After seventeen years of playing the Wolverine – making the role iconic to audiences around the world and propelling himself to worldwide fame in the process – Hugh Jackman takes his final bow as the gruff, extremely damaged, clawed mutant hero. And what a final bow it is.
With Logan (the first R-rated film in the X-Men franchise), Jackman takes centre stage in a completely different way than he’d done in previous outings of the Wolverine. Here, he is brutal, struggling, dying – a broken and hopeless man who is only kept intact by poisoned sinews and self-loathing. Forget what you’ve seen in X-Men: Apocalypse, X-Men: Days of Future Past or the original three X-Men films. Logan is not here to entertain you with grand fight set-pieces or cool mutant powers. It is here to rip you apart emotionally in the same way guilt and regret are doing to its main characters.
It is the year 2029. No new mutants have been born in 25 years. We meet Logan, going by his birth name of James Howlett, as a limo driver in Texas. The first shot we see is of him curled up on the seat of his car, his beard and hair all grey, his eyes haunted and his body creaking. When the car thieves who are attempting to steal parts from his vehicle blast bullets into his chest, he crumbles to the earth and seems to take ages to rise up. Then, after pulling himself back on his feet, the claws come out. And it is blood and guts for the rest of the scene, setting the tone for what’s to come. We realise quickly that he is not the Wolverine we are used to. He is more savage, yes. More bloody, yes. But never quite reaching the same glossed-over superhuman version of his younger self.
While Logan drives around drunk party-goers and tries to keep a low profile, south of the border in Mexico is Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart in his last turn as the mind-bending super mutant) who is an anguished shell of his former self. While Logan’s adamantium is poisoning him from the inside, Charles’ brain is similarly disintegrating. Ninety years old and almost senile, Logan tries to keep his old friend sedated and calm with the help of Caliban (Stephen Merchant), another outcast mutant. But their hidden existence is blown apart when Logan is approached by a nurse named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who begs him to take her and a mysterious girl named Laura (talented newcomer Dafne Keen) to North Dakota.
What sets Logan apart from other comic-book films is not just its R-rating. It is the very visceral pain that the director and writer James Mangold does not shy away from exploring. Instead, he lets the pain fester; in many ways, it is the unseeable force which is rapidly ageing and crippling our two main leads. The film is not much of a superhero film as it is a Western, which seems particularly fitting considering Mangold’s past credit as the director of Walk The Line and the Johnny Cash song which haunts the film’s first trailer and closes out its ending credits. On a personal scale, it is a story of redemption – of man’s struggle between our desire to be swallowed up by tragedy and our stubborn hope in the goodness of the human heart. On a larger scale, however, it is an unintentional mirror held up to the current political climate in the United States. How can it not be – with a villain named Donald (Boyd Holbrook), a group of abused children seeking asylum “over the border”, and the role Mexico and its citizens play in the narrative?
You could say that some scenes in Logan go on for a fraction too long than it’s necessary while other scenes should have been afforded more time. But that would just be nitpicking. The cynical side of our brains also says, that a few years from now, we would be seeing the Wolverine again. Surely, a recast is inevitable. But the studio’s future money-making plans (almost) do not seem to matter at the moment. For it is fitting, that after seventeen bombastic and larger-than-life years, this Wolverine and this Charles Xavier should have this last bow. Tragic, real and incredibly personal. Just like all meaningful farewells should be.