The first scene of Logan is, like a number of the X-Men movies, a fight sequence. Logan himself wakes up in the backseat of a car - his own - while a group of thugs are in the middle of attempting to jack it. The viewer already knows what’s about to go down - the Wolverine will rise up, clear house, we’ll be reminded of what a bad-ass he is and the opening credits will roll for another standard movie in the superhero mold. Except this time, that’s not quite how it goes. The hero that steps up instead mumbles an F-word, staggers out of the car, and clearly isn’t as agile or steady as he used to be. Old and worn down, his expected dominance over these car-thieving gangsters is suddenly thrown into doubt. A one-sided fight ensues - he is both shot at and knocked down repeatedly, and thanks to his mutant powers of regeneration, gets up only to receive more punishment, again and again. It’s a pitiful set of opening few seconds for him - until his waning primal instincts finally kick in and we get what we’re due. Then carnage ensues. Expletives rain through the night sky, faces are skewered by the Wolverine’s claws, blood pours. This is most definitely not the kind of action scene you’d expect from the previously PG X-Men franchise. But it serves less as shock value and more as a statement of intent. Under the freedom of its R rating, Logan finally gives us a side of Logan we’ve been waiting to see. And, given how the movie goes on to underline this violent prologue with a story that is just as dramatically raw as its action, it all but confirms that this is the side of him that we should have been offered, all along.
For this is a chapter of the X-Men series that is playing for keeps: one that seeks to push forward to the next arc of its long-running saga, but also to draw a final line beneath the feet of some of the individuals who have carried it since the beginning. This may well be the last time we ever see Patrick Stewart in the role of Professor X - a character that Stewart has played with such ease of presence that it seems unthinkable for him to be replaced in any future spin-off. But of greater paramount is the final appearance of Hugh Jackman, who as Logan, takes on the role of this film’s titular character for the very last time.
In an age where the film has embraced the comic book hero almost as much as the printed publication has, Jackman’s Wolverine is unquestionably one of the most recognizable faces in our modern era of action movies. The X-Men series now carries a colossal ten movies under its belt, and he has failed to appear in only one of them (Deadpool, if you even count it). His portrayal of such a much-loved comic-book character has also been staunchly consistent, even if it hasn’t come completely without criticism - and given the lack of consistency in both script and direction that this franchise has suffered over the years, you could also say that a lot of that has been unfair too. Irrespective of where you stand over Jackman’s own interpretation though, the departure of his Wolverine from this saga - a saga that has been a major force in making comic-book movies cool again - is a landmark moment. And such moments also require a landmark farewell, even if part of that means dialing the violence up to a gore-festive, ferocious eleven.
As unbound as its violence can be however, Logan also fulfils an additional obligation demanded by its role as its lead character’s own epilogue - it’s unquestionably the most emotionally resonant movie under the X-Men moniker to date. There is no great ‘save the world’ plotline this time - mostly because there’s barely any mutants around to save it any more. In the future timeline it sets itself in, such individuals have all but vanished from the world - the X-Men are long disbanded and there hasn’t been a single recorded mutant born in the last twenty-five years. Time has also not been kind to the ones that still survive either. Charles Xavier is now over 90 years old and is hostage to the whims of his own advancing senility - turning him from a benevolent figurehead for mutant rights, to an unstable living weapon. His failing mental faculties now mean he has no real control over his telepathic powers, and the seizures he now suffers as a part of his (unspecified) degenerative disease are prone to unleashing massive, time-freezing discharges of energy that are capable of harming whole populations. The only companions he has left to protect him from inevitable government capture are Logan - who has also significantly aged due to the adamantium in his bones beginning to poison him - and another mutant, Caliban (Stephen Merchant), whose ability gives him the power to track the presence of his kind. Such powers reveal no sign of a mutant revival though, and it is increasingly apparent that he, Xavier and Logan are the last of a dying breed. Unable to change the consequences, Logan has therefore confined himself to running a Texas chauffeur service to keep the money flowing in, so that he can afford Xavier’s medicine - the only thing able to keep Xavier from causing a catastrophe - and keep him safe in the confines of the derelict smelting plant on the Mexican border that they now reside in.
All in all, it’s an unprecedentedly bleak setup for an X-Men movie - but it’s one that also feels far more mature, and personally tragic, than anything this franchise has served up before. Instead of watching youthful defenders of justice protect the world once again, we are forced to bear witness to the heroes of old live out their slow, but inevitable demises. The world has moved on without them, and if anything their perception by the public as a deadly threat is once again the status quo. It’s a sobering and somber reality, and even if X-Men feature lengths have previously depicted scenarios hinged on the failure of its characters - both Days of Future Past and Apocalypse spring to mind - never has this pathos felt so startlingly personal. This change of perspective is an uncanny and necessary twist for both franchise and genre alike - and despite its morosity, makes for a start so original in its delivery that it hooks one’s attention immediately.
Plus, public danger or otherwise, there are still individuals in need of assistance from a genetic anomaly - one in particular being a young girl by the name of Laura (Dafne Keen), who turns up at Logan and Xavier’s hideaway without warning or explanation. Logan at least recognizes the girl - she’s the daughter of a woman, Gabriela Lopez (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who had previously been borderline harassing him to take the pair of them north to a place called “Eden”, located on the border of North Dakota and Canada - although she was never able to give the reason why before her murder at the hands of an unrevealed party. The truth soon exposes itself though - in a posthumous video sent to Logan’s cellphone, Gabriela is able to reveal that Laura is a mutant. Not just any kind of mutant either - she’s the product of biotech corporation Alkali-Transigen’s genetic development program - codenamed the X-23 Project - which is specifically designed to create super soldiers of the future. Whether or not Laura actually is a killing machine though is unclear - refusing to utter a single word about her origins or intentions (or anything else for that matter), her potential and powers remain a mystery. The crux of it though is unimportant. Xavier is overjoyed to see a young mutant in the world, even if the joy is short-lived - Transigen’s own military branch, led by their cybernetically-enhanced head of security Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), descends upon their home in a manner just as easy as it took Laura to find it. Naturally, Pierce and his men are there to take the girl back by force, but knowing now that the Professor’s safety is compromised as a result, Logan is in no mood to let that happen. Thrust into a full-on confrontation, he also gets to witness Laura’s actual mutant powers first-hand - and is stunned to find that they bear a shocking similarity to his own. With the kind of same adamantium claws and the same savage bloodlust when in battle, Laura’s connection with Logan clearly runs deeper than first considered - but the hows and whys of this bond, and what they mean for the pair of them, are complete mysteries. Naturally they’re both more than capable of fending off Pierce and his men, and do so - but only for now, and not without losing Caliban to them. Without Caliban, and with Xavier also now in danger, Logan begrudgingly has no other option but to help both his new and old dependents escape for a new shelter - and maybe even find out the truth behind Laura, this mysterious “Eden”, and obtain his own sense of closure.
This road to Eden, and to the truth of Laura’s origins (of which fans of her later alter-ego, X-23, already know plenty about), does largely play out as one long pursuit story, but it is one that flows impeccably well. So intriguing is Logan’s initial setup and so viciously attention-grabbing are the action sequences throughout, that it is able to sustain its beguiling pace for most of its duration. Scott Frank and James Mangold’s screenplay deserves most of the credit for this - its cunning sense of self-control and knack for introducing the right kind of mood for the right moment should be made an example to budding script writers everywhere. But predominantly, its success is down to the individuals playing it out - particularly those cast members whose time is up after this film is done. In this regard, Stewart especially saves the best for last. His final portrayal of Xavier under the throes of his ailing health comes off as both heartbreaking and effective - angry and combative one minute, wistful and reflective the next - and leads up to a deeply moving moment at the end of the film’s second of three acts. While the ones who do have the availability to return in a future movie do their chances no harm - Holbrook’s Pierce is a connivingly good villain in the Marvel ilk, while Dafne Keen as Laura is a stand-out for such a young age, capturing the young X-23’s wild nature and direct manner - it is Stewart who encapsulates the mood of this movie almost better than anyone else. Save of course, for one certain other departee.
Hugh Jackman’s parting performance in the lead role is unquestionably the highlight of the entire movie. He’s still the same Logan of the previous entries - gruff, defensive and isolated in the way that somebody with only a cursory knowledge of the comic books would expect him to be. But this time, aged as he is, there is a sense of resignation to all of his defiance. His trip on the road with Laura to reach Eden is just as metaphorical as it is physical - a trek into an isolated wilderness with no hope of return, but with a sense of knowing that it will at least bring an end. It brings a kind of human touch that is completely non-existent in other X-Men movies, and Jackman produces his finest performance of this series to achieve it. One particular monologue towards the end pertaining to why Logan carries an adamantium bullet around with him is perhaps the most poignant moment any movie under this genre has produced, and even in his funnier moments (this movie definitely isn’t without its comedy despite its unhappy overtones), a sardonic sense of nihilism persistently underpins his blunt retorts and angry breakdowns. Again, Franks and Mangold’s writing, along with the latter’s tremendous direction, plays a key part, but it wouldn’t work half as well without Jackman treating his final performance in a franchise he’s clearly become attached to with the significance it deserves. His effort alone, with the help of a film confined to primarily focus on his character’s fate, raises the quality of what is already a pretty good movie to begin with, turning it into one of the true classics of its kind, and enabling it to deliver a final, deeply touching climax.
It should be noted too that this is most definitely not a film dedicated entirely to the touchy-feely side of being an elderly mutant. There is still more than enough action to balance out all of the drama, and thank goodness that there is - the sheer morbidity of everything else would be enough to make ourselves question our mortality, let alone Logan doing it. The plentiful fight scenes that Logan has to offer are, as previously mentioned, gratuitously over-the-top (and mostly in a good way), but there are plenty of thrilling set pieces besides all the bloodletting. Charles Xavier’s seizures serve as an additional deadly obstacle for Logan to negotiate - jamming both time and space and looking completely agonizing in the process, they’re the crowning moment in the movie’s ample array of special effects, and even serve as the backdrop of one particularly impressive action scene as Logan has to fight through both of them, as well as some of Laura’s potential abductors. Even outside of the action, there’s some very smart touches within the plot development too. Lulling the viewer into the expectation that Laura herself is just one of those typical silent child protagonists, the film employs an interesting tactic by suddenly having her get chatty halfway through the movie - and at the perfect time as well. Her ability to speak is a subtle revelation, but it’s an important one nonetheless - without it, the bindings between her and Logan simply wouldn’t feel as legitimate, and neither would the movie’s final act pack the emotional punch that it delivers with such force.
It’s still not all completely perfect - a middle segment involving Logan, Xavier and Laura staying overnight at the residence of an Oklahoman farming family meanders on for far longer than it should, even if it does ultimately culminate in one of the film’s climactic, unforgettable moments. The overtly adult tone of it all does also become a parody at times too - the first act of the movie seems almost to be a homage to the F-word for how often its flung into otherwise innocuous dialogue, and when the violence begins to subject itself to showing off full-on decapitations, you start to wonder if this movie might need to remind itself that it’s still an action movie rather than a horror. But make no mistake - Logan is without question the finest film in the X-Men series to date, surpassing even the merits of Days of Future Past and First Class. Gripping, clever and deeply moving, it wraps up this segment of the X-Men saga perfectly, and is a brilliant send-off for a comic book icon. It also makes you wonder why it took ‘em so long to make something this good - but at the very least, most fans of the Wolverine should at least be able to say that it got there in the end.