One of the early trailers for “Logan” featured a grizzled, older Wolverine with Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” playing. It was an evocative experience, a connection of music and tone, which perfectly sets the stage for this film.
Set in the near future, an older Logan (Hugh Jackman) is driving a limo, he’s unkempt and sporting a scraggily beard. He’s self-medicating his pain with booze, his weathered face chronicling the hurt he’s experienced.
It’s a departure for the roguishly handsome Jackman — there are no costumes here or quippy lines to distract from his sense of defeat.
He’s working to get money for actual medication to help his old friend Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is living in a remote location in Mexico, where he is cared for by a mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Xavier is kept medicated to keep him from having seizures, with his once impressive intellect savaged by age and his powers out of control.
The movie hints at a past tragedy and no new mutants have been born in years, though Xavier’s delirious rantings speak of a new mutant.
Her name is Laura (great newcomer Dafne Keen) and she’s quickly jettisoned into their lives. She’s a child, low on communication, but strong on action, and she’s got some similar abilities to a certain X-Man. Keen, in her cinematic debut, is a pint-size powerhouse, turning out a strong performance in what is no doubt a difficult role, requiring extensive physical and emotional work.
Laura is being tracked by a mechanically enhanced killer named Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, who makes his lackadaisical Southern drawl menacing), and there’s only one mutant who can keep her safe. And just how is Laura connected to Logan?
At its heart, “Logan” is a road movie, a Western of sorts, with the drifter plodding from town to town with his young charge, working to find a better life and unable to avoid getting caught up in battle after battle.
Oh, and there are tons of battles here, bloody and visceral, almost animalistic. It does get over-the-top at times — have fun counting the beheadings — but there is an undeniable jolt of adrenaline when the claws come out.
Director James Mangold, working off a screenplay he co-wrote with Michael Green and Scott Frank, creates a dusty, sun-soaked future with stark scenes in the desert, long shots of caravans of trucks marching down highways and urban decay.
“Logan” marks Jackman’s ninth turn as Wolverine and Stewart’s seventh as Professor X. These are superb actors who know intrinsically these roles and it’s great to see them be able to really explore the furthest reaches of the characters. These aren’t the self-assured combatants from earlier movies, but rather broken vestiges of past greatness.
Much like the fourth-wall-breaking “Deadpool” was a new direction for Fox’s Marvel mutant movies, “Logan” is as well, though in the other direction. This is a mature film, almost a meditation at times, of growing older, losing hope and coping with one’s own mortality.
Jackman and Stewart have danced around whether they’ll return to these roles in the future, but even if this is the last we see of them on the big screen, it sure is a great curtain call.