No actor has played a comic book character on screen as many times as Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine, the immortally sad and reluctant killing machine with a chip on his shoulder. For 17 years, the Aussie actor has embodied the comic book icon with all the enthusiasm and tongue-in-cheek roguishness he could muster, and it has always been fun to watch him do it. But there has come a point, over the course of 10 total silver screen appearances–most of them mediocre efforts by Fox–when even Jackman’s charm and love for the character couldn’t seem to offset the fatigued eyerolls brought on by seeing Wolverine shoehorned in at every mention of the X-Men, like Batman in any DC property.
So when Jackman announced last year that he’d give the character one final send-off before hanging up the claws, many fans couldn’t help but be excited to see his farewell salute to ol’ Weapon X. That salute came this month with “Logan,” a more personal reflection on the character as a man who’s lived his life trying not to be a weapon. Director James Mangold appropriately avoids the leather jumpsuits and sleek metal interiors in exchange for dusty jeans, rusty junkyards and beautiful American vistas one would expect to see in an old Western. These settings help paint a picture of the old, tired world Logan–once known as the Wolverine–finds himself in at this point in his life.
The era of mutants has passed; a battered Logan and his deteriorating mentor, Professor Charles Xavier, are two of only a few mutants left after a human-led genocide wiped out most of them years before. When a new mutant comes their way in the form of a little girl, Charles insists that Logan help secure a safe and peaceful future for her in a world where mutants are seen as vermin.
The marked poignancy of “Logan,” which sets it apart from the slew of gaudy superhero films (now pumped out at a rate of nearly half a dozen a year), comes from its attention to its protagonist’s resentment of himself and the failed or ruined relationships of his past. Wolverine has spent his life trying to run away from what he was created in a lab to be, and all along the way, his attempts to fight his nature have brought only death to the ones he loves. Key moments highlighting the relationships among the main characters bring humanity and connectivity to them that few, if any, comic book films are able to replicate. Words exchanged between characters feel like real emotions brought to light rather than steps advancing the plot. It’s standard fare for the kinds of dramas you see released in the fall, clamoring for awards attention, but a relatively uncommon practice in movies about superheroes.
Unfortunately, this film isn’t perfect. In fact, despite its overall strength in its emotional groundedness, some major-character moments in the story feel rushed, poorly timed or simply not focused. Serious turning points become annotations tacked onto the end of a bloody fight scene. Additionally, story tropes and antagonist clichés reveal on the cracks in the story, occasionally cheapening the experience.
Overall, “Logan” brings a wildly different perspective to the subgenre, opting to focus on the fragile, human sides of its invincible super-people, and offers a refreshing break from the mega-franchise boogaloos we’ll be seeing the rest of the year. While sadly not reaching the emotional heights it seems to set up, “Logan” accomplishes enough in its analysis of its namesake character to create a memorable and appropriately sentimental swan song for both Wolverine and the man has who played him.
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