Wolverine is the most popular X-Man in all of Marvel Comics. Hell, he's probably the most popular Marvel character ever, even though he's "dead". When 20th Century Fox began their X-Men franchise in 2000 they correctly centered it around Wolverine and they have continued to do so. Even when things shifted to a younger group of mutants, Hugh Jackman's Wolverine was still there traveling through time in X-Men: Days of Future Past. We know more about this version of the character than any other X-Men. We've seen him evolve from angry loner to reluctant teammate to feral protector, and we've seen him lose everyone and everything he cares for over and over again.
With Logan, every bit of his painful past is brought to stunning new focus in a fitting finale for the character and the man who has played him for 17 years. This is the Wolverine movie fans have always wanted to see; period. The Wolverine came close but it was still held in check by the need to keep him all-ages enough to sell toys. Logan doesn't serve at the need of any franchises; there's no sequel to connect to or crossover to set up. A lot has been made of the R-rating, perhaps fearing it was done in response to Deadpool's success, but the vulgarity and extreme violence serve a purpose. This is a grim world Logan has found himself in; it's a world where mutants are nearly extinct and the bad guys are playing for keeps. The body count is incredibly high; the good guys don't always win...if they win at all. It's brutal out there, and director James Mangold has presented an unforgiving future too tough even for Logan's adamantium bones.
The setup is like something out of Westworld or Blade Runner, taking place in 2029 when mutants are practically extinct. Logan, having seen everyone he knows die or disappear, has fled to Texas near the Mexico border to quietly eke out an existence as a chauffeur, working under his real name James Howlett. Whatever money he makes goes to buying meds for an aging, unstable Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose dementia causes his telepathic powers to flare up. Together with the mutant tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant), Logan is basically just trying to stop Charles from turning into a walking WMD. Their gloomy routine is broken when Logan is approached by a desperate woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who needs him to protect Laura (Dafne Keen), a young girl being hunted by the cyborg Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and a team of elite soldiers. If Logan can get Laura to a secret hideaway called "Eden", then he'll get the money he needs to build a better life for Charles.
From here it shifts from an odd sort of family drama into a road trip movie, but the script by Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green remains refreshingly lean. The lack of excess keeps the focus on Logan and his continuing evolution, even at such a late stage. He's older, weaker, and clearly dying; but more than that he's lost reason to hope. The arrival of Laura inspires the dreamer in Charles Xavier again, the dreamer who built the X-Men all of those years ago. But can she give Logan a reason to hope and love again? It's a question that stands at the center of every scene, even as the blood flies and the body count stacks up so high John Wick might get jealous. This is an incredibly violent movie, stark in its depiction of Wolverine's claws tearing through flesh. If you always wanted to see an uncensored Wolverine movie in all of its glory, Logan is it. Add to it the damage done by Laura, who turns out to be very closely linked to Logan, and you've got a film that is not designed to sell toys to little kids. It's a movie for adults made by people who are relishing the chance to tell the story they've always wanted to tell.
While Mark Millar's popular "Old Man Logan" storyline was the basic template, this is NOT that story. You won't find an excess of superpowers (Well, not until later), you won't find other heroes saving the day. Mangold breaks the film down into a number of awesome little mini-movies, each incorporating some of his favorite genres. The opening set piece is an amazingly choreographed fight that starts off simply, a few of Pierce's men locating Logan's hideout, and explodes into a killer car chase that's like Fast & Furious with adamantium claws. There's a fantastic section right in the middle, just when you think things are going to bog down, when Logan encounters an innocent family (played by Eriq La Salle and Elise Neal) who are in need of his help. While it may seem like an unnecessary diversion their fate reinforces a fear Logan has wrestled with for years, and perfectly sets up the finale. Those hoping for some traditional superhero action will find it in the finale battle, which overloads us with new powers and characters we have little investment in, but even then it works as a reminder of everything Logan used to have and is again fighting for.
In his final performance as Logan, Hugh Jackman has never been better. He's beaten down and defeated by life; that cigar-chomping a-hole rhetoric has long since faded and been replaced by resignation. But Jackman does find the nuances in his character; particularly in the eternal respect and admiration he has for Charles Xavier, and the fatherly role he takes toward's Laura. Speaking of which, Dafne Keen is destined to be the big breakout star here. Her Laura is relentless, funny, and deadly while barely saying a word. She could be the next Hit-Girl and I won't be surprised if there are demands from fans for a spinoff or something.
If this is truly Jackman's final time as Wolverine, he's chosen the movie that will help him go out on top. Logan is the best superhero movie since Christopher Nolan's 'Dark Knight Trilogy', which it shares a great deal in common with. In a way it's sad to see Jackman go just as the character's full potential has finally been realized. But then one of the great things about Logan is that it is free to be what it is without concern for anything else. And isn't being free to be an individual what the X-Men are all about?
Rating: 4.5 out of 5