Few superhero performances are as beloved as Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, which helped give birth to this current era of superhero movies back in 2000’s “X-Men.” But Jackman hasn’t had as much luck with his solo outings.
It is fitting, however, that in “Logan,” his last film as the most famous X-Man around, Jackman will make fans wish he wasn’t hanging up his six claws for good.
That wasn’t the case with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009), Jackman’s first solo Wolverine movie, which botched the adaptation of Wolverine’s secret origin as a young, sickly and wealthy 19th century Canadian boy named James Howlett who would later mutate into an indestructible force. “Origins” was a failed attempt to build a Wolverine/X-Men inspired movie universe that included other mutants. To put it another way, after “Origins,” no one was asking for more of Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, which is hard to believe now as fans anticipate “Deadpool 2.”
“The Wolverine” (2013) was an intimate look into Wolverine’s time in Japan, but didn’t leave fans asking for another movie.
At first glance “Logan” looks like an attempt to remove Wolverine from his comic book roots and make a more grounded movie to appeal to a general audience, and not just the fanboys who have made it possible for three Wolverine movies to be made. But the core of what makes “Logan” Jackman’s best solo effort was the decision by director James Mangold and Jackman to take inspiration from two very popular Wolverine storylines from the comic books: 2008’s “Old Man Logan” (by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven) and the creation of X-23, a young female clone of Wolverine (created by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost) who first appeared in Marvel’s “NYX” series in 2004.
The “old man” approach, in a distant, almost mutant-less future where Wolverine is finally starting to show signs of aging, helps counteract the one thing that always makes Wolverine movies so hard to plot: his near invulnerability from constantly healing. In “Logan,” an older Wolverine doesn’t heal like he used to, which allows Jackman to show a type of pain we’re not accustomed to seeing. Even Wolverine’s claws are betraying him, not always popping completely out on command. Alcohol becomes a new way for Wolverine to heal.
Jackman’s brilliant last dance as Wolverine is equaled by a scene-stealing performance from young actress Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23. She matches Wolverine’s violence slice for slice with her own set of adamantium claws, but only when forced to. Laura just wants to be a child, but being the genetic copy of Wolverine gives her no such youthful luxuries. It’s arguable that X-23 is the best part of “Logan,” showing Jackman’s devotion to telling the best Wolverine story he could without demanding all the glory be sent his way.
The R rating brings something new as well. “Deadpool’s” success with the rating is probably what encouraged the filmmakers to unleash a violent character with R-rated potential who had been trapped in a PG-13 comic book movie world. “Logan” earns its R rating through Wolverine’s claws alone.
A link to those “X-Men” movies of the past in “Logan” is Patrick Stewart, who, surprisingly, also benefits from an R rating. Professor Xavier is uncensored in his old age, frustrated from seizures that make him lose control of his powerful telepathic/telekinetic mind, which puts anyone near him in danger. “Logan” gets its compassion from the moments when Wolverine does his best to make Professor X comfortable. Professor X, when he does have control of his mind, scolds Wolverine for wasting his heroic potential and pleads with him to take on parental responsibility for Laura, whom he says Wolverine must see as a daughter, not a genetic mistake.
Boyd Holbrook (“Narcos”) is easily the most compelling adversary Jackman has had in a Wolverine movie, via his performance as Pierce, a man on the hunt for X-23. Pierce’s sly southern charm while hunting Wolverine and X-23 on the U.S./Mexican border masks his brutal lack of compassion for a child created to be a weapon.
Whereas Professor X and eventually Logan look at X-23 as a child deserving of some type of normal life, Pierce just sees a puppy who ran away.
Being a heavily armed and guarded southern gentleman isn’t enough when tracking not one, but two Wolverines, so Pierce has to bring in a secret weapon to get the job done. It’s a blast from Wolverine’s past, who we won’t reveal, but was really the only person who could attempt to take down Wolverine and his clone, setting up an epic final release of the claws.
“Logan” is Jackman as Wolverine at his best in a movie that will leave you wanting more. He gave Twentieth Century Fox the prototype cinematic superhero for years, and in return, the studio finally gave him the right Wolverine movie in the end.