There is a strange paradox within Logan, Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine. Logan is a movie that doesn’t require any previous knowledge of the 9 film franchise, in which Jackman has appeared as Wolverine in each. (Not counting the only loosely connected Deadpool) But it also a movie that doesn’t really work with affection built up over the course of the seventeen years that he has been playing the character, or with Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier. This is a movie built to be its own thing, but also a movie built up to be a well-earned farewell.
It is hard to overstate how strong the opening of this movie it. It sets the X-Men, reduced to just Wolverine and Professor X, along with a fore hire Caliban as the aged Xavier’s live in nurse, in their bleakest setting yet. Yes, even more bleak than Days of Future Past’s nigh apocalypse. Here, mutants have been all but wiped off the map. Logan makes his living driving a limo, while Professor X remains locked in a fallen water tower suffering from Alzheimer’s. Logan is also worse for wear; he doesn’t heal like he used to and can’t even get his claws to pop properly. Viewers have grown to love these actors in these roles, but here they have found an enemy they can never defeat: time. When a mysterious nurse and tough guy Donald Pierce show up, Logan and Xavier are pulled into taking a young girl across the country to an Eden that may or may not exist.
Jackman gives probably his best performance as the aged Logan. Every movement hurts him and his memories haunt him. It is clear watching him that this is a man for whom every day is pain. Stewart has always been good as Professor X, even when he hasn’t had much to do. Here he plays Xavier as physically and mentally decrepit. It is heartbreakingly believable. There are some great newcomers to the franchise as well. Dafne Keen as Laura is really good. She is feral and believably dangerous despite her small stature. And Boyd Holbrook is a delight as the menacing and faux amiable Donald Pierce.
Its action scenes, again especially the early ones, are really good. There is a car chase that has shades of Mad Max: Fury Road and some absurdly violent fight scenes with Logan and Laura. This is the first Wolverine movie that really centers on the violence and more realistic mechanics of a man who fights with super sharp blades on his hands. It is undeniably gruesome, but also completely in keeping with the rest of the film. Logan is well shot all around, with clear action and some gorgeous shots.
Where the movie fails is in the second half, where it tries to take its themes to their conclusion. Leaving aside the effective but just short of laughably last scene, the movie doesn’t move smoothly from its start to its conclusion. I can’t say what Logan or Laura has learned or how they have changed from start to finish. The movie constantly evokes the classic Western Shane, but the themes of Shane don’t really fit with the themes of Logan. That movie ends with Shane — likely dying from a gunshot — leaving the idyllic valley because his guns have no place there. That is not the ending this movie finds. There are a few scenes where the mutants form something of a family, but the relationship between Logan and Laura never really changes after he truly meets her. Instead of developing promising villains, Pierce is completely sidelined.
I am happy that a superhero movie is dark and serious, but the catch with being serious is that is runs the risk of people taking you seriously. For all that Logan deals with serious, interesting subjects, it still falls back on genre clichés at the end. It may want to evoke themes similar to those in films like Shane, but it doesn’t have the thematic death. Logan is undeniably well made, but all it has to offer is pain and suffering.