THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Hugh Jackman has had an incredible run playing Wolverine. When he first starred in 2000's X-Men, he was a complete unknown in America, brought in to replace another actor at the last minute. Jackman embodied the role in a manner that pleased comic book fans, while also enticing newcomers to the Marvel character. Since then, he has portrayed the superhero in seven more movies, some better than others, all benefiting from his authentic take, even the ones that were just cameos. Now comes Logan, which marks the actor's final performance in the role. This is how you go out with a bang.
The story, set in the near future, finds a visibly older Logan in self-imposed exile. He works as a limo driver near the Mexican border. In his off hours, he cares for the ailing Charles “Professor X” Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and an albino mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant). His desire to be left alone is challenged after a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), enters his life. She, too, has mutant abilities and is hoping to reach a rumored safe haven. Laura is pursued by the maniacal Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a guy who clearly doesn't have good intentions. Whether he likes it or not, Logan is stuck in the middle. He, Laura, and Charles end up fleeing in an effort to keep everyone safe, but Pierce is hot on their heels.
Logan makes the wise choice to be about the man rather than the superhero. There are no leather costumes, no over-the-top visual effects sequences, no "amnesia bullets." (We see you, X-Men Origins: Wolverine!) In fact, the character is not heroic for most of the movie. He's bitter and angry, wanting nothing more than to hide away from the world he's desperately trying to leave behind. He is spurred into action not by a desire to do right, but by prodding from Charles, coupled with a desire to save his own skin.
Taking this route gives the story a darker, more elegiac quality. The character is wounded. Life, he tells Charles at one point, has only dealt him pain and loss. (If you're a fan of the previous movies, you know what he's referring to.) Seeing a once confident, fearless character in a frail and depressed state has enormous impact because it's so contrary to what we expect. Director/co-writer James Mangold (The Wolverine) takes great care to focus on the human elements, better allowing us to contemplate the untapped (at least onscreen) idea that superheroes can get old and weary. It utilizes a beloved figure to ask the question: What do you do when you've been fighting your whole life and you don't want to fight anymore?
A well-deserved R rating cements that idea. Logan is a far bloodier picture than any of the previous Wolverine tales. Such raw violence is, in this instance, completely warranted. Logan is tired of killing. When he gets into a situation where killing is required, his anger at having to return to this way of life causes him to lash out more brutally than ever, which, in turn, makes him even madder. In the way it explores the inescapable nature of violence and its long-term effects, Logan is the Unforgiven of superhero cinema.
Hugh Jackman does some of the best work of his career in the movie, perfectly capturing the idea that Logan is desperate to separate himself from Wolverine. His performance is full of pain. Because he has played the character for seventeen years now, there's something striking about seeing him in such anguish. The concept would not work as well had different actors played the part over time (a la James Bond). Jackman goes deep, capitalizing on our investment in his vision of Wolverine over the years in order to give us a compellingly broken version of the hero.
Patrick Stewart is also very good as the sickly, tired Charles Xavier, while Boyd Holbrook makes a suitably menacing villain. Newcomer Dafne Keen, meanwhile, is a real find. The eleven-year-old actress displays uncommon fierceness in the action scenes where Laura gets to use her mutant abilities. She's totally credible.
Superhero movies are a dime a dozen these days. Many are good, but they tend to have a lot of similarities in feel and tone. Logan is different. This is a mature, contemplative film that still manages to deliver grade-A action. Seeing Hugh Jackman depart from his signature role may be sad, but at least he walks away triumphant.
( 1/2 out of four)
Logan is rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 17 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!