With “Logan,” Hugh Jackman’s tenure as the gruff, haunted, acerbic mutant anti-hero Wolverine comes to an end in with an impressive bang. Director James Mangold and his co-screenwriters Michael Green and Scott Frank send him off with gritty style, and deconstruct the character and the superhero genre while they’re at it.
The story is set in 2029, in a world in which mutants have become exceedingly rare. (None are known to have been born in the past 25 years.) The X-Men are no more, and their grim fate is alluded to throughout the film. Logan is a wreck of a man, laying low and humping it as a chauffeur in El Paso, scraping together enough to survive on while saving for a boat meant to take him and Professor Charles Xavier (an enjoyable crotchety Patrick Stewart) to a better place.
Logan’s healing factor doesn’t work so well anymore, and he’s showing scars as well as shakes caused by the heavy drinking he uses to dull his physical and emotional pain. Xavier isn’t doing so well, either: he’s becoming senile and is on a steady diet of pills to keep seizures at bay lest the psychic feedback they cause kill anyone with the radius of roughly one city block.
Their tilted world is further upset by the arrival of a mysterious girl named Laura (a ferocious Dafne Keene), a mutant fugitive produced in biotech lab run by the nefarious Dr. Zander Rice (a superb Richard E. Grant), and pursued by the mercenary Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his cyborg Reavers.
This sets off a road trip that is definitely not the buddy comedy variety. Mangold’s tastes skew more towards that of westerns (see his remake of “3:10 to Yuma” if you haven’t already), and Logan‘s vibe is very much in the vein of “Unforgiven”. The script even makes use of an unexpected reference to George Stevens’ 1953 classic “Shane” in a way a way that lesser hands would’ve flubbed.
More importantly, Mangold manages to switch between scenes of quiet contemplation and (briefly) peace and those of frantic hard-R action with deft precision. The story feels about twenty minutes too long, mainly due to a couple of subplots that could’ve used a little more detail.
Jackman’s career was made by playing Wolverine, and while he could easily play the killer Canuck in his sleep at this point he refrains from phoning it in, and the movie’s bleak tone and tighter focus on the character allow him to find new depths to plumb and some hidden corners to illuminate.
It’s fascinating to see Logan/Jackman’s grizzled, scarred, grey-bearded face and reflect on where they are now compared to that scene stealing wise-ass we were introduced to way back in 2000. Jackman’s is a revelatory performance that paradoxically works as a worthy send-off yet leaves us wishing for more.