Ever since it was kicked off by X-Men in 2000, the modern superhero movie genre has had one constant: Hugh Jackman is Wolverine. With all due respect to 1998’s Blade, it was X-Men that ushered in the superhero movie era in which we currently live and Hugh Jackman’s name has been synonymous with the franchise and genre for 17 years. It is nearly impossible to avoid considering those external factors when watching Jackman’s latest and last turn as almost everyone’s favorite mutant in Logan, but the standalone nature of director James Mangold’s film allows it to be seen for the extraordinary construction of its own story.
Logan is part of, but lives well beyond the X-Men movie canon. Set in 2029, its events take place long after those shown in any previous film, allowing Logan to be part of the bigger picture without being tied too tightly by the threads of continuity. The future for mutants is bleak with Logan (Jackman) believed to be one of the few left in the world. He has a new day/night job that you might never guess, which allows him to support the two friends he has left—Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart).
Logan and Charles are not the mighty mutants we once knew. Time is finally catching up with both of them. Logan doesn’t heal as quickly as he used to and Charles, owner of the world’s most powerful mind, is losing control of it. The emergence of a young mutant, Laura (Dafne Keen), fills Charles with hope for the future, but Logan is far less convinced. As he has so often been over the years, Logan is reluctant to play the role of hero, but ultimately is compelled to protect Laura from the organization hunting her.
Mangold uses this premise to play much more personal and emotional chords in Logan, largely keeping the focus on the film’s three main players. The introduction of Laura sets off a shift in the dynamic between Logan and Charles. It completes the long evolution of their relationship from that of teacher and student to that of father and son. Charles isn’t teaching Logan about controlling his powers or being a member of the X-Men, but simply being alive and occasionally taking a moment to enjoy it.
It’s a much easier lesson for Charles to give than it is for Logan to receive. He knows happiness is fleeting when he’s one the run and even the good deeds he’s done have taken a toll on his body and soul. Fans get the Wolverine berserker rage they’ve been wanting more of since the infamous mansion scene in X2: X-Men United with all the blood and claw impalement they could ever hope for thanks to the R rating, but the storytelling stops it from being gratuitous.
Mangold takes the time to emphasize the cost Logan pays for each life he’s taken. Each life claimed adds to the burden on Logan’s shoulders and he can’t quite carry it as well as he used to. Mangold treats Logan much more like a classic western than a superhero film, with the title character serving as a legendary gunman finally being delivered the bill for all of the victories that kept him alive. That is why Logan is so reluctant to help Laura. Being near her creates the risk that his past will become her future and that is something Logan is desperate to avoid.
His hand is forced, though, by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his Reavers. They’re the hunting dogs for the facility from which Laura escaped and regularly on the wrong end of ferocious claw strikes. Holbrook is really fun to hate as Pierce, adding a layer of despicable charm to a character that otherwise could have gone unnoticed. Regrettably, the film does lose track of him a bit as the villain subplot progresses and focuses more on Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), but villainy is not the driving force of this film. All of the antagonists serve their purpose in a story that spends the bulk of its time exploring the heroes and their relationships with one another.
Mangold’s choice to devote so much time to Logan, Charles, and Laura allows each actor to turn in spectacular work that elevates the story. They are all afforded the opportunity to enrich the film, beginning with Jackman. He is the Wolverine we’ve known all along while showing a side we haven’t seen. Jackman delivers a masterful performance that transports us directly into the heart of his character, allowing us to feel every tragedy and hardship he’s endured so that we understand why he’s so uncomfortable with basic comfort. Jackman has never been better as this or any other character, so if he really is done, Logan is the proper high note on which to go out.
Stewart feels brand new as Charles Xavier. His character is in a completely different state that puts Stewart’s performance in such a different place from his previous turns as Professor X. He is much more vulnerable than he’s ever been, but Stewart expertly navigates his way through all the darkness closing in on his character to show us the light that makes us love and revere him. His relationship with Laura is an emotional entry point in to the story and becomes something truly special.
Mangold struck gold when he cast Dafne Keen as Laura. The comparisons to Mille Bobby Brown’s Eleven from Stranger Things are inevitable and apt, but there’s more to it. Keen is a young, badass female character, to be sure, but she completely makes this role her own with an intense performance that is great in action scenes, but better in the quieter moments when you realize just how much is at stake for this child. There is a gentle kindness in her that she cannot forget, or else she will end up just as burdened as Logan by the end of her life.
Logan is a special film that is more than worthy of the special circumstances surrounding it. Hugh Jackman gets what he deserves, going out on top thanks to the power of his own performance, those of his castmates, and the outstanding cinematic craftsmanship of James Mangold. If this is goodbye, Logan is the farewell that Hugh Jackman, his Wolverine, and all of his many fans deserve.