After 17 years, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are saying goodbye to the “X-Men” roles of Wolverine and Professor Charles Xavier, respectively. And I truly believe that this is it for them. At first I was skeptical. “Even if both characters die, they can do some hocus-pocus resurrection.” “The franchise is non-linear, so they can come back for some in-between films.” Those are both valid theories, but they don’t take into account that “Logan” is such a perfect end note that I don’t see the actors treating it as anything other than a grand finale.
The film takes place a while after “Days of Future Past.” Apparently the happy ending of that one was short-lived. Logan (a moniker, though not the given name, of Wolverine) is the last survivor of the X-Men after an unspecified catastrophe caused by an unhinged Xavier years before (which brings to mind “Manchester by the Sea,” of all things). He and remaining mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) take care of the aged professor at a discreet location in Mexico, while he makes a paltry living as a limo driver and spends his money on painkillers, as his Adamantium-based immortality is starting to wear off.
Things are disrupted when Logan is tasked with taking a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to a safe zone in Canada. Evil cyborg Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) wants to find the girl first; he works for villainous mutant-harnesser Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), who has a Wolverine clone in his arsenal. The villains are actually the weakest thing about this movie; Pierce is foiled at almost every turn, Rice is too non-threatening, and the Wolverine clone is the kind of “met his match” gimmick that’s been done to death in this franchise.
Pierce and his men lay siege to the compound containing Xavier, so Logan is forced to take him on the journey with Laura. It sounds crazy that the ending to “X-Men” as we know it is a Wolverine/Professor X/child road trip movie, but it’s pulled off magnificently. There’s a stop at a casino and a stop with a farming family, and along the way, the trio has great chemistry. The smaller scale really helps us understand these characters better than we ever have before (that is except for Laura, who we’re just meeting for the first time, but Keen more than holds her own with the veterans). This is the first time I’ve been able to fully appreciate them as human beings and not as live-action versions of toys and cartoons.
Speaking of the characters not seeming like toys and cartoons, this is not a movie for kids. It’s rated R, and not just because of one or two choice scenes like that idiotic “Killing Joke” movie. It’s much more akin to say, “Deadpool.” I was worried about that film kicking off an era of gratuitous violence and needless profanity in comic book movies going for lazy shock value, but this film isn’t lazy about anything. It’s no surprise by now that Logan uses salty language (remember his “First Class” cameo?) and Charles sounds like it’s been part of his vocabulary this whole time. As for the violence, the main character’s most notable attribute is that he has huge knives coming out of his knuckles. How was he anything but R-rated in the first place?
“Logan” falters a bit around the 75%-95% mark when we’re suddenly introduced to a bunch of undeveloped new characters and the film has to rely on its less-than-impressive conflict with the villains. But what led up to it was acting at its finest and what comes after it is… heartbreaking. Tears and X-Men shouldn’t go together, but it’ll come as no surprise, as the film has already defied what you can expect from a comic book movie. I was never really onboard with that 11th-hour Oscar campaign for “Deadpool,” but if the studio does that with “Logan,” it might be onto something.