By Vincent Abbatecola
The “X-Men” movie franchise has been going on since 2000, and up until this point, it has consisted of a main trilogy, a prequel trilogy, two spin-off films that focused on Wolverine/Logan, played ferociously by Hugh Jackman, and last year’s “Deadpool.” Appearing in every installment of the series (except “Deadpool”), Wolverine has been one of the best aspects of the franchise, even in “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” where he only had a cameo. This is a character Jackman has played for 17 years, and there was never a moment during that time where I thought he should give up the character.
However, we are now at the point where Jackman has come to an end in this part of his career, but he concludes his portrayal of this character on the highest of notes. Director James Mangold, who helmed the second solo Wolverine movie, “The Wolverine,” brings us “Logan,” the final installment of the famed mutant’s trilogy. In a film that’s thrilling, dark, emotional, and brutal, Mangold gives us a poignant good-bye to this beloved character and an “X-Men” movie that ranks among the best of the franchise.
It’s the year 2029, and Logan, who’s healing abilities have begun to decrease, works his days as a chauffeur while living in a secret hideout across the border in Mexico, where he takes care of an ailing Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Soon, circumstances arise that have them come across an 11-year-old girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who has claw-like powers similar to Logan’s. When a group known as the Reavers, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), come after Laura, Logan and Professor Xavier will do what he can to protect her at any cost.
Jackman gives this performance his all and imbues it with a tragic frailty on a level we’ve never seen before with his character. He uses that and pairs it with a world-weary persona that brings us the most emotional portrayal of Logan yet. What makes Jackman’s performance so memorable is how well he transitions from the unstoppable mutant we once knew in previous films to someone who is now forced to face his own mortality. This is the dramatic depth that’s a bit of a rarity in big-budget films these days, and it’s a relief to see that, in between the bits of humor that we have come to enjoy in Logan’s character, Jackman’s last outing as this iconic hero is every bit as moving as it should be for the legacy he has built in the realm of comic-book films.
Patrick Stewart, who has been flawless as Professor X ever since he took on the role, turns in work that’s as heart-rending as Jackman’s. Having portrayed this character for as long as Jackman has played Wolverine, this is the best performance Stewart has given as Professor X. Like always, Stewart’s character provides the much-needed wisdom and unconditional love towards Wolverine and Laura as we’ve seen him give his many students. And even though Stewart gets a chance to provide a few entertaining witticisms throughout the film, he never lets it detract from the overall seriousness of his role that has him facing a decline in his strength. Just like with Jackman, this is a performance that marks a poignant end to what will be one of the most memorable performances in the superhero genre.
Dafne Keen, in her film debut, is one of the best new additions to the “X-Men” film universe. Although her character doesn’t talk until the final third of the film, she makes a great use of facial expressions to allow us to get an idea of what’s going through her mind as she experiences the world in a way she never has. And in the scenes where her character must fight, Keen unleashes a fury of war cries as her victims find themselves on the wrong side of her claws, showing just as much of an unforgiving persona as Wolverine does when he’s in a fight. All of this shows that, despite being a newcomer, Keen has the talent to hold her own while sharing the screen with the talents of Jackman and Stewart.
Although Boyd Holbrook is threatening enough as the main villain, the one problem is that the writers don’t provide his character with more than just his basic motivations. The menacing attitude Holbrook gives to Donald Pierce makes him fun to watch, but a character as celebrated as Logan needs to have a villain who can match his depth, but Pierce doesn’t quite achieve that.
The screenplay by Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green, which is inspired by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s graphic novel “Old Man Logan,” not only offers an action-packed superhero story, but it also reaches a level of character study not seen in the first two solo Wolverine films. With this being the end of Logan’s arc for Jackman, the screenwriters take this opportunity to explore their main character as he enters a different stage of his live, one where he must confront the prospect of his death. Given how long we’ve watched this character, Mangold, Frank, and Green succeed in delivering a narrative where we see Logan as someone who is more broken-down than ever, providing his character with a deepness that’s needed in order to make this final chapter of his story be the conclusion that Logan merits.
Side note: the narrative’s third act has a fun, mutant twist to “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.”
Mangold delivered some exciting action sequences in “The Wolverine,” but with “Logan,” he’s able to step it up considerably, due to the film’s R-rating. He brings us unflinching scenes with Logan fighting his way through many henchmen with a level of ferocity we’ve never seen in these films, and with this being the end of Jackman as Logan, I can’t imagine the proceedings going any other way. However, in between these scenes, Mangold brings a great deal of focus when he concentrates on the relationships between Logan and Professor X, and that of Logan and Laura. When the film calls for action, it’s fast-paced; and when it comes time for the character-driven scenes, he doesn’t rush them, but instead lets them play out the way they should and brings a level of emotion that we only seem to get from superhero films once in a while.
It’s hard to think that we won’t be seeing Jackman as Wolverine again, but viewers can be reassured that “Logan” is a true honor to the cherished character that we have seen on screen for all of these years. This is the end of an era for the “X-Men” film series, and what an era it was.
Final grade: A-