I never quite got the fascination with Wolverine. Don’t get me wrong, I love the character as much as the next guy, I just never got the obsession that Marvel, movie-goers and now Fox has had for everybody’s favorite Mutant brawler.
Among the X-Men, he’s far from the most interesting. He’s not an ideological stand-in like Xavier or Magneto. He’s not a natural badass like Storm or Gambit. He’s not fighting against his Mutant powers like Rogue or Beast. He’s a blunt instrument whose powers amount to “get beat up real good” and “beat the other guy up real good” with only just enough humanity rattling around in his adamantium-coated skull to keep him from going full beast-mode on everybody he comes across.
But for whatever reason, he’s become not just the face of the X-Men films, but of the comics, tv series and every other scrap of media with their name stamped across it. For better or for worse, Wolverine is the X-Men. And after playing the same character for damn near every film in the franchise, Hugh Jackman is Wolverine.
The serendipitous casting of a then-unknown Australian stage actor who was incidentally a near-perfect fit for this character right out of the gate, and then giving him almost twenty years to grow into and refine that character over the course of nine movies, is a genuinely once in a lifetime event, the likes of which will never happen again in any context. While my first X-Men was the 90’s cartoon, for nearly everybody younger than me that was the first X-Men, which introduced Jackman in what is undoubtedly his most singularly iconic role.
His amnesia and ambivalence towards the greater problems of mutantkind made him the perfect audience surrogate, while his uniquely single-minded power set made him perfect for throwing into show-stopping action scenes and for showing off the then-cutting-edge special effects director Bryan Singer had to play with. He was the bad boy who was too cool for school: the kind who would cut class to make out with your girlfriend under the bleachers.
His amnesia turned out to be the perfect narrative-driving device for the later movies. And his inherent agelessness made this exact version of this exact character work with every single movie in the franchise, regardless of timestamp, made him the Agent Coulson of the X-Men movies: the familiar face that strings all the disparate franchise elements together no matter how disconnected they might first appear on the surface.
And now, with Logan down for the count, we’ve seen our last of this Wolverine. While I don’t for one second think that this is the last time that we’ll see a hero adopting the mantle of the Wolverine for the big screen (have you seen Laura Kinney in this movie?), or even of the character of James Howlett, this is the last we’ll see of this particular take on this particular character with this particular actor.
The same goes for Patrick Stewart as Xavier. Both men have confessed to hanging up the tights and leaving their characters — or at least some approximation of them — to a younger generation of actors. In so many ways, this feels like the end of the X-Men movies, regardless of how many sequels they make for Deadpool or the main team in the future. And it’s a Hell of a note to go out on.
Logan is loose take on the 2008 story arc of the Wolverine comic series. In the near future, Mutantkind has all but been erased. No new mutants have been born in years and the last of the old guard is dying out. Xavier is wasting away from a degenerative brain disease while Logan dies of Adamantium poisoning. The same metal that coats his entire skeleton is slowly — painfully — killing him.
His healing factor has slowed to a crawl, barely keeping pace with the punishment he constantly subjects himself to. He’s claws now get stuck halfway out of his body and his hands ooze pus where they come out. He’s nearly gone blind and his eternal good looks have started to wrinkle and gray. This is a pale shade of the Wolverine we last saw in Apocalypse.
Although he splits his time between work as a low-rent limo driver and taking care of his incapacitated friend, he can’t seem to scrape the money together to get them out of the hollowed-out ruins of a deserted storage yard they’re forced to live in. But one day a woman comes to him, begging him to take Laura — a mutant with near-identical powers to his own — to a safe haven in Canada. Doing so, however, comes at a cost, forcing him to go on the run with the only man he still cares for and a girl he knows nothing about.
Logan is every inch the Wolverine movie that Fox should have made almost two decades ago: a hard-R action movie that revels in the two things its protagonist does well. We watch as our painfully aged hero cuts through and eviscerates every warm body he comes across, with a girl in tow who puts even his bloodlust to shame. They’re the best at what they do, and what they do isn’t very nice.
Every bloody-knuckled punch and drawn-out slash is unflinchingly rendered on screen, and it is spectacular to see. The iconic trailer for the movie set the frenetic, western-style shoot-outs and slow draws to Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” the camera panning over the old scars and fresh carnage carved into Logan’s body over countless decades of battlefields and bar brawls. And it delivers on that promise: an unrelenting onslaught of physical and emotional abuse that I personally wasn’t prepared for, no matter how many times I rewatched that trailer or read-up in preparation for it. Logan hurts.
It’s the kind of movie where you know from the start that nobody gets out alive. Sure, they put up a good fight along the way — they get in one last shot before the end — but they still end up six feet under along an ill-worn path. It’s obvious from the movie’s first drunken skirmish to its final eulogy, Laura quoting Shane from earlier in their journey: “There’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand sticks. There’s no going back. Now you run on home to your mother and tell her everything’s alright, and there aren’t any more guns in the valley.”
Up until this point, right at the end, I was fine. I was emotionally drained — blasted from the ordeal of over two hours of downbeat action — but I was fine. As Laura walked away from Logan’s grave, the makeshift cross looming tall against the path ahead, I knew I was going to make it.
But then she stops. She runs back to his grave, pulls the cross out of the ground, and rests it on its side, forming an X, before returning on the path ahead. And I just lost it.
I don’t know if Logan is the perfect X-Men movie, but it is unquestionably the perfect Wolverine one. It is the ideal note for the character, if not the entire franchise, to go out on. It’s the end of an era — and they absolutely nailed it.
Buy on BluRay: You bet your claws I will