For the past seventeen years, the films in the X-Men franchise have largely stuck to the family-friendly PG-13 rating. But it’s clear from the opening frames that Logan, which is arguably the most violent R-rated superhero movie ever made, obviously isn’t interested in courting that family audience. This is made specifically for fans who thought the previous films didn’t go far enough in depicting the carnage in which Wolverine often finds himself embroiled, and if you consider yourself one of those fans, you’re going to go nuts for this movie. If not…well, your mileage may vary.
Before I dive into the plot and spoil the heck out of it, let me be clear: Logan is 100% the no-holds-barred, hard-R Wolverine movie some of you have been waiting for years to see. Bodies are sliced through like tissue paper, Wolverine chops off people’s limbs and jams his claws through multiple people’s skulls, and the film doesn’t shy away from the blood and guts that go along with that. It’s uncompromising and vicious, but like last week’s John Wick: Chapter 2, as cool as the action choreography is, the sheer amount of relentless violence can sometimes it feel like the movie goes a little too far.
Also, “f*ck” is the first word uttered in the movie, and sets the tone for the type of film this is going to be. Both Wolverine and Professor X drop the F bomb so many times in this movie that it starts to feel unnecessary and wildly out of character for them. When we’ve seen these guys engaged in epic battles with world-ending stakes in previous movies and they didn’t swear in those scenarios, it hardly makes sense for them to be casually swearing throughout this entire movie in much less intense situations. I’m not offended by the use of the words so much as I am the lack of care with which the writers considered how the characters should use them.
Again, that’s all up to personal preference and some of you will undoubtedly be pleased to see Wolverine completely let off the leash, but I figured it was worth pointing out. It’s probably not the best idea to bring a kid along to see this one. A child sitting in my row during the screening couldn’t have been more than eight years old, and I’m fairly certain he’s scarred for life after watching this.
(Warning: spoilers ahead.)
Logan takes place in 2029, but wisely avoids too many references to the X-Men franchise’s labyrinthine continuity. Hugh Jackman is back for the last time as James Logan Howlett (aka Wolverine), and by this point he’s a broken man. His healing powers aren’t what they used to be, he’s constantly drunk, and he carries around an adamantium bullet which he considers shooting himself with to end it all. He works as a limousine driver in Texas and is desperately trying to save enough to buy a boat so he can live on the ocean with the now-90-year-old Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has developed dementia and must be medicated at all times to avoid seizures. Xavier’s a shell of his former self, decrepit and haunted by the knowledge that his psychic powers are still strong enough that his uncontrollable seizures have the potential to kill hundreds of innocent people.
Logan keeps Xavier locked in a metal tank in an abandoned Mexican warehouse facility and has enlisted the help of an albino mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) as a caretaker. There hasn’t been a new mutant born in 25 years, but the story kicks into gear when Logan is offered 50 grand to transport a young girl across the border into Canada. The girl turns out to be Laura (Dafne Keen), a mutant with the same powers as Wolverine who was created in a lab using Logan’s DNA, and as you might guess, the shady facility she escaped from wants her back. A cyborg named Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and the mad scientist (Richard E. Grant) who created Laura capture Caliban and use his tracking powers to give chase, and the film turns into a road trip movie as Logan, Xavier, and Laura race them to the Canadian border.
Stewart and Jackman bicker their way through a majority of the movie, and because we’ve spent so much time with them in previous X-films, we can truly feel the full history of their relationship in every one of their interactions. While Stewart is limited with what he can do here because of Xavier’s limitations at this stage in the character’s life, the actor still manages to bring a gravity and much-needed levity to what’s otherwise a largely grim, ruthlessly dark film. As he’s done for many of his students over the years, the Professor kindly teaches the troubled Laura about the value of family — a lesson Logan himself finally learns in the movie’s final moments.
Jackman is covered with scars and limps his way through the film, each violent encounter putting Logan closer to death and adding to the psychological burden he must carry. The actor knows this is the last major time he’ll play the character (for the record, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pop up elsewhere in a small cameo), so he puts his all into this performance and leaves nothing on the table. It’s an intense, go-for-broke performance and at times feels like the kind of focused work you’d see in an indie passion project, not a major studio film.
James Mangold returns to the director’s chair here, and he’s created a wildly different-looking movie than his last entry, 2013’s The Wolverine. This is a dusty, barren film that feels choked with heat, and its protagonists creak under the weight of their past transgressions. The X-Men movies have never exactly been zippy, light-hearted adventures (most of them open at Auschwitz, for God’s sake), but this is not your typical comic book movie — it’s a tragic, deliberately-paced escort mission that occasionally dishes out an emotional gut punch alongside its steady stream of carnage. He also delivers a couple of nice moments that subvert our expectations in a movie like this; at one point, Logan’s car slams into a fence but the fence doesn’t break like it would in any other film, and in the climactic moments (spoilers once again), Logan abruptly shoots the main bad guy in the head as the bad guy delivers a James Bond-style monologue explaining his master plan. It’s almost enough to make me wish this wasn’t the last Wolverine movie just so we could see what else Mangold might do with another film like this in the future.
One thing I found particularly fascinating about the movie is that the whole thing is essentially a metaphor about religion. Laura’s guardian Gabriela (Orange is the New Black actress Elizabeth Rodriguez) wants Logan to transport Laura to a place called Eden (read: heaven), a mysterious Canadian compound where mutants can live safely together. Logan eventually discovers that Gabriela heard about Eden from an X-Men comic book (read: the Bible or another religious text), and he scoffs at the idea of following those directions, describing those stories as being ten percent true and calling comics “ice cream for bed wetters.” But Laura and Gabriela are true believers, so even though he doesn’t believe Eden exists, Logan agrees to take her there. Spirituality hasn’t been a huge mainstay in this franchise, but Mangold infuses the movie with a bit more to chew on that what we usually see from films like these.
There are a couple more plot surprises left that I won’t spoil (one element caught me completely off guard, though in retrospect I should have seen it coming from a mile away), so I’ll wrap this up until you have a chance to see the movie for yourselves. As for my overall thoughts, I enjoyed the movie more than I thought I would, even though some of its emotional moments didn’t work for me as well as I’m sure Mangold would have liked. Still, there’s something powerful about seeing this chapter of Jackman’s career come to a close, and a finality to this movie that is rare in franchise filmmaking these days. In short, I think I respect this movie more than I actually enjoyed it, but I still think it’s a solid (if savage) piece of comic book entertainment and it will unquestionable satiate the desire fans have had to see Wolverine wreck people in full bloody, R-rated glory.