It is the tragedy of Jackman’s Wolverine that, while the character he plays is portrayed as functionally ageless, immortal, to watch the evolution of his portrayal is to watch his struggle against the forces of time. It would be wise for him not to return to the role, he can go on to star in those prestige roles that older leading men do and the producers at Warner Brothers can search for a new star to keep the X-men brand from Marvels grasping hands. It would be better for everyone that way, so much does Logan feel like a definitive closing statement.
It’s very much a parable, aging people in an aging world contemplating youth and the future. Logan, the given name of the superhero mutant once called Wolverine, now works as a chauffeur, driving his limo around a ruined city for a clientele of stags, hens, and shitty looking businessmen. He does this to afford the heroic quantities of alcohol that serves to numb his regenerating nerves and the medication that will stop the now infirm Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) from the seizures he suffers, potentially deadly to both himself and anyone unlucky enough the be around at the time.
Into this scene comes Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) a nurse who claims her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) is also a mutant, the first born in a long time, and is being hunted, and needs protection, and Logan must be the one to provide it. She offers him fifty thousand dollars to drive them to a safe haven, in the North Dakota plains, close enough to make a run for the border should the need arise. Reluctantly, he agrees.
It’s not much of a spoiler now to say that this girl’s powers are Wolverine’s powers, what with the fist claws and the strength and the regeneration, arriving at a time when Logan’s seem to be very much on the wane. He’s not healing right anymore, his body covered with the barely healed scars of a lifetime’s hard battles. In one harrowing scene his claws don’t seem to be working right, his own body rebelling against him, he takes them in his hand and pulls them to their full extension, cutting himself up in the process. In light of this film’s focus on his suffering, his powers become more curse than blessing, impossible for him to imprint on the world without damaging himself.
Time too has taken a toll on Professor X, the previous films have taken on the position of using the greatness of his mind as an excuse for his physical disability. Often are the physically disabled marginalised in society, and the sort of characterisation Charles Xavier has received in the past has been emblematic of this. Look at our view of Professor Stephen Hawking we accept societal ‘abnormality’ of his body as payment for his genius. Also, we fall into the trap of accepting the opposite, neurodivergence being a tragedy in young, attractive bodies, a cause for shame and derision in the elderly. By reframing Xavier in this way and casting him very much at the moral centre of this film, it asks us to reconsider our views on these members of society.
Thing is, these two different questions about the meaning and function of age, would be rendered completely inert without the commitment of the two actors inhabiting these characters. Let’s be fair, we’ve had like nine films featuring Wolverine at this point, so we can say we’ve seen good Wolverine and bad Wolverine (cough, cough, X-men Origins.) Sometimes that’s a function of the film, and sometimes it seems like Jackson’s not all there for the part.
Logan features Great Wolverine, I think it’s Jackman’s best, though I’ll admit to having not watched the original trilogy in quite a while now. His approach to this broken man, destroyed by the way his very being forced him into interacting with the world, and yet still very much unable to break those patterns. His addiction to violence, to the power inside his skin, is very much as real as the whisky he keeps slamming throughout the runtime. The opening scene features him slaughtering a bunch of young men trying to jack his hubcaps. Watch how he revels in it, the film does too, announcing it’s presence as an adult flick with its focus on the viscera, but then he almost gets beat and winds up in a truck stop washing the blood out of his shirt.
Stewart too, announcing that this would be his last film as the character, puts in a stellar turn, a performance both commanding and vulnerable. Someone always been portrayed as the father to a group of wayward individuals trying to put on that costume once more. And again, that play, the willingness of the actor to have their body explored by the camera, the notion of him being an able bodied actor playing this role, all would fall flat were it not for the warmth he brings.
Dropped into the middle of this relationship then is Laura, wave of the future, young mutant. Who is she? The daughter to a single latinx woman, almost certainly residing in America illegally, strong, resilient, in need of love. Is it any surprise she is being hunted by a cabal of old white men? Men who believe to have ownership of her body, her autonomy, her decisions, and who are happy to behave as immorally as they damn well please in order to get her back under control. It’s not surprising at all. What is, is that this film, created under a grand cohort of white guys, not only chooses to go that route, but actually makes it work.
I think this is in large part due to its adherence to the classic tropes of the odd couple, grizzled old man, supposedly innocent youngster, roughing it out. In a parallel universe this could be played for comedy, generational conflict being a great source of chuckles. But ask yourself who that affirms? Inevitably it is the status quo, the comfortably aged taking the jabs at those not yet accustomed to their youth or their age. By choosing the grim edge, the ultraviolent tone the film instead sets its sights on destructive masculinity. Both of Logan itself and the world that these characters inhabit, and while trying not to reveal too much, a plot revelation midway cements the film’s critique of masculinity, specifying that if this representation of it is interpreted as positive, then of course we view age as weakness.
Logan looks forward and sees a path that can only be a continuation of this philosophy, it takes Laura, and therefore the young (symbolism!), to see a path forwards that eschews the ways of the existing world, and the possibility that a better one could be forged. And let it not be forgotten that this takes place in the midst of a kickass action-neowestern-roadtrip movie.
Because, holy hell, is all that shit good, here I was thinking, ‘Well John Wick knocked it out of the park, it’ll be a while before we see that again.’ and sure, to be fair, it’s not as perfect a tool as that film was. It’s pretty close though, there are some thrillingly choreographed sequences in this joint and the physical work done by Jackman, Keen and their doubles knocks you right out. All ably captured by legend cinematographer John Mathieson, under whose eye the very nature of the film seems to contort and change, in what might be his best work since Gladiator.
You know, ever since I watched that first trailer I had been planning on starting this review with a dismissive reference to The Last of Us, because I had seen those surface level similarities and just assumed the worst. I gotta be honest when I say that this film kicked me on my ass. I was not expecting it of Wolverine, I was not expecting it of James Mangold whose directorial work I must revisit, and whose writing work I am excited to explore for the first time.
I will be seeing Logan again, as soon as I can, and I hope that someday, in the future, if I get trapped in my ways, I’ll be able to watch it and let it untangle me.