Hugh Jackman has been the Wolverine for 17 years (!), and together with Patrick Stewart (Professor X) – who has been with him from the start – he is ready to say farewell to the character that is synonymous with his name. Logan is a bitter-sweet experience because as their coup de grâce, it is sad to see them go, but what a spectacular exit it is.
As someone who has never really been a fan of the X-Men movies, it has been impossible to discredit the immense achievement that is Hugh Jackman as Logan/the Wolverine. In a world in which Spider-Man has been rebooted with different actors three times in less than two decades, one cannot help but applaud Hugh Jackman’s dedication to his character, and let us not forget Patrick Stewart’s to Professor X. For me, it is Jackman and Stewart who function has the heart of these movies, and while I like X-Men: First Class a whole lot, the X-Men movies have never reached the heights of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies when talking about characters or story, or the colorful spectacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Luckily, Logan is a whole different beast.
Rated R, Logan is not your typical superhero movie, as director James Mangold utilizes this rating to its fullest potential, not limited to violence and language as was the case with last year’s Deadpool. The violence of Logan is brutal. It is not shy when it comes to the effects of Wolverine’s claws on the human body; dismemberment, skulls crushed, pools of blood, and torsos that remind one more of ground meat than human anatomy. The indestructible nature of adamantium is finally given the respect it deserves. It is unflinching, unadulterated violence made for adults.
Which does not necessarily make a good film on its own, and Mangold and his team understand this perfectly.
Logan presents us with characters and situations we know from previous movies, but with a much deeper pool of emotional resonance and personal growth. Set in 2029, mutants are either dead or gone. Logan and Charles Xavier remain, but they are shells of their former selfs. Logan, in a drunken haze, works as a limo driver who escorts the rich and carefree around the city as he tries to make enough money for another bottle of whiskey for himself and medicine for Charles, who is hidden in a dilapidated water tower across the Mexican border; old and senile, “a degenerative brain disease in the world’s most dangerous mind.” They are tired and bitter; angry at the world and each other and themselves. Logan is in a state of physical and spiritual decay as his powers weaken day by day in tandem with his ability to heal his body. It seems grim and without hope, as it seems Logan waits to be unburdened of Charles by his inevitable death. Enter a new mutant, Laura (played spectacularly by Dafne Keen), who is being hunted by a special ops force led by a man called Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). This young mutant who apparently shows up from outta nowhere forces our friends into action, as they must take her across the country to a supposed safe haven for mutants in North Dakota – Logan with embittered reluctance rooted in a lack of responsibility, and Charles with a new-found hope for a race thought extinct and gone.
The parallels to Children of Men and the video game The Last of Us are obvious: an old, apathetic drunkard is tasked with getting a young girl that represents hope for the human/mutant race to her destination. It is a narrative structure that lends itself wonderfully to themes of old versus new – the past versus the future – familial bonds and universal, and more importantly personal redemption. It becomes a road movie, the trio making their way across the country-sides of the United States; it becomes a (neo-noir) western through Logan’s personal journey across the sparseness of the countrysides they go by.
Logan’s decay and apathy to life is painful to witness; he carries with him an adamantium bullet with which he can take his own life, and he drinks himself to oblivion and puts his body through immense physical strain. Logan (or Wolverine) and mutants/superheroes as a whole has always been a representation of superficial societal masculinity – they fight, for themselves and others, they are gruff and distant, they drink and smoke, and their sexuality is rarely questioned. In Logan, he comes fixed with a different set of masculinity; his alcohol consumption is ugly and dangerous, more like the alcoholism of Bukowski than any we usually see in movies; he slaughters street-thugs for crossing his path in bloodbaths, and his gruff and grit is replaced by decay and torment. He slumbers through the movie, drenched in the colors of whiskey-stains, the weight of wounds and tears, and as much as he kills and decapitates, he is utterly defeated by himself. It is a take on masculinity rarely explored in blockbuster movies, and rarer still in comic book movies, and Mangold masters it.
Its successful subversion of masculinity is perhaps most indebted to Hugh Jackman. For 17 years he has been synonymous with the Wolverine; he is the Wolverine. It is a performance that has always been one of the few (mostly) consistently good things about the X-Men movies, from their traditional cartoony action characterizations, to the more personal accounts of his life in the Wolverine movies. Jackman has given it his all for this role and these movies and its fandom, and he deserves a lot of respect for that. It is also why Logan‘s approach to the character works so well. Jackman is understandably tired – not necessarily of the character and his world, but of keeping up the physique that comes with it every day for close to two decades. Jackman has expressed, explored and played with all kinds of masculinity throughout these years, and it is fitting that it ends in a confrontation of toxic masculinity. A confrontation not only of how masculinity pertains to comic book characters but also how it festers in the real world. It is a confrontation that only works because Logan understands the importance of nuance and evolution, and because underneath the toxic masculinity and apathy, there is heart; love and hope, not only for a better future, or the people closest to you, but for yourself. Logan becomes a profound farewell to the characters of Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, as it is not only a successful continuation and conclusion of the Wolverine and Professor X, because it dares to be a conclusion for Logan and Charles Xavier – it dares to be utterly personal; it dares to be utterly human.