This summer marks 17 years since the original X-Men was released and kicked off the comic book movie genre as we know it today. The cast was jam-packed with star talent but the most popular character, Wolverine, was going to be played by an unknown Aussie by the name of Hugh Jackman. It was risky to not go with an established name to carry the lead role of the franchise, but it was a risk that paid off in an incredible way.
Hugh Jackman truly embraced the role and ended up becoming an Oscar-nominated leading man outside of the X-Men universe as well. X-Men, X2: X-Men United, & X-Men: The Last Stand were all financially successful, and though the series had ups and downs, Jackman’s Wolverine was never the reason for complaints.
Following the end of the X-Men trilogy, a different direction was needed but there was much debate as to what that direction was to be. Two films were announced and were to appear under the title X-Men Origins; with the focal characters being Wolverine and the villainous Magneto. Wolverine’s solo outing should have been a sure thing, but the movie ended up failing on multiple fronts. There was plenty of negativity following the second consecutive underwhelming entry in the franchise, including scrapping the Magneto movie, but I’d rather look at the two positives that arose.
First was a much-needed shift in tone. Matthew Vaughn was brought in to reboot the series with the under-appreciated X-Men: First Class. Wolverine sat out that entry except for a fantastic little cameo. The second positive consequence of Origins was coming to the realization that, when it came to Wolverine as a solo act, an abundance of mutants weren’t necessary.
2013’s The Wolverine was a vast improvement on Origins in all areas. The story was engaging and the action felt far more intense than in previous films. There was also an R-rated version released on Blu-ray. Following two more appearances, three if you count excessive magazine pictures in Deadpool, Hugh Jackman decided he wanted to hang up the claws and retire from the character after one more solo adventure. Thanks to Deadpool making an obscene, no pun, amount of money at the box office, Wolverine’s final outing was also given the green light to have a hard R rating. Due to that decision, we now have Logan, the best comic book movie since The Dark Knight.
Logan begins in the not too distant future in a world that’s free of mutants beyond Wolverine and a slightly senile Charles Xavier. Both characters are far removed from the days of battling with Magneto. Charles is a shell of himself and requires near constant care from Logan. As for our titular hero, he’s now driving a limo when sober or not occupied with acquiring medicine for Charles. They’re both defeated men, Logan in spirit and Charles in body, but the bond between them is strong and they are able to survive off the strength of that.
At the heart of Logan lies a story of redemption for Charles and Logan having done both great and terrible things before slipping into obscurity. The arrival of a new mutant, a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), gives our weary heroes something they haven’t had for what appears to be a very long time- a task. Charles’ enthusiasm is matched equally with Logan’s hesitation as the three take off on the most hellacious road trip since Mad Max: Fury Road.
Throughout a majority of Logan, it is easy to forget that you are watching a superhero movie. The direction and cinematography are top notch in creating a world that feels futuristic and nostalgic at the same time. It’s almost easy to picture Logan as a reluctant gunslinger stalking the same lands 200 years prior; forever a creature seeking solitude and finding bloodshed. That is certainly the case in Logan, as blood is shed early and blood is shed often.
The violence throughout the movie is frantic and intense. At one point I laughed while thinking how much (traditional) Batman would disapprove of Wolverine’s frequently fatal tactics. Laura also manages to rival Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass in sheer carnage delivered by a young girl on screen. As extreme as the violence may be, it always feels organic within the story being told. That’s a huge compliment to director James Mangold. Under different leadership, an R-rated Wolverine could have easily spiraled into Punisher: War Zone level of nonsense. Instead, we have a poignant and surprising film that never veers off course.
Logan is the type of film that stays with you long after the credits roll. It’s a moving and thought-provoking farewell to two of the most popular characters in modern movies. I certainly don’t envy whoever will be in charge of the inevitable recasting of the role of Wolverine, but for now let’s just sit back and admire the tremendous efforts of both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. After 17 long years, the X-Men franchise finally has an entry worthy of being called a classic, and the comic book genre should have its first Best Picture nominee.