By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
Seventeen years, nine movies, and a pivotal role in helping take comic book movies from genre fare to mainstream blockbusters.
It’s safe to say that Hugh Jackman has more than served his time as a superhero, and if “Logan” is in fact his last time in the role of Wolverine, he saved his best for last.
The year is 2029 and mutants, at least as we’ve come to know them in the “X-Men” world, have either been killed or forced into hiding. Among them is Wolverine/Logan, who is now working as a luxury car driver. His regenerative powers aren’t what they used to be and because of that age is finally catching up to him.
Every day after work he crosses the border into Mexico, where he’s greeted at “home” by fellow mutant-in-hiding, Caliban (Stephen Merchant). The unlikely duo spends most of their time caring for their friend and mentor, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) – who spends his time heavily sedated to avoid another catastrophic episode (like the unseen one that landed mutants on the endangered species list).
Wolverine’s anonymity comes to an end when a nurse by the name of Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) approaches him to drive her and a young girl (who has very familiar abilities), Laura (Dafne Keen), to safety in Canada.
It, however, becomes quickly apparent that there’s more to Laura than meets the eye after Logan is approached by a corporate henchman, Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), tasked with bringing her and her fellow extraordinary children back to where they come from. After Gabriela winds up dead, Logan and Xavier end up on a cross country road trip to get Laura – and themselves – to safety.
First things first. Yes, “Logan” achieved that ever-elusive R-rating that fanboys have been clamoring for since forever. But if you think having the ability to include more violence and profanities is what makes this movie stand head and shoulders above the other Wolverine movies (and most of the X-Men flicks, too), you are sadly mistaken.
The reason “Logan” is so good is because it’s got an actual story and it conveys actual emotion – it’s deep, it’s dark, it’s depressing, it’s got moments of happiness and humor, and – amazingly – it actually makes you feel something. Aside from some humor and the occasional adrenaline rush, most comic book movies can’t say that.
People will hold last year’s smash hit “Deadpool” up as the example as to why R-rated movies are better than their PG-13 competitors. The difference is that in order to work, Deadpool needs that rating, Wolverine doesn’t. “Logan” succeeds despite its rating, not because of it.
A big amount of credit for that needs to go to Jackman. We’ve seen that he has great performances in him – “The Prestige” – and he was finally able to bring that to Wolverine. For the first time you really get the opportunity to see the man underneath the genetic modification, and he doesn’t disappoint. And as always, his chemistry with Stewart is top-notch.
The other standout here is Keen as the young mutant at the heart of the story. The relative newcomer more than holds her own against some true heavyweights and adds would could be a very interesting wrinkle to the X-Men universe going forward.
Director James Mangold must also be recognized for his outstanding work here. He took a character that had seemingly run his course (17 years and nine films is a good run), and reinvented it into something we haven’t seen from him before. By the time “Logan” runs its course, you’re left wanting more, but are fairly confident you won’t be getting it.
Further to Mangold’s credit is the fact that he doesn’t rely on an insane amount of special effects or non-stop over-the-top action to drive the story. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of action and the over-the-top moments are WAY over-the-top, but they take a backseat to storytelling and character development. It’s a shame this couldn’t have been done with such an interesting character a while ago.
Upon its release in 2000, “X-Men” sparked the renaissance of comic books as viable movie properties, and Jackman’s Wolverine was a big part of that. Just as that film was a game-changer for the genre, “Logan” could also mark a shift in the way these stories are told and viewed by the industry. If this in fact Jackman’s last time out, I can think of no better legacy to leave behind.
★★★★ of ★★★★★
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at www.facebook.com/JaredMovies.