To say that Logan is the best of the three stand-alone Wolverine movies is not saying much. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Wolverine (2013) were just not memorable. To say that Logan is the better between it and The Wolverine says a little more. In both movies, writer Scott Frank and director James Mangold take the Marvel hero out of our comfort zone and put him into a unique situation focused heavily on character. This time, though, they’ve made the accompanying story more entertaining, a 135-minute epic that you don’t want to see end.
Logan may or may not be based on a version of Wolverine that first appeared in the “Old Man Logan” storyline that began in “Wolverine” (2003), number 66. In the movie, it’s the year 2029, a slightly futuristic world that wouldn’t seem much different from the present if not for the advances in motor vehicles. Cars have become bigger and boxier. Driverless trucks speed along the highway, connected like train cars. There are also throwaway lines indicating the passage of time in a dystopian direction. Describing victims of an attack by Logan (Hugh Jackman), it’s mentioned that tigers are extinct.
This attack was a consequence of self-defense. While sleeping in the back of the limousine Logan now drives in El Paso, a gang of thuds tries to steal his tires. It isn’t a swift, heroic attack, though. Logan’s adamantium claws don’t fully extend and the scarred, greying attacker is more man than mutant. He’s on the receiving end of the violence as much as he is on the delivering end. Logan is worse for wear and may be dying from the inside out, a result of the indestructible metal surgically welded to his bones when he was the subject of the experiment that created him.
No, the future has not been kind to Logan/Wolverine. He’s keeping his old mentor, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in a silo and filling him with meds to contain the destructive powers of his mind posing a threat to the world due to his advancing Alzheimer’s. It’s a bleak situation. In a world where a new mutant hasn’t been born in 25 years, Logan and Xavier are literally the last of a dying breed. But, with the discovery of a new generation of genetically created “mutants,” in particular, a little girl named Laura Kinney (Dafne Keen), there may be new hope.
In a way, Logan represents the passing of the torch from the old guard to the new. But it’s subtle, never treated as a manipulative or sentimental way to launch a new franchise. The focus of the story remains solidly with Logan, his history and his evolution. His relationship with Xavier reveals more about him than his relationship with Laura. And it’s an emotionally devastating relationship. Something terrible happened “out east,” but we never find out the specifics. All we know is that it forced the two into hiding and put them constantly on edge.
There are still bad guys in the future, and they want to retrieve Laura. They’re not as concerned about Logan or Xavier, but, hey, while they’re at it, they might as well wipe them off the face of the planet, as well. Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) is the relentless leader of the “ground forces,” if you will, but there’s someone else pulling his strings: Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant). Both pale in comparison to the creature that eventually appears to do their dirty work. It’s best left as a surprise, but it’s a lot of fun and is a clever reflection of Logan himself.
Jackman has never been better as the title character, proving it sometimes pays to place the familiar into the unfamiliar. It’s an opportunity to shine light on areas normally hidden. Logan contains more references to the original X-Men movies than the other Wolverine movies did, bringing the saga full circle. It could be only an alternative future, though. We all know in comic books and the movies based on them, characters don’t seem to stay dead and, with 12 years between now and then, a single act can change the way it all turns out.
I like this dark possibility, though. The movie finds its light through the sadness. It’s uncompromising, earning its hard-R rating with language and gore. A different approach to this particular story would have been less successful. Other than dragging just a little toward the end of the second act, with an extended sequence involving a family that temporarily shelters Logan, Xavier and Laura, I find very little to fault in Logan. High expectations based on revealed plot points and well-made trailers are not deflated, for both Wolverine/X-Men fans and the casual moviegoer.