THIS is the Wolverine movie everyone’s been waiting for the past seventeen years. Loosely based on the Old Man Logan comic books, it is a no-holds-barred, no quarter given exhibition of brutality, packed with violent hand-to-hand combat that has more impaled heads than Vlad’s castle moat. The setting is 2029, and life goes on as it always has for most Americans. Though not for mutants, who have been brought to the brink of extinction by a virus designed to suppress the X gene that is distributed through food and drink. Logan, the most hard-wearing and stubborn of them all, cares for an aging Charles Xavier, whose fraying senility is the cause of violent psionic seizures, along with Caliban, an albino mutant who can detect and track other mutants. They huddle together in secrecy in a foundry in Mexico, hiding from the corporations that would seek to end them and use their genes for a new generation of super soldiers.
Logan is old. His healing isn’t what it used to, due to a combination of his extreme age (bordering on 145 years old), and the many near-death experiences and thousands of injuries experienced throughout his career. The adamantium that makes him nigh-invulnerable has also begun to poison and hurt him from the inside, and he turns to liquid medication to stave off the pain. The future is bleak and hopeless, a staple of the X-Men mythos in many of its stories, and it seems as though the last of the X-Men will die alone in obscurity, with no-one left to save or protect, and not a single person to remember their impact upon the world.
Until the introduction of eleven year old Laura, who is an escapee of an experiment in breeding mutant children to become super soldiers. A reluctant and irascible Logan tries many times to refuse to escort her to North Dakota, until an immediate threat to his friends and the pleading of Professor X win over his emotional side, the part of him that remembers he was once a hero. Jackman plays this part as if it were more comfortable to him that his favourite t-shirt. In every scene we feel his loss, the aches in his bones, and the desire to find a quiet spot and lay down to die, something that his own biology has been fighting against his entire long life. His reluctance is what makes Wolverine an interesting anti-hero. At times he would rather everyone sort their own shit out, and leave him in peace. But when his friends or the helpless are threatened, he will always be there with a primal scream to defend them at any cost.
The sheer level of brutal violence in this movie is astounding. To even get this film funded, Jackman took a pay cut so he could create the vision of a Wolverine movie that he and director James Mangold envisioned. The payoff is huge, with intensely visceral and impactful fights that make you wince and crawl in your seat. There are no grand duels between overpowered mutants here, no fireworks or special effects. Just a bunch of huge, cybernetically enhanced dudes getting torn apart by old man Logan as they try and fill him full of lead. This is a bleak Western, a gunslinger movie where the cowboy has only adamantium claws and a savage strength and resilience. Like in the western Shane, there are “no more guns in the valley.” I for one was glad that Magneto didn’t make his usual appearance to hamstring Logan, throwing him around like a puppet while he smiles smugly through his Charles-blocking helmet.
It is beyond heartbreaking to see a man such as Charles Xavier, champion for peace between human and mutant, and the Martin Luther King of mutant-kind, descend into dementia and obscurity. Though through all this he maintains a sense of humour with his sharp and sometimes crude interactions with Logan, his longtime friend and often wayward student, which are touching to watch. The intense pain and grief he must feel in his lucid moments would match or outpace that of Logan, having seen and met hundreds of mutants, and taught many, that are now dead or long gone. However the old spark burns in his eyes when Laura comes into the picture, as he has another pupil after all this time, someone to protect and guide alongside Logan. Patrick Stewart plays the role as well as Jackman plays his own, and this will be a fitting end to both of their screen appearances in the X-Men universe.
The core of this film examines the relationship between Logan and Laura, who is closely similar to him in many ways. They are both orphans in the world, struggling through life, and finding it difficult to love or trust anyone they come across. It is the gradual erosion of this barrier through fights and arguments and the observation of families that have their own genuine love and trust for one another that they both overcome their emotional walls. It is a film in many ways about letting go, the transition of the old to the new, and the hopeful swing of the pendulum back from the brink of a world run by evil men toward a future that may be brighter than it once was, when a group of mutants known as the X-Men protected a world full of people that hated them for the good of all mankind.
This film reminded me in a lot of ways of True Grit, one of my favourite Cohen brothers movies, which also features a reluctant, grumpy old drunkard who has lost his lust for life, and a spirited young girl who can protect herself and will not take no for an answer. Like True Grit, Logan is an oft-violent western, and like True Grit, Logan has a lot of heart and soul to it that is made what it is by the interactions and relationships of the main characters. In my mind it is the most well-written of any of the X-Men movies, which I’ve watched since I was a young boy, and it brought with it intense feelings of nostalgia, and the rounding out of the Logan story is an exercise in catharsis. Logan may be finished for now onscreen, but he will survive in our hearts, as a stubborn self-healing mass of scar tissue. Happy trails, bub.