Thank God making blockbusters with an R-rating was a trend that caught on. Otherwise we may not have seen one that stars Wolverine before the time had come for the old-school X-Men cast to officially take their leave of absence from the big screen. Such is the case for the latest film, which isn’t making the baffling continuity of the franchise any easier to follow.
James Mangold’s Logan, the third Wolverine solo film in the X-Men series, seems to take place after the events of Days of Future Past. Yes, so did X-Men: Apocalypse, but this one more specifically takes place after the altered version of DOFP‘s future storyline – the one with the “old” cast – where everything’s fine again, all the characters who died didn’t actually die, the Sentinels never attacked, and so on. Sadly, I’m told that this will be the final movie to ever feature the old X-Men and that it’s Young Xavier and company from here on out. As for this being Hugh Jackman‘s final time as Logan/Wolverine, I believe he deserves the break after 17 years of the same thing.
Even so, the film (I would assume) is set quite a few years after Logan wakes up at the end of DOFP and remembers his own journey through time and the timeline he deleted. He’s no longer a teacher at Xavier’s school for mutants, but a greying chauffeur with diminishing powers; he does not heal quickly and ejecting his claws deals him more suffering than ever. In a Children of Men-esque near future where mutant kind is going extinct, he hides with an infirm Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on a remote farm, providing medicine for the aging professor so as to prevent seizures that, seeing as they’re happening to the world’s most powerful telepath, are significantly more dangerous than regular seizures. The two are kept safe by Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a mutant-tracker who may or may not be the same Caliban who runs the mutant trafficking business in X-Men: Apocalypse. I rest my case.
Hope for the future arrives in the form of Laura, a young girl who apparently cannot speak but bears instructions from her late caretaker, and words of a safe haven for mutants known as Eden. She herself, we learn, is a mutant – possibly the youngest in the world, so as to keep with the Children of Men comparisons – and the similarities she shares with Wolverine, in terms of not only powers and combat resilience but also temper, make more sense once we learn her origins. She also carries comic books with her, that seem to be based on the adventures the X-Men have had throughout the years, à la that one gag from Hellboy, yet seem supernaturally prescient in their subject matter. I’ll try not to ponder how much sense this makes or what Deadpool would have quipped.
Then again, I’ve been entertaining a theory that the seemingly random Wolverine cameo in Apocalypse hinted at something greater, i.e. even more confusion. Referring back to Days of Future Past again, that movie ended with Wolverine being saved by Mystique in the 1970’s storyline, meaning he never came to Colonel Stryker and thus doesn’t have the adamantium claws when he wakes up in the future storyline. In Logan, however, he does have the metal claws again, which could mean that the happy ending of DFOP and the cameo in Apocalypse, where he gets them, exist in two separate timelines, since a third one has now been added – possibly created by the awakening of Apocalypse in the latter film. Or maybe Logan takes place in an alternate version of the original timeline? Maybe it takes place in no timeline whatsoever? Hey, someone needs to think about this stuff if the writers don’t.
Let’s ignore this franchise’s adamantium middle-finger of a continuity, though. Let’s look at Logan as it is and acknowledge what a treat it is. Here is a comic-book movie that neither looks nor feels like a comic-book movie, has all the outright sickening gore you would hope for in a proper Wolverine adventure, is tremedously well choreographed and shot, is never too slow or too fast, and is self-aware in how it uses certain action film clichés. I chuckled a bit during a scene where our heroes are fleeing from bad guys in Logan’s car and Logan attempts to drive the vehicle through a perimeter fence, only to discover that the laws of physics don’t permit it.
Additionally, the film rarely wastes its time and even characters that seem to have been added for the sake of filler prove themselves useful in some respect later on. I went to see it, obviously, with my fellow X-Men aficionado Louise, and she was shocked that well over two hours had passed when we left the auditorium.
Unlike Deadpool, which seemed to think that naughty language and gratuitous violence was sufficiently adult, Logan tells a truly grim tale with timely themes and genuinely disturbing moments of brutality. For the first time in his Hollywood career, The Wolverine gets to partake in action scenes where you can just feel the impact of every punch and the agonizing pain of every slice. The fact that we meet him in a time where his powers are withering – coupled with the fact that, time travel or not, this is still “our” Wolverine who remembers everything we do – the beatings he endures have a force they would not have had if he’d still been his immortal self. The fact that the special effects are nigh flawless, particularly the claws, doesn’t hurt.
Expectedly, Hugh Jackman gives the best performance he’s ever given in the role (it really is admirable how this one comic book character has avoided recasting throughout the years that have given us three versions of Spider-Man and Punisher). Patrick Stewart is also at his best, and Stephen Merchant provides just the right quantity of levity. But the real show-stealer here is Dafne Keen, the young girl who plays Laura, whose effort may yet take the cake as the greatest example of child-acting in a comic-book film. If she doesn’t move on to do great things, I will be seriously pissed. In an ideal world, she will inspire many an actor of the future.
As most critics have already agreed, the film’s few drawbacks include an overly shaky action scene or two, a brisk wrap-up that leaves questions unanswered (this series never ceases to let you fill in the blanks on what exactly happened in-between chapters), exposition delivered via “tell-don’t-show”, and underwhelming villains in the form of the half-robotic Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his band of militant cyborgs, plus Richard E. Grant as the cold-faced scientist responsible for Laura. Whether or not Grant’s character was working for Mister Sinister the whole time remains to be seen. I’ve also seen complaints that its themes of prejudice hit more uncomfortably close-to-home than ever but I see this as X-Men doing what it’s meant to.
Its shortcomings matter very little, however. This is a fantastic film; not just for a comic-book movie or an X-Men movie, even if it’s beyond satisfactory in that regard. Wolverine could have had no better send-off than the skillfully brutal gore-fest he’s always deserved, plus an ending to his arc that will move most viewers. Fans of DC and the Marvel Cinematic Universe can fight each other all they please. We all know who the real hero is.