Logan (James Mangold, 2017) 3 out of 4 stars
I will not lie: I have trouble keeping the chronology of all the various X-Men films straight. There have now been 9 previous entries in this Marvel franchise, many of which do not flow the one from the other in chronological order. There are also two separate sets of actors who play X-Men young and old, in two separate timelines. Always, however, there has been Logan, primarily known as Wolverine. He is one of only two characters to star in standalone adventures (and really, since Deadpool was never a part of the group films, he shouldn’t count), of which Logan, the latest, is the third. Conveniently for the fractured narrative structure of this universe, Wolverine never ages, and so Hugh Jackman (Prisoners) has played him in all the films, even where other actors play younger versions of previously encountered characters. Now, however, time is running out for this alloyed man, since the metal within him – adamantium – is poisoning him, and the mutant hunters who pursue his kind have managed to exterminate all but a tiny remnant of survivors. Is this the end?
Directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line), who also made the last Wolverine movie – entitled, simply, The Wolverine – the film has an appropriate world-weary feel (straight out of a line of X-Men comics that have imagined “Old Man Logan“), opening with a drunken Logan fighting off criminals who are attempting to jack his car. Though not what he once was, he’s still fairly indestructible, and makes relatively quick mincemeat of his opponents, leaving a few of their body parts behind, his claws as effective as ever. In the process, he, himself, takes a beating, and it’s clear that his body no longer heals itself as efficiently as before. Soon, however, he will have greater concerns than his own mortality, as the dusty Texas hideout in which he lives with Charles Xavier, also known as Professor X, is discovered by mercenaries intent on wiping out the last of his generation of mutants. And so off he and the nonagenarian former leader of the X-Men go, following a tip that somewhere, up North, there’s a place where mutants can be safe.
They are not alone, however. Before they flee, they are joined by a young mutant girl named Laura whose skills are suspiciously like Logan’s, claws and all. Who she is and where she comes from is at the heart of the story, motivating all that ensues. The year is 2029, and we learn that no new mutants have been born since 2003. And yet here she is, with others like her ostensibly waiting at the northern coordinates. Charles Xavier insists to the reluctant Logan that they take her, and that she must be protected at all costs (not that she seems to need that protection). For a while they form a relatively happy family of sorts, with Charles and Laura watching Shane, the classic 1953 Western, on a hotel television, Logan glowering in the background (to be fair, he’s never been a happy man). But the villains are persistent, and we know that an end-of-days final battle must lie ahead, at least for our titular hero. As grim as is this story, the presence of a next generation, waiting in the wings, at least lends hope that there is a future beyond destruction.
Mangold is a solid director, and Jackman turns in his usual intense and committed performance, always and forever more a brilliant Wolverine. The great Patrick Stewart (Green Room) is in fine form as Charles Xavier, and newcomer Dafne Keen, as Laura, more than holds her own. As a superhero thriller with a melancholy, metaphysical twist, Logan works quite well, with terrific action sequences and characters we care about. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay to ask too many questions about the story’s context, as there are many plot details that frustrate understanding, at least if one is trying to grasp how we got here, since the last X-Men film featuring some of these actors was X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which the mutants defeated those who would destroy them (X-Men: Apocalypse, which came out later, existed in an earlier timeline). Charles Xavier repeatedly refers to some disaster that “happened in Westchester,” whatever that means. Best not to wonder, then, and simply enjoy what is on this particular screen at this time, which is mostly very watchable, though the repeated use of Shane to explicate the not-so-subtext of the end of a way of a life is bit too on the nose. At over two hours, the movie drags a bit towards its finish, but still remains a strong tribute to Jackman as Logan, bidding him a fond farewell as he exits the series.