James Mangold’s 2014 The Wolverine was an energetic, intelligent meditation on the character of Logan, the near-unkillable mutant with the unbreakable bones and claws. It was one of the better depictions of the character, even if the film ultimately felt rather unsatisfying due to an awkward love story and an overwrought yet half-cooked ending. The character himself, despite appearing in a whopping nine films (all played by Hugh Jackman), has never really found its footing, always either undone by poorly scripted romance, by never fully delving into the darkness and savagery inherent in Logan, or by simply poor writing.
Logan, Mangold’s newest effort and Jackman’s final take on the character, finally finds the right tone, and it does so in a wholly surprising way. It strips all of the trappings of the X-Men films away — gone are the costumes, the special effects, the world-threatening, super-powered villains. It’s not the end of the world that he’s facing, but rather the end of himself. This is Logan at the end of his run, old (the film takes place 12 years from now), tired, sick. His legendary healing factor is failing him. Mutants are virtually extinct, except for an aging and ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whom Logan is caring for along with Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Logan makes a living as a limousine driver, trying to cobble together enough money to find a better life for himself and Charles, when he comes across an unusual young girl named Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen) with abilities eerily similar to his own. Soon he is beset by a band of cyborg mercenaries called Reavers, led by the charmingly villainous Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, in a wonderfully subdued yet totally menacing performance), and falls into a quest for both Laura and Charles’s safety as well as his own redemption.
The film is as stripped-down and simplified as its title, a clean break with much of the foofery and gobbledygook of the current, often-confusing slate of films. We don’t have to worry about alternate timelines or ancient enemies. Instead, it’s simply about Logan, the man, who he was and who he’s become, whether he has any purpose left in this life. He’s spinning his wheels in an existence that could barely be called living, battling physical and emotional demons, searching for redemption in bottles and in the fading eyes of his old friend and mentor. It’s a complicated, nuanced performance by Jackman and it’s as close to perfect a depiction of Logan as we’ve ever seen. But it’s also uniquely owned by Jackman, who somehow in making it closer to the character’s true roots, also makes it more his own than ever before. He no longer feels like he’s trying to live up to the character, but instead it feels like he’s simply become Logan, a new, better melding than I’d have thought possible.
The story itself is a compelling one. It’s not a non-stop action fest, but instead a more contemplative tone pervades the film, filled with solid, decidedly non-comic-booky dialogue and a terrific rapport between Logan and Xavier. When the action does happen, it’s vicious. No more are we seeing bloodless, needlessly acrobatic, flashy fight scenes. It is brutal and unflinching and often borderline scary. Logan is the first of the X-Men films to be rated R, and between the spectacularly profane language and the bloody combat, it earns it. It’s not gruesome, mind you — there’s no needless blood spray or anything like that — instead it’s just intense — fast and beautifully choreographed.
But the film’s real star is Keen as the young Laura. She doesn’t speak, but my god is she amazing in the film. She brilliantly flips back and forth between wide-eyed innocence and sheer, unrelenting savagery, a feral creature with all the fears and insecurities of a lost child but all the fury and violence of an abused wild animal. Considering that Keen is a mere 12 years old, she was an absolute marvel to watch. The chemistry she had with both Xavier and Logan was note-perfect, and the moments that the three shared were always enjoyable.
Logan may well be the best of all of the X-Men movies to-date. It’s certainly the most elegantly executed. Taking the character almost entirely out of its most recent adventures works very much in its favor, and Mangold deftly and beautifully captures the beauty and violence and complexity of its characters and their various struggles. It’s a deeply intimate film, peppered with some gasp-inducing violence, capturing all of the best parts of one of our most memorable characters. If this is to be Hugh Jackman’s final performance as Logan, it’s good to see that he saved the best for last.