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Appearing in nine films over seventeen years, perhaps no actor today is as well identified with a signature role as Hugh Jackman is with that of Logan, aka Wolverine. Jackman went from relative obscurity to movie stardom when he landed the role for 2000’s “X-Men” and he’s formed the centre of the X-Men movie universe ever since. Logan is said to be Jackman’s final outing in the role that made him famous, and as swan songs go, it’s a brilliant one. The actor gives one of the best performances of his career in this stripped-down, violent neo-western that is crossed with comic book action. And yet, the film is also nuanced and thoughtful and downright bleak, telling a personal, small-scale story that achieves its impact due to our connection with its character’s personal journeys rather than a world-ending apocalypse.
In fact, as the film opens, the apocalypse might have come and gone. Set in the near future of 2029, Logan begins with its title character living on the margins, scratching out a living as a limo driver, body essentially shutting down from a healing factor that seems to be succumbing to age and decades of punishment. Mutants are gone, America seems to have totally retreated into decadent isolation and decline, and Logan is simply trying to scrape together enough cash to buy a boat and escape the world. But he is not alone. He’s also taking care of an ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, like Jackman giving a defining turn in a signature role), suffering from some kind of degenerative brain illness. Together, the two broken men are just trying to make it to the finish line. But a mysterious young girl who is being hunted by a sinister corporation serves to pull the reluctant Logan back into the world, and back into the business of protecting those who can’t protect themselves.
Logan benefits hugely from a script that keeps its focus tightly on Logan, Charles, young Laura (Dafne Keen, in a great debut) and their journey together. It’s basically a dystopian road movie punctuated by bursts of very bloody and well-choreographed violence, heavily influenced by both Westerns and by post-apocalyptic thrillers such as “Mad Max” or “The Road.” James Mangold, who directed 2013’s “The Wolverine”, has always been an interesting director who I thought deserved more attention than he has gotten. With this film, Mangold serves up his best work since “Walk the Line.” Mangold and the writers know that Jackman’s enthusiasm and commitment to the role is what people come to see, and they don’t try to divert our attention from that with climatic bells and whistles. Instead, Mangold gives us a more intimate, nuanced and decidedly grown-up interpretation of the character and his world than we’ve seen before, complete with R-rated violence and language that provide the proceedings with a more visceral, relatable impact. The film never quite forgets that it’s a super-hero action film, but it also knows that the action should spring from the characters and their needs, and therefore the battles all have intensely personal stakes which allows every gory slugfest to feel earned and organic rather than rote.
There’s no denying that the film hits a few speed bumps in its final act, and features one or two plot threads that aren’t really well-defined, particularly an element dealing with genetically modified food that never quite clicks. And despite the skill with which the action is handled, the fights start to lose just a touch of their energy before its end. But in the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t really matter. With a trio of superb performances at its heart, and the intensity and complexity with which the film confronts its characters and their relationships, Logan winds up being a thrilling, singular movie in the annals of comic book films. And when watching Jackman play this indelible role one last time, one can’t help but think that Wolverine’s signature comic book quote, “I’m the best there is at what I do, but what I do best isn’t very nice,” applies to the actor as well. Certainly, when it come to playing Logan, Jackman was the best there is, and his interpretation of the character will most definitely be missed. 9.5/10