“Geeze, Wolverine. Seeing you like this breaks my damn heart.”
Even with superhero fatigue in full effect, I’ve admired 20th Century Fox’s X-Men films. Well, at least, a majority of them. Admit the sameness of the Marvel movies and the dizzying inward implosion within Warner Bros.’ recent DC output, Fox isn’t necessarily consistent with their superhero movies, but they’ve become surprisingly forward thinking, progressively risk-friendly and, best of all, filmmaker focused with their recent efforts. Last February’s Deadpool, for instance, was a foul-mouth splash of exuberance and juvenile excitement. Damn the newfound haters! Similarly, X-Men: Days of Future Past was a superhero team-up extravaganza that rivaled The Avengers in its scope and scale. For my money, it beat it too. Hell, I even thought X-Men: Apocalypse was a fun slice of goofy campy schlock. They’re far from flawless, but they’re pulpy, bouncy and often quite entertaining. In short, they’re quality superhero movies and comic book adaptations. They establish stakes, but they don’t sacrifice lightheartedness. They’re full of energy, but they don’t forget about the characters. They’re appealing in an engagingly punchy and filled with personality, passion and heart.
That specific attention to character and tone is also found in Logan, the latest Wolverine film, but it succeeds for entirely different reasons. Somber, moody, morose and gravely serious, director James Mangold’s gloomy, tenebrous return to the X-Men franchise following 2013’s overlooked The Wolverine is startlingly bleak, continuously tragic, commendably thoughtful addition to the elastic mutant-based film series. A grounded, rugged, stripped-down character-based installment that’ll earn more comparisons to The Dark Knight than it will to previous X-Men films, Logan is a mournful, meaningful farewell to Hugh Jackman’s beloved ongoing performance, a mood piece filled with depth, contemplation and deep-seated pathos. As solemn and grim as it’s persistently soulful and insightful, Mangold’s latest ultimately cuts deeper than your average superhero picture. No doubt.
In the year 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman), i.e. Wolverine, is a limo chauffeur with a death wish in a nearly mutant-less world. Secluded away from the rest of society, Logan keeps a mindful eye over an elderly, feeble Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), the most powerful mind in the world that has grown absent-minded in his final days. When left unguarded, the former professor is a danger to himself and everyone else — human or otherwise — in the area, and that includes Caliban (an impressive Stephen Merchant), a bald-headed, sun-sensitive albino mutant that’s among the very last of his near-extinct kind. Together, the outcast, misfit trio live in solitude and emptiness, awaiting their last moments on this unforgiving terrain. Logan is already prepared for the occasion.
Once among the most powerful living mutants in existence, Logan is now a weary traveler. His claws don’t extend like they use to. His healing powers don’t work quite as often. His skin is whiter, drier than ever. His muscles don’t bulge like they did once before. His alcohol habits are more consistent. He’s practically a shell of his former mendable self, and he’s ready to leave that deteriorating extraordinary body at any given opportunity. Inside his pocket is a single adamantium bullet. Like a suicidal vampire with a silver bullet, Logan is ready to accept morality. While Wolverine endured on this planet long, he’s not meant to live here much longer. Death is coming, an unfamiliar sensation.
Such existential quandaries are put on hold, however, when Logan, Charles and Caliban are met with an unexpected visitor. Once expected to transport the young, mute Laura Kinney (Dafne Keen) and her guardian (Doris Morgado) for a long travel, Logan is soon left in the custody of the irregular child, once Xavier claims is actually a gifted mutant, as the deplorable robot-handed Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, challenging Val Kilmer’s curious disposition in Tombstone) and venomous Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) prepare to gun them all down. There’s something about this child that’s worth fighting for, it seems. While Logan doesn’t initially understand, he’s not going down from another’s hand without a struggle — even during his darkest days. As their extended chase continues, however, Logan soon realizes Laura holds an unexpectedly deep connection to the dying super-mutant, one that’ll question and tests his inherent humanity in this trying closing period.
Any warm-heartedness found in previous X-Men installments is completely absent from Logan. Mangold undoubtedly made a brutal, unforgiving depiction of loss, emptiness, existential drought and sorrow, and one that won’t be shaken or forgotten anytime soon. While it’s action-packed and suspense-riddled, one isn’t meant to enjoy themselves throughout this dreary swan song. If Werner Herzog ever got the funds to make a sobering superhero movie, one might assume it’d turn out pretty similar. Not since 2009’s polarizing Watchmen has a superhero saga delved this steadfast into bleakness and despair. Even Batman v Superman: Dawn of Superman is considerably more uplifting than this tragedy formed with protruding silver claws. It’s so gloriously sad and miserable. While that can become fairly off-putting and overstated, it’s at least firmly committed to its downplayed vision.
It’s jagged, long-winded, depressing and macabre, but it’s purposeful and impassioned in its depiction. Few superhero movies ever take these types of thematically challenges. It’s always a gamble to pursue such dampened gloom, but Logan is made better by such boldness and bravery. Mangold isn’t aiming to please everyone. This is targeted specifically at the loyal fans, the exact ones who’ve wanted Jackman to go full-fledged anarchy with those adamantium claws for ages.
Indeed, Logan is a bloody, viciously violent affair, and it’s both refreshing and horrifying to see Wolverine slice-and-dice these walking meat-bags with little remorse or sympathy. But that adds to Logan’s late-stage tortured integrity. Wolverine was never defined by his pleasantries. In the twilight hours of his nearly-immortal existence, the spiky superhuman isn’t playing nice. He’s a mean, ruthlessly bloodthirsty killer with cutthroat instincts — both literally and figuratively. When it comes time to take out the claws for his final hurrah, don’t expect it to be clean. Let me assure you: they milk that newfound R-rating for all it’s worth, and it’s ferocious display of epic fucking proportions.
With nearly two decades inside the mutant titular character, Jackman’s final take on Wolverine is easily his most nuanced and measured. Melancholy without delving into mopiness, tragic but not overly sorrowful, it’s a mesmerizing turn, one that echoes with acceptance and self-reproach. It’s a stunning portrait of passed time and remembrance, a lead performance that’s overcome with pain and persistence, but not without virtue. There’s a lot to glean from Jackman’s dedication and commitment to this comic character, and he pours every last ounce of heart and dedication into this actual last stand. It’s wounded and morose in all the right ways. It’s a fitting, affirming finale.
Desolate, refrained, patient, disconsolate, mature and vulnerable, Logan is a flawed but powerful conclusion. At a time when superhero movies fail to establish themselves beyond their predecessors, Mangold’s tormented, dejected low-key salute to the gritty morality of Wolverine’s broken soul is a downbeat final note that isn’t afraid to wallow or mourn. It’s heavy and heavy-hearted, but in its somber devastation, it’s nearly brilliant in its melancholia. Logan ends Jackman’s chapter not with a whimper but with a solemn cry, a foreboding resolution that’s only appropriate.