For 17 years, Hugh Jackman has been donning adamantium claws and lots of facial hair to portray Wolverine, perhaps the most famous of all the X-Men. And now, in his final go-round, Jackman plays the brooding mutant as a man on the downward slope of life, a bitter and defeated hero.
Related: More movie reviews from Tom Tangney
What should be an interesting and thoughtful take on the decline of a superhero instead becomes a grim and violent film that takes itself far too seriously.
It’s the year 2029, and Logan (Wolverine) is scraping by as a hired driver and heavy drinker. He’s lost track of his persecuted X-Men colleagues. His mentor, the now 90-year-old Professor X (aka Charles Xavier) suffers from life-threatening seizures and dementia and has gone into hiding. Logan secretly cares for him with black market drugs and bemoans what has happened to both of them.
“Logan, what did you do?” Charles asks him.
“Charles, the world is not the same as it was. Mutants — they’re gone now,” Logan responds.
The mutants are a dying breed, or so the world thinks until an 11-year-old girl named Laura shows up with adamantium claws just like Logan’s.
Like lots of middle-aged people in real life, Logan eventually finds himself juggling responsibilities for an aging parent-type and a demanding child. Life gets even more complicated when they have to go on the run to escape a mad scientist and his goons.
In a bit of self-reflexive irony, the movie makes little Laura a big comic book fan who just happens to have read all the X-men comics. Logan (Wolverine) is not amused by her reading material.
“We got ourselves an X-Men fan,” Logan says, holding up a comic titled. “In the real world, people die.”
And maybe that’s precisely the problem with “Logan,” the first R-rated X-Men movie. It’s as if director James Mangold is so insistent on establishing that this world he’s created is not the fantasy world of comic books, that he goes out of his way to have people die, and in the most violent ways possible. That’s not hard to pull off when your superhero mutant has blades for fists.
In the opening scene alone Logan single-handedly slices and dices the faces, throats, legs and skulls of an entire gang of tough guys. He eventually mutilates dozens upon dozens of baddies.
And the pile-up of dead bodies is not limited to just the bad guys. Plenty of big-hearted, innocent bystanders also come face to face with a grisly demise. And if that’s not enough blood and guts for you, Mangold has our pre-teen heroine join in the mayhem full-throttle. There’s nothing quite like seeing a petite 11-year-old girl decapitate a grown man. And she does much much more than that.
It’s not as if the film doesn’t contextualize most of this bloodshed. Laura’s backstory can justify a lot of the ultra-violence. And the film valiantly tries to deal with bigger themes than your average Marvel comic book movie usually tackles, however clunkily it goes about it. Mortality, family, life, and love.
“This is what life looks like: people who love each other, a home. You should take a moment, feel it. You still have time,” Charles Xavier says.
But “Logan,” despite its best efforts, ultimately fails to attain a thematic resonance much beyond its predecessors. This is not what life looks like. It exults too much in its own bloodshed for its message of humanity to ring true.