If I were a professor at an all-mutant school and the “X-Men” franchise were a mathematical equation with “X” being the constant and I asked you to solve for X, what would be the answer?
Why, Hugh Jackman, of course!
It was 17 years ago that the Australian actor defined his career as the immortal, mutton-chopped mutant known as Wolverine in Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.” Since then, he’s appeared in every single “X-Men” that has come along over the years. Don’t get me wrong, not all of them have been top notch movies (cough “X-Men Origins” cough) and his appearances have ranged from central to cameo (although, I think we can all agree that singular moment of profanity in “X-Men: First Class” was one of the best parts of the series), but Jackman is the only actor to accomplish such a feat — it’s almost like a superpower in and of itself if you think about it.
And so, after nearly two decades of playing such a pivotal comic book role that predates both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe, Jackman is hanging up his bloodied wife beater and closing the box of cigars that is this chapter of his acting career with “Logan” (premieres March 3), the swan song of a character who has endured for so long in the annals of history and on the silver screen. Of course, it takes that swan and beautifully slices it into several bloody pieces with adamantium-coated claws in a fittingly R-rated (thank you for making it happen, Deadpool!) send off that’s more funeral march than it is retirement party.
Taking inspiration from Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s eight-issue storyline “Wolverine: Old Man Logan” from 2008, “Logan” takes place in the near future (2029, to be exact) where tigers are extinct and mutants are going the same way. The future that’s depicted is believable without falling into idealistic hyperbole — a future that’s more dirty and alienating than it is wondrous. Think “Children of Men” meets “Looper,” with “Blade Runner” being an awkward third wheel.
In this future, the X-Men are no more (the original comics of their exploits exist, but are simply exaggerations of real-world events), Professor X (Patrick Stewart in a particularly vulnerable performance that would put James McAvoy to shame) is having horrible psychic seizures in a rusting Mexican hideout and Wolverine (aka James Howlett) is now making a living as a limo driver.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Gone are the noticeable trademarks of Jackman’s horn tipped-haired hero we’ve come to know and love over the years — Logan is a scruffy and gray-bearded husk of his former self. Oh, and did I mention that his healing factor isn’t working anymore?
The bullets don’t pop out of the skin like they used to and the claws can’t retract without fomenting a pus-filled infection (there’s an ED joke to be made here somewhere, but I’ll take the high road and abstain). He says it’s the adamantium poisoning his body, but I’d like to think he’s just tired of it all — the killing, the bloodshed, the tragic loss he’s seen over the course of his extended lifetime.
Before he and Xavier can retire to a simple life at sea, he takes on one more job; transporting a young girl named Laura (a mostly silent Dafne Keen) to a fabled mutant haven in the Dakotas.
Did I mention that she was born in a lab from his DNA? Yes, Laura (or X-23) is his daughter and the circumstances surrounding her upbringing are like something out of “The Boys From Brazil” and its setup was a quick, little you-already-left-the-theater-to-go-pee post-credits scene after this past summer’s “X-Men Apocalypse.” The threat in this movie is a little muddled, swapping out the main antagonist (a mechanical-armed Boyd Holbrook) halfway through, but it’s not really about the super villains anymore — this is the Wolverine Greatest Hits Tour 2017.
Don’t expect a fast-paced all action movie, but instead a thoughtful road trip filled with genuine tender moments (and some truly hilarious ones) that honor Jackman’s time as Wolverine while Logan struggles with this new challenge to his loner status. Can he learn to love again after Jean Grey? Whatever happened to her and the rest of the X-Men is vaguely hinted at, but exposition is not this movie’s strong suit, especially when it comes to introducing some new faces, mutant or otherwise. Throw in the fact that they’ve been tinkering with the timeline since “Days of Future Past” and there’s no wonder things are a tad confusing.
Nevertheless, “Logan” compensates for some of its more glaring faults with what we came to see: the leading man and the R-rated treatment this character truly deserves. Worry not, dear viewer, there are enough F-bombs, dismemberments, blood fountains and detailed decapitations to compensate for all the PG-13 violence of the last 17 years.
Indeed, “Logan” doesn’t hide behind the mystique (pun intended) of his X-Man moniker, Wolverine, like previous outings (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “The Wolverine”), but simply focuses on the man behind the immortality by using his biological surname. Director James Mangold (“3:10 To Yuma,” “Walk The Line,” “The Wolverine”) closes out the Wolverine trilogy and his actor’s tenure in the role by putting all the focus on Jackman, whose grizzled performance is one of poignant catharsis that explores a wide spectrum of emotions.
Is “Logan” the best superhero movie of 2017?
It’s too early to tell on that front, but I will say that it will probably be the most mature and for a good reason. If the “Guardians of the Galaxy” (their sequel coming out in May) are the neighborhood kids playing stickball outside, then Wolverine is the crotchety old man telling them to get off his lawn and would they please turn down that confangled rock and roll music? He didn’t survive for nearly 200 years by being foolhardy, you know.
While we’re all sad to see Hugh Jackman vacate his most iconic role, there can be some solace in the fact that much like the character of Logan himself, Jackman’s performance will live on forever in our hearts, our minds and the history of cinema.