Whether in film, television, or comic books, most versions of Wolverine lie by omission. The character kills people – that’s really all his claws are good for – but the movies always cut away so we don’t have to wrestle with the consequences of that violence.
Logan is more honest because it doesn’t have to hide this fact. James Mangold (The Wolverine) returns to direct Hugh Jackman’s third and final Wolverine spinoff. This one sports an R-Rating, and while it doesn’t glorify violence, it doesn’t it shy away from it either. Depicting Wolverine’s rage in all of its ugly detail, Logan is able to explore the toll that it takes on the character, and the small, self-contained scope makes for one of the most deeply personal (and riveting) comic book adaptations of the past two decades.
Of course, it helps that Logan is not a comic book movie as most people would understand it. The film has the DNA of a road movie or a Western rather than a superhero flick, stripping away all of the colorful costumes normally seen in the genre. There are hardly any crossovers with the rest of the X-Men franchise, nor is there any obvious threat to the world at large.
Logan is instead set in 2029 after an unspecified disaster. Mutants are going extinct, the X-Men are a memory, and Wolverine is living with a mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) while working as a limo driver in Mexico and Arizona. He’s also taking care of Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is suffering from a degenerative brain disease and may or may not be responsible for the aforementioned disaster. It’s a pathetic, ramshackle existence for everyone involved, a desert wasteland far removed from the lush greens of upstate New York. The scene is dystopian, but not apocalyptic. It’s more of an economic depression, with all the tumbleweeds and crushed dreams of a John Steinbeck novel.
Unfortunately, Logan’s plans for a not-so-easy retirement go awry when a woman named Alice shows up with an eleven-year-old girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), an illegal mutant science experiment that didn’t work out (at least from the perspective of her creators). Alice needs help getting Laura to safety in North Dakota, and while Wolverine is reluctant, he needs her money and his hand is forced when a cyborg named Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) shows up with a corporate militia to euthanize Laura. Logan hits the road with Laura and Professor X, and what follows is a contemplative character piece that pairs two men nearing the ends of their lives with a child at the beginning of hers.
On that front, Hugh Jackman is exceptional. Though the actor is pushing 50, he still has an excellent physique. Logan is the first X-Men movie that allows him to carry the weight of those years. Wolverine doesn’t heal as quickly as he used to. The bullets stick, he walks with a limp, and his claws don’t pop the way they’re supposed to. He’s a crumpled shadow of his former self, and it’s sad to see a man that once stood toe-to-toe with the Phoenix brought low in a fight with a random group of carjackers. The X-Men are dead, and whatever it was that motivated Wolverine went with them. Ever the optimist, Xavier attempts to restore Wolverine’s faith (or at least enough of it to pass on to Laura), but Wolverine is broken and discarded, a failure searching for purpose while an eleven-year-old upstages him during a fight.
Dafne Keen, meanwhile, is perfectly cast as an innocent, introverted, and vicious killer. Laura – aka X-23 – has Wolverine’s healing factor and his claws, but she’s never been socialized for the outside world. That makes her a dervish of violence when threatened. Logan doesn’t need to teach her to fight. He needs to teach her how to deal with the fallout that comes afterwards, and how to live alongside people who don’t understand that kind of violence.
The only problem is that Logan doesn’t have much of a plot, and often lacks a sense of urgency. However, the movie is about the journey rather than the destination. While the action sequences are brutal (X-23 is going to be very popular come Halloween), the growth of the three characters is even more impressive. In most superhero adventures, the threat is so epic and outlandish that the logistics of saving the world outweigh subtler personal dynamics. Logan removes that grandiosity, focusing on the why of heroism while confronting the character’s unexpected mortality. Once invincible, Wolverine now recognizes that he’s running out of time, and that makes him far more relatable than he’s ever been.
The result is the best-case scenario for a superhero spinoff. Logan uses the tropes of the genre to amplify the action, then uses it in service of a story with genuine human pathos. It’s a fitting sendoff for Hugh Jackman, and an apt reminder that superhero movies don’t need to be big to be memorable.