The opening minutes of the latest – and final – Wolverine installment serve as resounding mood-setters for the two hours to come. A drunken Logan fails to fully draw out his claws after a shotgun hit to the chest puts him down long enough to cause the audience to worry. He, on the other hand, cares more about his limo’s well-being that a bullet hole right over the back tire drives him off the edge.
In a bloody, brutal sequence that sees the Wolverine carve up a gang of street thugs, ‘Logan’ quickly clears up the air. This is the Wolverine film we’ve always wanted.
The year is 2029. Only a handful of mutants are left in what seems to be a lawless USA. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a shadow of the mutant he once was, driving an Uber-like limo and drowning himself in alcohol. Things get shaken up after a woman asks “the Wolverine” for help, followed by Donald Pierce’s (Boyd Holbrook) impromptu visit.
Seventeen years after he first drew out the Adamantium claws, Hugh Jackman gives his all in his final portrayal of the character that launched his career as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. If his hands-on involvement in the marketing campaign leading up to the release was indicative of anything, it would be Jackman’s emotional investment in the film. His performance further proves that. In a tour-de-force effort that captures every aspect of the Wolverine’s character, Jackman provides the best portrayal of a superhero on the big screen.
In many ways, Logan is unlike any other comic book film ever made. Director James Mangold lists films like ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, ‘Shane’, and ‘The Wrestler’ as inspirations for his movie. He’s not lying. Logan goes in a completely unique direction previously unseen within the genre. It’s a movie about saving a little girl and, ultimately, oneself instead of a big city or the world.
Destruction is minimal, no buildings are leveled, and it’s exactly because of that lack of dust that Logan has time and space to breathe, and breathe deeply. The film favors a slow, meaningful setup over an explosive moment. A scene in which Logan takes Patrick Stewart’s Xavier to pee in a public bathroom digs deeper into the titular character than the entirety of 2009’s X-Men Origins. It is then directly followed by Wolverine telling Laura (Dafne Keen) that it is “not okay” to lash out on a store’s clerk. This ceasefire sets up another scene, further down the runtime, in which these three characters convince their dinner hosts that they are a family.
The importance of these sequences becomes more evident the closer the movie gets to the finish line. Because there is no sequel and no clear-cut prequel, writers Scott Frank, Michael Green, and Mangold slow down their plot to show the audience where their characters stand compared to where they were twenty minutes ago. The evolution of their relations and personalities gives a thorough idea of who they are and what drives them. Even a character like Caliban (Stephen Merchant), completely sidelined in X-Men: Apocalypse, feels more important than most of the main X-Men members in the 2016 blockbuster.
The stars of the film are actually all of its main characters and not just Wolverine himself. Laura screaming her lungs out every time she attacks contrasts the calmer version of the character in the comics, in an effort by Mangold not to romanticize the recruitment of child soldiers. She’s more of a hurt kid than an engineered killing machine. Xavier, one of the most powerful mutants in the X-Men continuity and once the leader of the group, is a swearing old man with lapses and memory loss. Stewart, supporting a powerhouse Jackman, is a wonder of his own, delivering a performance on par with his lead and superior to all he’s had throughout the franchise.
Challenging these characters is a villain who’s much more than a punching bag, but much less than a spotlight-stealer. Although Donald Pierce and his Reavers might be some of the nastiest X-Men villains and Wolverine enemies, they were unknown to the greater audience prior to this film.
The creative decision of going with Pierce as opposed to someone more popular like Mr. Sinister shaped the character into exactly what Wolverine needed him to be to reach where he’s headed. Pierce challenges Logan’s fundamental values, instead of the sharpness of his claws, to slowly uncover layers the character was actively trying to repress. Each of their encounters pushes the Wolverine a little further, molding him into the protagonist everyone needed him to be.
Even the physically challenging villain, although unimpressive in nature, served a clear, symbolic purpose. That’s all part of Mangold’s electric vision as to what a Wolverine goodbye should be. Maintaining creative control over his film, the director not only goes in different directions, but gives the audience sequences most of them never knew they needed. The most notable is during one of Xavier’s mental lapses: a draining, suffocating few minutes that make sure everyone understands how difficult things have become; how high the stakes are.
Logan is a cinematic achievement regardless of the context it is put in, but for a final Wolverine film, especially, it is the best possible result. It transcends all of the genre’s tropes to create something unique and wonderful. In his final onscreen appearance, Jackman’s Wolverine invites all comic book films to morph into something better and, in the process, becomes a hero amongst heroes.