The title says it all. This isn’t “Wolverine: Excessively Dramatic Subtitle.” This is “Logan”: the story of a man and his name.
It’s the year 2029 and the word, “superhero,” has become passé. But that’s okay, because Logan (Hugh Jackman) never thought of himself that way in the first place. Now with a little grey in his beard, he has little to live for, which is perfect, because his powers of regeneration are beginning to fade. The only thing keeping Logan from eating an adamantium bullet is his old friend, Charles (Patrick Stewart), whose age has caught up with him and needs looking after. When Charles goes–we assume–Logan goes. But, as the poet said, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry–even the suicidal ones. “Awry” comes in the form of a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who brings Logan a mission–or, more fittingly, a purpose.
This is the first R-rated Wolverine film, but that’s not just an indicator of the carpet F-bombing or the multitude of severed limbs; it speaks to the tone of the film. Kids under 17 aren’t allowed, but I’m not sure the majority of them would want to be. In what Hugh Jackman says is his last go at the character, this is a somber, very human send-off, void of any theatrics. There’s no fancy mansions or battles atop national monuments in this film, only trashy casinos and isolated farmland. Wolverine is referred to as Logan and Professor X is referred to as Charles. The multicolored, gallant pretense of the comic books has been shed, allowing for these bigger-than-life characters to take a knee, get on our level and look us in the eye.
As such, the performances carry a degree of poignancy unseen up to this point. Throughout the film, Logan uses copious amounts of liqueur to either numb his conscience or to punish his body for its wrongs, or both. The alcohol and injuries do progressive damage to Logan; his eyes redden and his face becomes strained, until breathing seems like more trouble than it’s worth. A round of applause for the make-up artists, but also for Jackman, who, after nine tries, has finally arrived at the center of Wolverine: pathetic, sympathetic and majestic, but mostly just pissed off. It’s not just his best performance as Wolverine, but his best performance, period.
James Mangold, director and co-writer, doesn’t hide his Western ambitions, giving special attention to “Shane,” a film about a drifter with a mysterious past who becomes a reluctant father-figure. But “The Shootist” and “Unforgiven” both come to my mind, as they are stories about aging men at war with their reputations–reputations that seem to have manifested into separate men. It’s no fluke that Mangold would make a Wolverine film this sincere and introspective, considering he specializes in finding the gooey center of tough guys (“Copland,” “Walk the Line,” “3:10 to Yuma”).
Accolades aside, this is still a film about a guy with knives sticking out of his knuckles. And for the first time, thanks to the big “R,” we see what kind of damage that can do. The most memorable of these exhibitions involves Logan trying to protect his car from some common thugs; he’s too drunk and tired for precision, so he just whips out the claws and throws his arms around wildly, which is just effective as it sounds.
“Logan” succeeds because it is modest in its ambitions and has a sense of individuality. There is no origin story, no love interest, no CGI monster at the end. But there is a family and some people who want to make their life hard. That’s all you need.
4 out of 5 stars