Hugh Jackman has decided to hang up the Adamantium claws for good after this, his latest and reportedly final X-Men thriller. After nearly two decades of increasingly bigger, hit and miss sequels, as well as prequels, off-shoots, stand-alone vehicles and cameos, Jackman’s Logan is as direct, spare and no-nonsense as its title.
Jackman’s Logan is no longer The Wolverine but an aged, tired, kicked around and glum ex-superhero, working as a limo driver and taking care of the ailing Professor X (played by Patrick Stewart). The discovery of a little girl (Dafne Keen), who demonstrates mutant abilities that match Logan’s, inspires the two former X-Men to head off on a cross-country chase. With truck loads of smarmy villains in pursuit, Logan and Professor X struggle to protect the girl and ponder whether their unknowable destination will only lead to the end of their mutant era.
Director James Mangold’s film is an ambitious, bold risk. One can admire how the supposedly final Wolverine film is not only dark and ultra-violent but also ugly. Yet, the decision to make a R rated X-Men movie comes as a slap in the face to a core member of the film’s fan base: children. Seriously, Mom and Dad: do not take your kids to see this. If Deadpool was a giddy assault on good taste, then here’s a similarly crass, no-holds-barred comic book yarn, but without the cushion of self-referencing humor.
This is the third collaboration between Jackman and Mangold (the first is the best-forgotten Kate & Leopold). While they once again are striving to surpass the expectations of modern comic book movies, this one is full of clichés and choices that don’t work. Bringing back the X-23 angle was especially unwise and since when does Professor X have as big a potty mouth as Logan?
The creative peaks for this franchise are Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past from 2014 and, particularly for Jackman and Mangold, their 2013 collaboration, The Wolverine. Despite an admittedly silly ending, it contains the Hiroshima opener and bullet train chase, sequences that are mini-masterpieces. That film has an elegance and intelligence in the way it addresses Logan’s existence as a living breathing weapon. Logan, on the other hand, is a neo-western that over-uses its R-rating and doesn’t entirely connect on an emotional level.
Mangold has covered this thematic territory before, particularly in his 1997 masterpiece Cop Land. Despite references to Shane and Johnny Cash playing over the ending credits, it’s hard to think of a western in any age this shamelessly gory. Making this a hard-R and (if you can believe this) even more violent than John Wick: Chapter Two, Mangold has certainly made a gritty, nasty piece of work. It’s also business as usual, both as a comic book movie and as a road/chase drama.
The heart of the film isn’t newcomer Keen’s good-yet-limited work but Stewart’s superb turn. Following his equally surprising villain role in last year’s Green Room, Stewart once again shows us something we’ve never seen him do before. Jackman is excellent as always, hitting the demanding scenes are hard as one of his gym routines. He’s been playing this role off and on since 2000, has always given it everything he’s got and, if this is his swan song, goes out swinging like a champ. On the other hand, I recall another razor clawed super-star combo, Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, announcing retirement… then coming back for two more movies.
Logan starts strong, builds its story and characters nicely, takes some wrong turns, then becomes redundant and tiresome. Here’s something I’ve never thought before while watching an X-Men movie: “aw, not another action sequence!”
The novelty here is that Wolverine is now the Willy Loman of the Marvel Universe and this is his blood-soaked Death of a Salesman. Logan is an admirable stretch but it’s never fun.
Two and a Half Stars