(some spoilers here for a great movie that you should just go see regardless of what I say)
“I’m not sure how this was accomplished exactly,” I wrote at the time. “Maybe this is a computer generated renderation of a young Clint… Maybe it is Clint under a lot of makeup to make him look more like he did in his Thunderbolt days. Maybe it is a son of Clint’s, much like Chad McQueen but keeping more in the true spirit of his father than Chad does. Or hell, maybe it’s just some dude named Hugh Jackman who looks a lot like Clint Eastwood.”
These days I lean toward the third one, and maybe the resemblance is harder to see now that Jackman is such a star in his own right and has done plenty of roles where he’s not scowling. But man, he elevated the world of that movie by squinting at it with that Clint attitude, and he was even introduced as a bare knuckle brawler like Philo Beddoe minus the orangutan. It didn’t feel like a guy self-consciously imitating a Clint-like persona, either. It was a genuine badass presence and charisma that I still believe birthed the entire modern era of comic book movie mania, for good or bad. Because without Jackman as Wolverine I don’t think X-MEN would’ve caught on and if X-MEN didn’t catch on I don’t think the Marvel movies would’ve gotten off the ground and we’d all be going to conventions dressing up as characters from serious adult dramas. (I can’t decide if I’m going as BRIDGE OF SPIES this year or one of the ACLU lawyers from LOVING.)
So it’s fitting and poetic and beautiful that 17 damn years later (!) Jackman’s ninth and intended-as-final movie as Wolverine reminds me more of a straight up Eastwood vehicle than an X-MEN movie. Like Clint in THE GAUNTLET or PINK CADILLAC he takes a job transporting and protecting someone across the country while being chased by people trying to kill her, and he’s not nice to her at first but she eventually cuts through his grouchy exterior.
Like UNFORGIVEN he’s retired from the (in this case super-heroing) business, haunted by legends of his past and guilt about the violence he committed. Like IN THE LINE OF FIRE or BLOOD WORK he’s aging and washed up. His healing powers don’t always work, and in one scene he has a claw that won’t come out all the way until he pulls it out by hand. In the opening he’s drunk and gets beat up while working in a humiliating job as a limo driver. I’m sure somebody has a good story about the time Wolverine from the X-Men was their limo driver. This was a brilliant job for him to end up in because 1) it’s shocking to see Wolverine as a servant to drunk teens in prom dresses and 2) it’s an excuse to put him in a suit jacket and bloody white dress shirt for part of the movie.
As shitty as the job is, his time off is worse – he goes over the border to a tipped over silo where he and an albino mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant, creator of The Office) are hiding 90-something-year-old Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, LIFEFORCE). They take turns listening to his confused blather and giving him shots to stave off seizures that could kill everybody in the area. Some kind of accident like that is what turned him into a fugitive in the first place. In all the years of exploring and deconstructing super heroes that’s a concept I’ve never thought of before: the potential dangers of people with super powers aging and losing control of their bodies.
It’s 2029, by the way. The world doesn’t look totally different, nor do cell phones, but shit is bad. Most or all of his cool friends from the other movies are dead, no mutants have been born in 25 years, and Logan doesn’t take it seriously when Charles claims to be in communication with a new one. Until around the time he sees her holding a severed head. Her name is Laura (Dafne Keen), she’s 11 years old, she doesn’t talk but she has claws and healing powers like his and is very, very good at killing people who come after her.
Comforting revelation about 2029: Somebody references Freddy Krueger. The ELM STREET films have not been forgotten.
The Mexican nurse (Elizabeth Rodriguez, FRESH, THE DROP) taking care of Laura has tracked down “The Wolverine” saying he’s the only one who can help. She and some other young mutants have escaped from captivity and people are trying to killing them. So very reluctantly, after a few rejections, Logan gets involved in this quest to deliver the little mutant asskicker to a place called Eden in North Dakota where supposedly the other young mutants can be together and get across the border to Canada where they’ll be safe.
See, Laura and her friends are the new type of mutants, made in a lab in Mexico by the same dicks that wiped out the old type. Like him in his Weapon X days, these kids are created to be weapons, not people. They’re made from the DNA of natural born mutants, and it doesn’t take long for Logan to figure out where Laura came from.
The bad guys are a sort of corporate militarized police force, macho SWAT type guys covered in their layers of armor and guns and scarves and shit, looking way more real-life-mercenary than sci-fi, except for the occasional robot hand. They’re led by cocky Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES), who reminds me of a villain who would be on Justified. He shows up in Logan’s limo to threaten him in a quasi-friendly talk, then says “Big fan, by the way.” So this is the guy that’s gonna be chasing Logan with a caravan of SUVs, a squad of drones, and a secret weapon somewhat reminiscent of the works of John Hyams. (Also I guess Daniel Bernhardt from the BLOODSPORT sequels is on the team, but I didn’t notice.)
These are the Deportation Force. Er, I mean the Reavers I guess they’re called. I remember talking about the Patriot Act in my review of X2, and all these years later here’s a movie making me think of Trump’s inhumane attacks on Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants and refugees. Mistreated Mexican immigrants in trouble at the border, later becoming refugees fleeing for safety in Canada, mutants officially unwelcome on American soil, depending on the kindness or looking-the-other-way of sympathetic citizens. Pierce is a piece of shit but probly believes he’s just doing his job. He’s not being ironic when he calls his side “the good guys,” deriding Caliban for switching sides – i.e. finding a conscience – after helping track down his fellow mutants during the big purge. Not that he’d necessarily care, but I doubt he thinks of himself as somebody participating in a genocide. He’s just looking for a win. And who knows, maybe he’d have a nicer job if there were more available. Like if the delivery trucks weren’t automated.
Along the way there’s a ton of good action. In case somebody is still bothered that Wolverine never got to stab motherfuckers very graphically before, he makes up for all nine PG-13 movies and some change. There are heads and arms chopped off, claws going all the way through a head and into a wall, etc. There’s a great getaway scene that to me seemed stylistically influenced by FURY ROAD, and it has some cool shit in it. I can’t think of another movie where they try the traditional bust-through-the-chain-link-fence maneuver and they get stuck and have to back up and try something else. While dragging a barb-wire-covered section of fence.
And there’s a big scene unlike any other I can think of, where Xavier is surrounded by gunmen and has a psychic seizure that puts everyone for blocks into a sort of vibrating, ear-ringing paralysis. It’s like everybody is standing still underwater during an earthquake. Logan, with his Wolverine strength, struggles against this force like a man trying to walk through a tornado, fighting his way through a casino and into the motel room to kill the attackers before they can manage to pull their triggers. It’s gotta be the most unusual concept for an action scene since INCEPTION.
There’s this thing I’ve written about before, I still haven’t figured out a name for it, but it’s one of the rarest and most desirable types of moments to have in an action film: when an action climax and an emotional climax happen at the same time. I think the first time I noticed it was in MY FATHER IS A HERO, and there’s a very similar one here. When (SPOILER) jacked-up-on-drugs Wolverine hauls ass through the forest and catches up to the assholes attacking the kids it’s the beginning of the type of big, brutal fight the X-MEN films were always hinting at, but also you see on Laura’s face the realization that Logan does care about her after all. So it’s simultaneous action adrenaline and heart-string pull. The ultimate action movie high.
Because truly, sincerely, this is a character drama. In part it’s about Logan’s relationship with Xavier, who annoys him but also gives him advice. At one point he pretends Charles is his dad, “Chuck,” and it’s not a total lie. He gets mad at him and they butt heads over their differing attitudes, but also Logan is still learning from the Professor and loves him like a father.
And more than that, of course, it’s about what Logan learns from this girl, who as a clone is his daughter, but also is his younger self, a do-over. Xavier says she could potentially be “better” than him, whatever that means. She’s got his animalistic side – doesn’t talk, doesn’t know not to steal or fight, can and often does brutally stab dudes to death, and I mean probly upwards of two dozen stabs on some of them. But also she has an optimism that Logan rarely had in his centuries of living. She insists on traveling to this Eden that he doesn’t believe in, she needs her friends, and she (like Xavier) has a belief in helping people that he gave up a long time ago.
(By the way there’s one major thing I think I was misreading, but it was cool while it lasted. I really thought they were implying that Laura had some Jean Grey DNA in her too. When Xavier asks “Does she remind you of anybody?” of course he means Wolverine because of her claws, but as soon as he said it I thought “Holy shit, she really does look like Jean Grey.” That would explain why she was the only one who could communicate with Xavier while he was in the silo. And later Xavier says something about her being made from Logan’s DNA and I thought Logan said something about not being the only one which I took to mean that he suspected she had inherited things from other mutants too. And if that were the case it would be so bittersweet because he never got to have the relationship he wanted with Jean and now he would sort of have a child with her long after the fact. But when he sees Laura’s file it reveals no such thing, and there’s no telepathic pay off either, so I’ll chalk those things up to coincidences and misunderstandings on my part. THIS IS NOT A FAN THEORY.)
In the great modern action tradition it’s in the great western tradition, right down to the imagery: trails of dust clouds from dirt roads, camping out on cliffs, scanning the landscape with a telescope looking for trackers, a train, even horses. Logan is the wanderer who tries to help people in need, but death follows him wherever he goes. The nod to the genre becomes explicit in a great scene where Xavier watches SHANE with Laura in the motel and is excited to share it with her, telling her what an important movie it is, when he first saw it and in what theater. He would be so happy to know that she memorizes a speech from it and recites it later!
Actually, I think this a better western than director James Mangold’s own 3:10 TO YUMA. He did a fine job with Logan’s 2013 adventure in Japan, THE WOLVERINE, but this is an even stronger, more thoughtful, and much more emotional story. I also think it’s cool that Mangold directed WALK THE LINE and then used great Rick Rubin-era Johnny Cash songs for the trailer and end credits of this one.
The script is by Mangold & Scott Frank (OUT OF SIGHT, THE LOOKOUT) along with Michael Green (who wrote GREEN LANTERN, but hopefully this is more representative of his work since they got him writing both ALIEN: COVENANT and BLADE RUNNER 2049). It’s really smart, full of implication and ambiguity, never over-explanatory, never too obvious, smoothly establishing details that will be important shortly thereafter (that there’s a train nearby, that Wolverine can withstand Xavier’s seizures better than others).
I love most of the X-MEN movies, and over the years I’ve enjoyed the way they set things up for future installments, leave you wondering about things and have cliffhangers during the credits and stuff, techniques they developed before the separate Marvel Cinematic Universe existed. I remember the excited chatter in the theater after the Dark-Phoenix-hinting X2 ending, and my relief that the end of X3 implied that Magneto and maybe my favorite character Mystique might be able to get their powers back. Also I remember trying to explain to people that if they’d stayed until after the credits they’d know that Xavier was still alive but transferred his consciousness into somebody else’s body, or something. It was fun.
But in the current landscape where that type of serial storytelling is common, it’s a thrill to see this last and best chapter of Wolverine’s story confidently striding in with a sense of finality. Yes, it points backwards a little bit (a great reference to part 1’s Statue of Liberty finale, a samurai sword from THE WOLVERINE hanging on the wall, a wistful look as he sees his old friend Rogue on the cover of a comic book), but it’s not leaving anybody hanging from cliffs. It gives a perfect and definitive ending to the story.
(It’s funny though, a big portion of the crowd stayed through the credits and expressed surprise when there wasn’t a tag of any kind. I don’t think you guys understand…)
This is not just a good one, this is something special. For me I’m pretty sure it’s in the top five super hero movies with DARK KNIGHT and BLADE. Honestly it’s kinda like they made it just for my tastes. But everybody else seems to love it too, so you’re welcome. I’m happy to share it with you.
It’s a great and pure badass movie with elements of comic book movie. It has grit and muscle and the strongest muscle is the heart. When I keep thinking back to what I loved in LOGAN it’s not all the “cool” stuff that comes to mind first. It’s the made-me-tear-up-beautiful final shot. And then it’s a scene where Logan finally, briefly opens up to Laura, confesses something that was obvious to us but that he’d probly never said out loud before, and she immediately shows that she gets it, that she’s been there, that he really isn’t alone anymore. God damn, this is what I go to movies for, this potent blend of the awesome and the human. Come for the SNIKT!, stay for the awwwwww.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.