Hugh Jackman has been trapped in the Wolverine character since his star-making debut in the first X-Men movie back in 2000. The franchise has had its ups and downs since then, so when Jackman announced last year that the next Wolverine movie would be his last in the role, who could blame him? The question was: could the filmmakers come up with an exit strategy for their indestructible mutant hero that obeyed the rules of the X-Men mythos and gave Jackman a satisfying send-off?
The answer is yes and no, in Logan. Yes, the storyline is plausible enough (well, as plausible as anything ever is in the X-Men universe). But satisfying? Not so much. Previous franchise films have explored weighty themes like racism, xenophobia, intolerance, and whether or not social outsiders would choose to be “normal” if they could. But Logan is one interrupted chase melodrama from beginning to end, with an endless parade of faceless bad guys to be dispatched in endlessly gruesome ways. (This is the first X-Men movie to get an R rating, and it’s not only for the f-bombs.)
Jackman is as watchable as ever. But in a film almost entirely unburdened by humor or emotional connections—two attributes at which he excels in other movies—his uber-brooding Logan (aka Wolverine) has nowhere to grow.
The new movie was directed and co-scripted by James Mangold, who delivered a shot of adamantium to revive the series with The Wolverine in 2013 (after the fiasco of X-Men Origins: Wolverine). This time out, Mangold seems to think he’s keeping the focus on Logan’s tormented psyche and (often inconvenient) moral decency, mainly by introducing a new little mutant, Laura (Dafne Keen) for him to look after. But the constant, vicious fighting—as Logan faces off against carjackers, a lynch mob, convoys of sinister government ops, and his own genetically engineered doppelganger—leaves little time for further character development.
In the year 2029, Logan is holed up in an abandoned desert water tower on the Tex-Mex border caring for the ailing, elderly Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), attended by the albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Mutants have been eradicated, and Logan moonlights driving a limo across the border hoping to save enough to buy a boat and take Professor X out to sea to live out his last days in peace.
But trouble arrives when a Mexican nurse brings them Laura. Grown in a secret clinic in Mexico by shady agents who plan to make a new generation of “more efficient” mutant weapons (by breeding them without human souls), Laura has adamantium claws of her own—and, boy, does she know how to use them.
Soon besieged by an army of evildoers out to nab Laura before Logan can drive her cross-country to join her friends at a sanctuary for new mutant kids in Canada—a place that may only exist in the pages of the X-Men comics the kids all read. This self-referential idea is an interesting subtext, as is the comparison to a sinister corporation raising genetically modified super corn. But like everything else, these themes are overwhelmed by brutal action as Logan and Laura slice and dice their way through the villains.
It would be helpful, story-wise, if they found another way to bond besides shredding bad guys. A moment when they compare nightmares (Laura dreams that “people hurt me,” Logan, that “I hurt people”) is a step in the right direction—but then, the script delivers another platoon of nasty adversaries to be decimated by the family that slays together.
Jackman is up to the task, as usual. But he, the character, and the fans might have wished for the saga to go out with a little less bang, and a lot more heart.
**1/2 (out of four)
With Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen. Written by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green. Directed by James Mangold. Rated R. 137 minutes.