There’s a moment in Logan where our three super-powered leads are sitting at a dinner table with some new friends. There’s nothing flashy going on, just a conversation between six people. A chat that feels like it could be found in any home, with a warmth and sense of humor that feels entirely unwritten. One might even forget it’s an X-Men film for a moment. This quiet maturity is what makes the film that James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have crafted here such an astonishing addition to the genre. This is a fiercely passionate labor of love to Wolverine that delivers a devastating character study and a savagely violent action spectacular in equal measure.
We find ourselves in the mid 2020s as we meet a very different version of our old pal Logan (Hugh Jackman). He’s become a withered shell of himself with a body that’s finally starting to break down due to a depleting healing factor. He spends long days caring for Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who now suffers from a deadly form of dementia that often endangers those around him. However, life throws a wrench in this lonely cycle when Logan finds himself stuck with Laura (Dafne Keen). She’s a young mutant with very similar knife brandishing skills who finds herself on the run from an evil group of scientists who have been experimenting on children to create soldiers. Thus begins a blood-soaked road trip across America to get Laura somewhere safe.
Mangold crafts a harsh environment that lives outside of the other X-Men films. Those stories have all been distilled into exaggerated comic books now, leaving Logan and Charles in a world that has passed them by. The days of refined private schools and slick black suits are long gone. We’re deep in the gills of middle America, often drenched in the hot sun. This restrained look not only calls to the aesthetics of classic westerns and road movies but provides us with an intimate setting in which we really get to see these characters as human beings.
After spending seventeen long years creating this iconic version of Wolverine, Hugh Jackman sends himself off with the strongest performance he’s delivered in the entire run. Covered from head to toe in cuts and bruises and practically cracking a bone with each step, this Logan is sick and tired of surprising his rage. He’s not just world weary, he’s flat out cynical. Jackman sells all of this while still remaining likable, largely through his interactions with Xavier and Laura. Young Dafne Keen is a revelation in one of the most ferocious roles ever given to a child. Acting mostly with her eyes, Keen infuses every moment with pure intensity. We see her tear apart grown men throughout this entire film and it never once comes across as silly. If anything, it’s just flat out vicious. Her chemistry with Jackman comes from a complete lack of coddling. She’s as worn down and tough as he is and watching the two of them both irritate and protect one another makes for a very compelling dynamic.
However, Patrick Stewart runs away with this film with a powerhouse turn as the ailing Xavier. We see the man with the most powerful mind in the world slowly start to fade away. He’s so viscerally overwhelmed with everything around him and it’s heart-wrenching to watch. Although Logan has become his caretaker, he can only see a son. Before he dies, Charles is desperate for Logan to find some semblance of inner peace. Even in this fragile state, he is still as caring and kind a man as ever, albeit with far less of a filter. It’s a performance worthy of awards consideration, often acting as the film’s central heartbeat.
All of this dramatic heft only fuels the deliciously violent action sequences. Finally, we are given a Wolverine who severs limbs first and asks questions never. This is the rabid berserker that this series has always teased but never fully delivered on. He and X23 are human wood-chippers, gutting anybody who so much as looks at them wrong. None of this brutality feels showy, either. Mangold makes every cut and blow look searingly painful, even when his camera does occasionally get a little bit too kinetic to fully catch everything going on. However, the film does throw in a rather goofy element late in the second act to bolster the violence and it throws a major wrench into the otherwise very consistent tone, even undermining a couple of key emotional beats. It’s not quite as bad as the robot ninja from The Wolverine but it’s certainly in the same ballpark.
Logan is not only a thrilling send off to one of the silver screen’s most iconic superheroes but a reminder of when the superhero genre needed to be ambitious and risky to succeed. It is never concerned with being a piece of a universe. We’re living in this moment with these characters and telling a satisfying story now, not later. It’s by far the most engaging comic book drama since Captain America: The Winter Soldier but often feels more at home with movies like Unforgiven or Hell or High Water. Some unlucky S.O.B. will inevitably inherit the adamantium claws sooner or later, but if Logan proves anything, it’s that Hugh Jackman is and will always be The Wolverine.