Posters emphasized it and trailers ended with it: a child holding on to an adamantium-clawed hand. But that image is not as powerful as another that captures the true heart of “Logan”: one old man carrying another.
The X-Men star’s latest—and last—outing is at times painful to watch. Not because of its quality or R rating. The film is stellar and unlike any comic adaptation to date. What’s difficult is seeing how once seemingly invincible heroes share an inevitable fate with everyone else: the toll that time takes on the body and mind.
“Logan” opens six years after “Days of Future Past,” in which the title character travels time not to save it, but alter it. If only the former were the case, for in 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman), aka Wolverine, now lives in an age where his fellow mutants are becoming extinct and his own body-healing powers are dwindling. He aims not to stop it—just endure it.
He does so across the border in Mexico, accompanied by Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), the mind-controlling professor whose school for “the gifted” saved the lives of many young mutants, including Logan’s. Now it is Xavier who is in Logan’s care, as his brain succumbs to dementia. Logan carries him to bed, to his wheelchair, to the car, to the bathroom.
For anyone who’s experienced the physical and mental decline of a loved one, the scenes between Xavier and Logan are emotionally draining, yet heartwarming. Their supporting roles have certainly changed since the first “X-Men” in 2000. To quote another superhero classic, “the son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son.”
That fatherly presence is the central theme to “Logan,” especially when the drunk, broken Wolverine is forced to take in a young child who, like him, escaped great suffering. Confronted with a choice, Logan must either embark on a sobering journey to protect the child from coming danger or stay put with Xavier and continue “preparing” for a life they may never reach.
His decision turns “Logan” into “Unforgiven” meets “Mad Max” with a touch of “Three Fugitives.” Western thematic elements at its core, “Logan” dispenses with the checklist typically required for a comic-book movie—intergalactic scope: check; overused computer graphics: check—in favor of a more realistic, character-driven piece.
Although the film slows a bit when Wolverine’s youthful new partner joins the fray, it’s saved by Jackman’s and Stewart’s performances. Indeed, both roles were made for director James Mangold, who’s proved his character-building chops overseeing Oscar-winning performances in “Girl, Interrupted” and the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line.”
That directorial expertise is something Jackman long wanted for his character. Just as Wolverine carried Xavier in “Logan,” Jackman has carried Wolverine through nine X-Men films—many good, some not so much.
His first solo outing, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” was maligned by critics and almost resulted in Jackman leaving the role. To save face, he recruited friend and auteur Darren Aronofsky to lead his next, “The Wolverine,” which the director eventually departed amid a divorce. Mangold then took the helm.
Although redeemed by the well-reviewed effort, even “The Wolverine” fell back on the all-too-familiar comic-book formula. Mangold actually shot an R-rated version, but studio execs went with the “safer” PG-13.
With “Logan,” Jackman lobbied for the R rating to give his character what he thought the foul-mouthed, cigar-smoking, appendage-slicing hero was due. He even took a pay cut for it. And Mangold got to make a film more like his “3:10 to Yuma” and “Walk the Line”—even managing to incorporate a song from the Man in Black, wholly appropriate for Jackman’s dark hero.
In recalling a particular scene, however—when Professor Xavier comforts Logan’s young companion, explaining that a loud noise from outside is just a “choo choo”—words from a different Johnny Cash cover come to mind for “Logan”: “There is a train that’s heading straight to heaven’s gate. And on the way, child and man…watch and wait—for redemption day.”
Whether Logan and his partner ever board that train, moviegoers will have to see for themselves. But this much is certain: With “Logan,” redemption comes, both for Jackman and his Wolverine.
4.5 out of 5