SYNOPSIS: It’s 2029. Mutants are gone–or very nearly so. An isolated, despondent Logan (Hugh Jackman) is drinking his days away in a hideout on a remote stretch of the Mexican border, picking up petty cash as a driver for hire. His companions in exile are the outcast tracking mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart), whose singular mind is plagued by worsening seizures. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy abruptly end when a mysterious woman appears with an urgent request–that Logan shepherd an extraordinary young girl to safety. Soon, the claws come out as Logan must face off against dark forces and a villain from his own past on a live-or-die mission, one that will set the time-worn warrior on a path toward finally fulfilling his destiny.
RT Score: 92%
It’s a cliche to point out that the third entry into most trilogies are widely considered the worst of the group. But it’s an outdated one. In recent years, trilogies have begun to flip that narrative by increasing in overall quality as the movies get more popular. This holds true in the superhero genre with Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” series and the recently completed Captain America trilogy. For the Wolverine saga, “Logan” was my favorite of the three by far. The first, Wolverine: Origins, was plagued by a confusing story, and ridiculous liberties taken with the source material (“A Deadpool that can’t talk? Sure, Merc with the Mouth is a dumb nickname anyway, and I’ve never found Ryan Reynolds all that charming.”). The second, “The Wolverine”, while a marked improvement with more self assured direction from James Mangold, still felt like a slicker retread of the first with no concrete, established villain to root against. This version presents the most complete story, character development, and the healthy mix between action and pathos that hallmarks the greatest of Wolverine’s comic book adventures.
The plot is loosely based on Mark Millar’s dystopian “Old Man Logan” comic book run, originally released in the summer of 2008. A cliff notes version of that story has Wolverine living in a desert wasteland of the distant future with a wife and two children. A cadre of super-villains, Kingpin, Red Skull, Magneto and Doctor Doom, have conquered and divided the entire continental United States with no heroes to stand against them. Wolverine, brainwashed by Mysterio to see them as attacking villains, murdered all of his mutant brothers and sisters. The event has left him permanently and understandably scarred, most evidenced by his vow to never to use his claws again, leaving the Wolverine persona all but dead. There are other additions to the story that could never show up here because of film rights’ issues including a blind Hawkeye driving a retooled Spider-Mobile, roving gangs of Hillbilly Hulk children, a re-programmed, stay-at-home Dad version of Ultron, among other things. But at its core, this is still a Wolverine story and the basic elements remain.
We find Hugh Jackman’s James “Logan” Howlett in much the same place. Drinking his days away as a limo driver for hire, taking jobs shuttling around rowdy bachelorette parties and airport-bound golden oldies. His legendary healing factor has slowed, allowing him to age considerably, but presents a much more unhinged violence in a character who has always longed for death. This is first entry in the series with an R-rating and, most likely emboldened by the success of “Deadpool”, the violence is definitely amped up to eleven with this version of Wolverine coming closest to his comic book origins. He is the best he is at what he does, and what he does is murder people with ruthless efficiency. The opening scene alone has more blood, limb removals and dismemberments than all of the previous Wolverine appearances combined.
The heart of the movie is found in its main triad of Logan, an aged, ailing Professor X, and the diminutive and mysterious “Laura”. Each beset by their own set of afflictions, they work together to find whatever their version of paradise may be. For Patrick Stewart’s now irascible and foul-mouthed Charles Xavier, that comes in the form of forgiveness. Seizures leave him unable to control his power and could mean the death of anyone nearby, leaving Logan in the precarious position of keeping his mentor medicated and sedated. No new mutants have been born in years and the Professor’s School for Gifted Youngsters has shut down, leaving him penniless and directionless. Xavier is also haunted by the pain his condition has caused and will continue to cause. This has the added effect of giving him a glimpse into Logan’s existence as a living weapon. Everything he has known or created has disappeared, from the X-Men and his school, to his intelligence and optimism. This is a broken Professor X, looking desperately for some kind of hope to cling to as he becomes more of a burden than a utility.
Hugh Jackman is as great — and unbelievably ripped — as ever, but is allowed to do much more emotionally in the third movie that he was unable to fully tap into in the first two. Logan has always been a tragic character, unable to really love or trust at all but desperate for a connection to anyone or anything, and this film deep-dives into that conflict. The interaction between Stewart and Jackman is that of surrogate father and son, and has been allowed to develop on and off-screen since their first appearances in X-Men seventeen years ago. However, Xavier’s condition has the roles flipped, Xavier behaving more like a petulant teenager and Logan as his frustrated dad, bringing a lot more humor than normal. Patrick Stewart, in particular, flexes a bit of the comedic muscle he’s shown in more recent years, almost appropriating his Avery Bullock character from “American Dad” for stretches.
Laura, played by newcomer Dafne Keen, is the film universe’s version of Wolverine’s comic book daughter X-23. Born in a lab from a surrogate Mexican mother and a sample of her father’s DNA, she has her father’s trademark anger, surliness, and nebulous backstory. In addition, she inherited his adamantium skeleton, healing factor, and claws, though her’s appear from both her hands and feet, a marked genetic difference between male and female wolverines. She is on a mission to locate the other escapees from the lab where she was made, fellow mutant child experiments, and has enlisted Logan to help her get there. Seeing Logan grapple with the weight of responsibility and his natural inclination toward solitude is an incredible contrast. Keen, who is playing a bilingual character, is non-verbal for the majority of the movie but does an incredible job conveying Laura’s desperation to have a kindred spirit. Logan is unaware that he shares that desire, but they both come to realize that that is not to be dismissed lightly. Wolverine, throughout his film appearances, has always been on a search for the answers he thinks will give him peace, but eventually finds it in the vulnerability of caring for others.
The villains, portrayed by Boyd Holbrook and Richard Grant, give fantastic performances as the security head and lead scientist of the mysterious Transigen Labs. Though their plan is still a little formulaic, the fact that their victims are children gives the film higher stakes and more “edge” than its predecessors. They are as vindictive, violent, singularly-minded, self-aggrandizing, and self-assured as any other comic book adversary, but seem otherwise unconcerned with consequences or collateral damage. Whether that’s a climbing body count, discovery or general misery, they seem to just want Laura back in their possession. Knowing that this is the final film in the series in combination with the rating gives us an indication that no one is safe, removing the inevitability of success relatively low losses that plague most comic book adaptations.
All in all, this is the Wolverine movie we’ve been waiting to see for the better part of the past 15 years. While I’m happy to have finally seen it, and give Hugh Jackman a fantastic send-off for his great work with the character, there is a tinge of disappointment that we could have been seeing this the whole time if studios recognized the appeal of source material. Deadpool once said that Wolverine’s mutant power wasn’t “regeneration or murder claws, it’s popularity”. Regardless, the sins of past movies cannot be held against this one.