From contributing film critic Andrew Gaudion
In this modern age of Hollywood where seemingly everything ends up being rebooted, it is undeniably impressive that Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for the past 17 years. The X-Men franchise as a whole is one that has persevered with largely the same faces since its cinematic birth in 2000. While it has certainly had its high points, the franchise has often been labelled as one of wasted potential, evident in last year’s woeful X-Men: Apocalypse.
The character who has perhaps suffered a great deal of the brunt of the failings of the franchise is Wolverine himself (although there is a very strong argument to made for Jean Grey’s case). Easily the most popular member of the team, the character out-stayed his welcome with the aimless X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and while The Wolverine was an improvement, it still fell short of its promising potential. Jackman has always remained a strong factor of any outing featuring Wolverine, and with the announcement that Logan would mark his final performance as the adamantium-drenched mutant, many of us had our fingers crossed that he would finally get the truly great film to pay-off his commitment. And thank fuck, he’s finally got it.
The year is 2029, the number of mutants in the world has dwindled and the X-Men are all but gone. Logan (Jackman), the X-Man once known as Wolverine, is a shadow of his former self and now cares for the ailing Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), hidden in a silo on the Mexican border. He is soon reluctantly thrown back into a fight for mutant kind when the young and mysterious Laura (Dafne Keen) falls into his and Charles’ care. With a shady organisation hot on their tail, Logan takes to the road to find refuge for Laura, whilst also striving for a renewed sense of purpose for himself.
James Mangold, who was brought on late in the game to direct The Wolverine, has taken the fullest grasp of creative control that he could possibly negotiate in this swansong with Jackman and Logan. With plenty of Western stylings thrown into the mix and a greater handling of the character’s potential for rage and pain both internal and external, Mangold has constructed a world that feels much more palpable than any presented in the X-Men cinematic universe thus far. It allows for the film to feel incredibly self-contained, standing alone from the rest of the canon in the most refreshing way possible.
The road-trip framing of the narrative allows for the Western vibes to take centre stage, as we follow the trio of desperate mutants from the Mexican to the Canadian border. It allows the brutal approach to violence to feel much more organic than in other comic-book affairs. The more grounded aesthetic gives a sense of threat that has been severely lacking from many Hollywood comic-book movies of late. It also helps that the action is driven much more by the characters, with the unusual family dynamic established between Logan, Charles and Laura allowing for the personal stakes of the movie to take centre stage, rather than world-ending destruction.
Much of why Mangold’s approach lands on its feet is down to the commitment of the star at its focus. Jackman pours his soul into his final performance as Logan here, making every grunt, scream and rage-fuelled scene shake with intensity. Likewise, Stewart (in what is also possibly his last appearance in the franchise) gives his most touching performance as Xavier, a dignified man robbed of his prestige and attempting to deal with the fact that he can no longer trust his own mind, a mind which also happens to be the most powerful in the world. Dafne Keen as Laura is also something of a revelation, holding her own against two seasoned vets like Jackman and Stewart, exuding a brooding rage and strong command of the material with the confidence of an actress far beyond her years.
Not everything runs smoothly though. The film, at 137 minutes, is a little too wandering at points, with the road trip taking one too many stops along its way, and none of the antagonists making much of an impact, despite perfectly fine performances from Boyd Holbrook and Richard E. Grant. But that is forgivable in a film which prioritises characters and makes sure that every slice and dice hits home, ramping up to a conclusion that is brave, unceremonious, yet wholly satisfying. It is Jackman’s, Wolverine’s and arguably the franchises finest hour. Thanks Hugh; it may have taken awhile, but we finally got there.
(Photos copyright: Donners’ Company, Kinberg Genre, Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)