Hugh Jackman’s 17-year ride as beloved “X-Men” hero Wolverine has been full of ups (“X2”) and downs (“X-Men Origins”), but his commitment to the character has never wavered, and that’s undoubtedly a factor in what makes “Logan” a special superhero film.
Inspired by Mark Millar’s “Old Man Logan” storyline, the film takes place in 2029 in a world almost completely devoid of mutants. A physically ailing Wolverine has concealed his identity and works as a private driver in El Paso. He commutes over the border to Mexico, where he’s hiding a senile Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has seizures that result in physical tremors. Their quiet life is upended when a woman pursues Logan with a request to take care of a young girl in her care named Laura (Dafne Keen). But some bad folks from a bad technology company are after Laura, who shows some mutant-like tendencies that resemble Wolverine’s. The three are forced on the run with the hope of getting Laura to a safe haven in North Dakota.
The film both subtly and overtly resembles a Western. Director James Mangold, who also made 2013’s underrated “The Wolverine,” also directed the strong “3:10 to Yuma” remake and the acclaimed Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line.” Story and aesthetic elements of both make it into this film, as does the character-focused storytelling that made “The Wolverine” a strong entry in the character’s lengthy canon.
It may seem crude, but what elevates “Logan” to the top of the Wolverine spin-off pile has a lot to do with its R rating. Although the violence adds a grit that better captures the essence of the character, it’s equally about the maturity of the storytelling. The R rating also affects the style of the film, which is far more dramatic and introspective, and consequently much slower in pace. Freeing Wolverine from the restraints of PG-13 also means freeing him from the restraints of the cookie-cutter comic book blockbuster framework. Mangold and fellow scripters Scott Frank and Michael Green are able to populate the story with character-building scenes and dialogue that serves more than plot momentum.
The success of Fox’s “Deadpool” would seem the obvious source of our gratitude for Logan’s liberation, but Mangold’s vision and Jackman’s tenure in the role, which has raked in billions for the studio in the last two decades, had to inspire more confidence that if any character could carve its way out of the superhero mold, it would be this one. Mangold and Jackman reward the studio’s trust – and our trust – with a one-of-a-kind riff on the genre, something becoming increasingly vital after two decades of Juggernaut-like forward momentum in Hollywood comic book adaptations.
Yet for the ways it tests the limits of the genre, “Logan” doesn’t transcend it. It still ultimately feels like a comic book movie, namely in the way it gives in to action set pieces and gratuitous violence (albeit in a whole other stratosphere, stylistically speaking). Adding Western tropes to superhero tropes technically doubles the amount of tropes, and both genres have an overwhelming tendency to descend into violence. So “Logan” may not be formulaic, but it’s still predictable. The script finds some nice moments that exist in service to themes and emotions, but the storytelling is simply good, not exceptional. Watching a superhero film play out in such a unique manner is more satisfying than following the actual story itself.
Nevertheless, Jackman seizes his opportunity to go out on a much more profound note than fans of the character ever dreamed possible, especially in 2009 after “X-Men Origins.” The story, the style – these components give an actor who was already such an effortless fit more opportunities to own the character, which is bittersweet given he’s hanging up the claws. All the same things can be said of Stewart, who did it without ever having a solo film. He actually has the more demanding role given how different it is than his previous appearances as Professor X.
“Logan” is refreshing and interesting, which means it might not hold up over time as superhero films continue testing the limits that once contained them, but it will undoubtedly stand out as one of the high points of Jackman’s unprecedented legacy as Wolverine.
Directed by James Mangold
Written by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook