Over the course of 17 years and nine movies, Hugh Jackman (“The Prestige”) cemented himself as a cinematic legend with a single role, one that would dominate pop culture and help turn superhero films into blockbusters. That role was playing the tortured antihero Wolverine, a.k.a. Logan, whose rage, wit and metal claws seemed to be destined for Jackman to tackle. The effortlessly cool Australian actor consistently wowed audiences for years as the most famous member of the X-Men, bringing a charm and vulnerability to the character that helped to create one of the most memorable characters ever before seen in the superhero genre. All good things must come to an end, however, and Jackman looks to sheath the claws for good with the latest entry in the “X-Men” saga, “Logan.”
Set in 2029, “Logan” follows an aging, battered Wolverine living in a seemingly dystopian America. Mutants are on the brink of extinction, mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, “Green Room”) is suffering from a neurodegenerative disease that gives him little agency over his telepathic powers and Logan’s metal skeleton is slowly poisoning him to death, weakening his abilities. Logan lives his day boozing and driving a limo, hoping to escape to the sea with Xavier, until everything changes when he meets Laura (Dafne Keen, “The Refugees”), a young clone of himself on the run from the corporation who created her.
On top of the grim world-building, “Logan” is a film quite unlike any other “X-Men” film due to its very adult proceedings. The success of last year’s bloody and filthy mutant venture “Deadpool” allowed Jackman and director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) to push for an R-rating, and the benefits show. While Wolverine’s metal claws have historically produced little to no gore in the past and his language has been almost entirely family-friendly, the characters of “Logan” now speak without filters and seamlessly tear their enemies to shreds. It’s an effective choice, as it works in strict coordination with the film’s tone and style, which paints this tale as less of a superhero story and more of a dark, weary neo-Western. The nature of the adult themes and choices in the film are not only a treat for Wolverine fans, it’s a deliberate decision for a story steeped in the idea that time always gets the better of us.
While “X-Men” films have often been a step above other ensemble genre films, the performances in “Logan” are superb and bring the story to life. It’s easily Jackman’s best performance as Logan, bringing all of the character’s pain, guilt and humanity to the table in a way he’s never been able to do before. While the wisecracks may be few and far between in this installment, the character feels as authentic as ever. Stewart is also just as divine, turning in his best performance of the franchise as he creates a Xavier that is both heartwarming and emotionally devastating. It’s a complex role, matched not only by Jackman but by newcomer Keen as well, whose spunk and rage develops splendidly over the course of the story.
The three performances, the centerpiece amongst an array of great acting found in the film, come together to create a character piece that finds meaning in the blood and carnage. They work with Mangold’s steady hand in the director’s chair to create a timeless film, one that transcends the trappings of the superhero genre. It’s not only a fitting send-off to Jackman’s role of a lifetime, but also one of the most intelligent and raw blockbuster films to hit the screens in quite some time.