Hmmm… so what would happen if The Coen Brothers, John Ford, Werner Herzog and … oh, let’s say... Clint Eastwood all got together in a room and decided to create a “superhero” movie? I’ll grant you a moment to recover from the cluster-mash of images that have certainly just exploded into your movie-loving imagination… Better now? I had never actually contemplated such a question myself, but after seeing Logan, I wonder if the result of that dream collaboration would not have looked something like this.
Hugh Jackman has spent almost eighteen years playing this character across nine movies, and doing it so effectively that the original comic-book version of the character as a five-foot, five-inch tall Canadian has been almost entirely forgotten. Some of the movies he’s been in have been less than stellar, but no one has ever accused Jackman of giving less than one hundred percent of himself every time he’s strapped on those CGI-created claws. You may not believe him when he says this is the last time he’ll play the character (speaking for myself, I am not completely convinced), but if this is to be his last outing as Wolverine, then we should all be glad that he saved the best for last.
The time is 2029, and director James Mangold (who also directed The Wolverine) shows us a time in which mutants have all but vanished from the face of the earth and no new ones are being born. Logan has outlasted all his friends save for a now-Alzheimer’s ridden Charles Xavier (once again played by Sir Patrick Stewart), and is now a limousine driver in El Paso. When Logan is not caring for the former Professor in their sorta-hideout across the border in Mexico, he often finds himself at the bottom of a bottle, a sad broken shell of a former hero.
That all must quickly fall by the wayside when Logan comes across Laura (played superbly by young newcomer Dafne Keen), a seemingly mute child on the run with her nurse and caretaker, Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez). Gabriella explains that corporate mercenaries known as the "Reavers" are hunting Laura, and gives Logan a sizeable sum of money to ferry them to "Eden," a safe haven near the Canadian border. Logan reluctantly agrees, but it doesn’t go according to plan, and he ends up with a surprise stowaway when he returns home.
Charles reveals he’s been communicating with Laura telepathically for some time, and that she is, in fact, a mutant. The Reavers, led by the cyborg Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), descend upon Logan and Charles' hideout to take Laura, and here the reason for her being hunted is revealed. What ensues is a film that is equal parts road trip and western, as our three heroes set out for “Eden,” and along the way, the truth of what has happened to mutants, the X-Men, and why Laura is on the run is revealed.
While the plot has some incredible revelations about the X-Men Movie “universe,” what drives this movie is character. Carrying the physical and emotional weight of a 200-something year-old man, Logan limps his way across the country, coughing and exhausted, slowly grinding into nothing. If not for the charges in his care, one would think Logan would like nothing else but to lie down in front of an oncoming train, but what Laura is (a human molded into weapon, not unlike Logan himself), and maybe more importantly WHO she is, gives the Wolverine one last purpose.
Of course, Jackman is once again iconic in this role, but let it be known that Dafne Keen is a showstealer here. Even in silence, she carries her character’s tragic history with her, eyes conveying years of horror and torture. When she finally does speak, it is powerful, yet incredibly charming. If you thought Arya Stark was a little Toughie, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet (even to the point Laura has her own list of names to recite, though in an entirely different context).
The rest of the cast is exceptional, too. Stewart is heartbreakingly good in the film, as dementia makes him both vulnerable and dangerous (his brain, which has the power to release psionic blasts paralyzing those anywhere near him, has been labeled a Weapon of Mass Destruction). Stephen Merchant is endearing as Caliban, an albino mutant who helps Logan care for the professor, and while none of the villains are given a robust characterization, they are all given enough moments to shine in their roles that they are not mere mustache-twirling caricatures.
Logan is a visceral tale of what happens when a man given too much time finally starts running out of it. It is an inspired, ambitious, and violent Neo-Western/ Superhero Chase film, leading me to think of David Mackenzie’s recent film Hell or High Water afterwards, with a couple of mutants thrown in there for good measure. Mangold’s story takes time to allow a few key sequences to really stretch out and breathe, which may lead some viewers to feel the movie to seem "long" at times, but I did not see it that way. On the contrary, the film’s two-hour, twenty-minute length gives us an opportunity to see so much more of these characters, their surroundings, and how they respond to them, and makes the violence that ends some of those moments all the more shocking.
The best mutant stories, both in the comics and on film, give insight into the nature of humanity, and Logan does this in spades. Time, mortality and legacy are all at the heart of this film, making it what I believe to be the strongest X-Men film to date. Surely Messrs. Coen, Ford, Herzog and/or Eastwood could not have done any better.