, you find yourself impatiently waiting for the next outburst. When the Reavers arrive at Logan’s Mexico compound and we get our first glimpse of Laura’s staggering power, you can’t wait to see what she’ll do next. The intermittent quiet character moments are undeniably strong, with Jackman thoroughly inhabiting this broken antihero, but they feel plodding in comparison.
Neither the dialogue nor the action bits clarify the objectives of the numerous villains. You’re not sure just why they want the children so badly, and a subplot involving the genetic engineering of corn crops and its impact on a local farmer (Eriq La Salle) is unnecessary. Such distractions undermine the road trip premise, padding the story with the same government conspiracies that have plagued the X-Men saga previously.
Even with these caveats, Logan demands to be taken seriously. Fighting time, Logan’s body is ravaged by scars and neglect, now looking like a black and blue pin cushion. His claws never fully extend or retract, forcing him to complete the job manually, and painfully. Meanwhile, Xavier can’t go more than two hours without popping pills to sustain what remains of his telepathic power.
Watching Jackman and Stewart interact is like watching a story within a story. Yes, they are actors portraying characters within the X-Men universe, but they are also a family preparing to go their separate ways. They play Xavier and Logan as a father and son looking back as they are losing options in their futures. “Maybe we were God’s mistake,” Logan observes. It’s likely that neither will return, at least as played by these men. Logan is a worthy sendoff.