There are very few actors who have inhabited a movie character so perfectly and for so long that to us, the viewing public, they become one and the same. Hugh Jackman as The Wolverine has got to be at the top of the list, right? I mean, who else in recent memory has accomplished that? I racked my brain for some time thinking on it and the only other people I could come up with was Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. I can’t imagine someone else coming in to play the swashbuckling, carousing, happy go lucky pirate or to play the notorious, billionaire, playboy philanthropist when Depp and RDJ decide to walk away from those roles and I feel the same way with Hugh Jackman. The first X-Men movie debuted in 2000 and, while the plot of that movie tricked us into thinking that Wolverine was the center of the story only to reveal towards the end that it was in fact Rogue, it didn’t take a genius to see that Jackman as Wolverine was the start of something special. So here we are 17 years later and, from what he’s been saying while promoting the movie, this could very well be his last time in the hair, claws, and the ridiculously shredded physique.
The movie is set in 2029 and, despite the happily ever after we received at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past (the last time we saw Wolverine on screen), the mutant race has become all but extinct. Their relevance and presence in society is relegated to distant memories, while stories of their deeds and adventures relegated to comic books. Logan has fallen into the role of caretaker for a severely decrepit Charles Xavier, who apparently suffers from dementia and experiences seizures that, if not properly medicated, have the potential to be lethal to most anyone within a sizable distance of him. Because of this, Logan, with the help of a mutant named Caliban (who we saw previously in a small role in X-Men Apocalypse), has hidden Charles in a remote location in Mexico and works as a chauffeur in the U.S. to pay for his costly medication. It’s a sad and dreary life for Logan who drinks constantly and clearly cares for Charles now more out of duty than love and the two are constantly at odds over what Logan has become as a person. Charles still believes in his potential and tells him that very soon, their lives will change – a notion which Logan dismisses as the ramblings of a senile old man until he’s approached by a mysterious woman and her young daughter who, in an act of desperation, attempt to hire Logan to drive them to a place called Eden in North Dakota.
There’s so much to unpack with this movie and I love the fact that it just drops us in and expects us to piece together what’s happened in the years since Wolverine returned from the 70’s to presumably the early 2000’s to rectify the Trask/Sentinel issue from Days of Future Past. Stewart and Jackman are brilliant. Playing off of each other masterfully – touching on the pain and sadness that often comes with the very surreal feeling of switching roles when a child occupies the authority role over and elderly parent. No spoilers here but if you pay attention and listen carefully to their many exchanges and other dialogue throughout the movie, you get a very strong inclination as to what happened to Charles’ school, the rest of mutant-kind, and why Logan appears to be not himself, aging and deteriorating before our very eyes. The scope of the movie is large and you get a sense of the world without mutants being a muted one of mundane and ordinary flavors. It’s almost as if director James Mangold wanted to make the statement that a world without mutants is practically dead and unnatural. What I like most about this film is that while the focus is clearly on Jackman, the young girl who plays Laura (Daphne Keen) shines. Again, no spoilers but it’d be a shame if this is the last we see of her in this universe. She spends half of the movie not speaking but still has weight and presence to her performance. When she is speaking (and moving, some of what you see her character do is actually her), the audience pays attention.
This leads me to the other thing that I wanted to mention about this film. It earns its R rating. When you consider that Wolverine is a hero who basically slices, stabs, and disembowels as one of his main superpowers, the fact that this is the ONLY R-rated movie for him is baffling. And no, I’m not counting the extended cut of The Wolverine on Blu-Ray. These days, everyone and their grandma has an “extended”, “special”, “studio executives pooped their pants when they saw it”, “director’s cut” of their film that never gets seen in a theater. THIS MOVIE MAKES YOU FEEL IT. Decapitations? Check. Severed limbs? Check. Impalement? Check. All stabby stab all the time in all its glory and reckless abandon and, in my opinion, that’s how they all should have been. Now for the purpose of being completely objective, I will say that I did have a problem with something that was done in this movie in terms of tired, played out tropes that for whatever reason Mangold found it necessary to use but I won’t go in depth about it. Mainly because it’s linked to a big reveal midway through that I don’t want to give away, but I will say that it’s a common trope and was also in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and frankly should have stayed there. Nothing from that trash heap of a movie should make its way into anything this good. When it happened it made me sigh audibly in the theater, but by then, the movie had earned so much good will with me that I could easily give it a pass and get back on board. All that being said, if Logan really is Jackman’s last time playing Wolverine, he saved his best performance for last. Logan is amazing.
Go see it. Like right now. Stop what you’re doing, go to a theater, and enjoy the (supposedly) final time Hugh Jackman rages, claws, and grunts for our viewing pleasure.
RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 5)
WHAT YOU CAN WATCH ALONG WITH THIS:
The Coen Brothers 2010 remake of True Grit. Another movie where a grizzled old man guides a determined and assertive young girl along a journey of both discovery and revenge.