By CHRISTIAN LEDFORD, Staff Writer
Hugh Jackman, with his portrayal of the mutant superhero Wolverine, has accomplished a feat unrivaled by any other actor. While most actors portraying superheroes retire their performance after the completion of, more or less, a trilogy, Jackman has portrayed his character in a staggering nine consecutive films spanning 17 years, starting with the original X-Men, released in 2000, and ending with March’s much-anticipated Logan. Much has been made of the film containing Jackman’s final portrayal of Wolverine, whereas every previous X-Men film, save for 2016’s franchise-disconnected Deadpool, has been rated PG-13, Logan drastically departs by proudly earning an R-rating, a rating that Jackman and director James Mangold (also director of 2013’s The Wolverine) say lets them tell a final Wolverine story the way they want it to be told.
Since its release, Logan has amassed something of critical acclaim, with movie critique aggregation website RottenTomatoes scoring the film a 92%, the highest of the entire X-Men franchise. Therefore: does Logan effectively conclude Jackman’s time as the character? Is the film the best of the X-Men series? Well, yes and no.
The film is set in the year 2029, six years after the optimistic epilogue of 2014’s Days of Future Past, but the outlook is bleak; there’s been something of a mutant-apocalypse, with mutant birth rates at zero and the majority dying from unspecified causes, and in hiding live Wolverine and Professor X (portrayed by the always wonderful Patrick Stewart.) Their lives consist of living under the radar in hopes of one day escaping the no longer safe United States, but one day a mysterious girl with shocking powers named Laura is brought to them, setting the plot in motion and driving the two heroes out of hiding. From this point on, the film doesn’t rest, driving the plot forward through brutal action, the likes of which the series has never seen.
The film’s performances are, across the board, effective and engaging. The obvious standout is Jackman. Throughout his nearly two decades playing the character, Jackman’s crafted a nuanced and resonating performance that shows in Logan’s depiction of a broken, battered Wolverine. Similar to Christian Bale’s performance as an out-of-action Batman in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, Jackman portrays Wolverine as a shell of what he once was, a man who has given-up on the nobler principles of his youth and needs a reason to live again. Not to be outshone is Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, former leader of the X-Men. Stewart’s performance greatly contrasts with the characterization of Wolverine in the film. While we see the latter as a bitter refugee of days past, Xavier’s a bright spot of hope in the bleak film, consistently imploring Wolverine to remember the ideals he once fought for and lived by.
However, the most surprising performance of the film is, without a doubt, newcomer Dafne Keen, the young actress portraying the mutant Laura. Whereas child performances are usually hit-or-miss, Keen gives a masterful performance, bringing a ferocity and nuance adult actors would envy. In fact, despite her character not even speaking for the first half of the film, Keen establishes a connection with the audience that drives much of Logan’s latter half. Also among the cast are British comedian Stephen Merchant, portraying the mutant Caliban, Boyd Holbrook, playing an antagonist in the cybernetically-enhanced mercenary Pierce, and Richard E. Grant, playing the scheming scientist Dr. Rice.
Like previously stated, the action in the film amazes, setting a new standard for the series and comic book films as a whole. The film’s R-rating results in brutal, unrelenting action scenes, with bloody choreography and eviscerations that are distinct from the PG-13 fare of the rest of the series. Jackman, who does much of his own stunt work, is given free reign of the feral combat of Wolverine, tearing through enemies and action-set pieces like a whirlwind and using the character’s defining adamantium claws in intense sequences that leave nothing to be desired.
Keen’s character also factors heavily into these visceral action scenes, providing an intriguing and entertaining balance that’s both well-executed and visually pleasing. The character, Laura, has a brutal set of skills as well that rival those of the older Wolverine, making the character extremely memorable and fun to watch.
However, despite the engaging performances and effective action, where the film falters is its plot, pacing, and tone. Most critics of director Mangold’s The Wolverine cite a third act slump that departs from the serious tone of its first acts in lieu of a campier and less-serious one; unfortunately Logan, although to not as large a degree, suffers from this as well. About two-thirds of the way through the film, a surprising new character is introduced who dramatically affects the plot, and from there on the film struggles to keep the emotional weight and grounded tone of the first two acts, becoming more like a conventional comic book film. The film reaches its finale with a sequence like something, ironically, out of the 1991 Peter Pan film Hook starring Robin Williams. The film would have been much more effective with the exclusion of this dramatic character and this out-of-place final sequence; because of this, despite ending with a scene that’ll likely bring at least watery eyes, the film as a whole fails to reach the emotional and storytelling heights of 2014’s Days of Future Past and thusly feels noticeably inferior to and less complete than that film, my personal favorite of the series.
In the end, however, my plot grievances are secondary to the point of the film in the first place: ending Jackman’s run as Wolverine with an intense, white-knuckle conclusion of 17 years of character development. In this respect, Logan massively succeeds. The film explores the title character in ways not yet seen and includes action that sets a new standard for future X-Men films, with a poignant and satisfying ending that conclusively finishes the story of Wolverine and the dedicated performance of Jackman. I give Logan a score of 8/10.