Nine movie roles, out of which one is a cameo. Wolverine/Logan/James Howlett has come a long way. Wolverine made his first full appearance in the comic book in 1974, but the Marvel movieverse saw him on screen first in 2000 – X-Men (directed by Bryan Singer).
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, with his “uncharted regenerative capabilities” as Jean Grey describes him in the 2000 movie, has been a constant in all the X-Men flicks – X2 (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), the cameo in X-Men: First Class (2011), The Wolverine (2013), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) and now, finally Logan.
That time, this guy
The Logan you now see in James Mangold's movie is old and greying, his scars are showing, the adamantine is poisoning his blood and he really can't wait to die. He carries an adamantine bullet around with him, he'd much rather end this than take out his claws – it hurts much more than they used to. Flashback to 2000 again as a reminder:
“Rogue: When they (the claws) come out.... does it hurt?
Wolverine: Every time.”
It is 2029 and Logan is hiding out with Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and another mutant called Caliban (Stephan Merchant) near the Mexico border. Logan now works as a chauffeur who hustles for prescription drugs for Xavier. While it is not explicit, it is understood that the seizures that Xavier is now afflicted with killed off a lot of the mutants around him. Xavier is also gradually 'losing it' – no pills can stop the most dangerous mind in the world from turning into a weapon of mass destruction.
While it is not all hunky-dory, the entrance of a young mutant Laura (Dafne Keen) pursued by the bad guys from Transigen – Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Dr Zander Rice (Richard E Grant) – makes it worse. (Also, Holbrook – say hello to DEA agent Steve Murphy from Narcos.)
Transigen has been breeding mutant children with the DNA from older mutants, picking the war-friendly traits from the lot and creating an army of sorts. Laura, with almost identical capabilities like that of Logan's – was created from his DNA, making her his daughter for all practical purposes.
The movie then follows Logan and Laura's journey to North Dakota from where the child is expected to find her way (along with a bunch of young mutants) to a safe haven across the border called Eden.
While most already know how the movie ends, I choose to keep the story summary to just this – it does not seem fair to end a decade-plus of Jackman's brute mettle of playing Wolverine with spoilers.
A darker space
The first thing that hits you when Logan begins is the darkness of it, the sunlight that filled Xavier's mansion (dimmed only for a while in X-Men: Days of the Future Past) is gone, the only sunlight that filters into Logan is a depressing dusty one.
While almost all introductory shots of Wolverine, since 2000, have always been in dark, dimly lit spaces like cage fights and dingy bars, Mangold has made Logan internalise that darkness and has made it all pervading.
Xavier is almost 90, which makes Logan almost a century older. If you are almost 200 and not exhausted, when do you think you would be?
Mangold develops Logan's character perfectly. He still has the nightmares because he has not been able to make peace with all the killing, Laura tells him that they were 'bad people' – but it does not make it easier. Scars mark Logan's muscles and his face, you have never seen Wolverine so scarred before. He looks fragile and old as he limps through the story. As much as you don't want to, you really want to tell him to give it all up and rest.
The violence is gory, the anger in every character spills over, especially in Logan. Starting from Singer, to other directors like Brett Ratner and now James Mangold, the 'humanisation' of Logan started with his feelings for Jean Grey, his equation with Rogue, developed further through his history in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and his relationship with Kayla Silverfox, culminates to his affection for Laura.
Logan's emotions have always hovered between anger and protection, you see him cry for Jean Grey on her death (X-Men: The Last Stand) and you see him cry now. But somewhere, there is no relief, there is no release of the pent-up frustration that is Logan's own. He knows he has to stop, he possibly cannot carry on a step further.
The great divide
This is perhaps the darkest of all the X-Men films, and personally, the one that left me the most overwhelmed. It is bloody, it is violent and it is very real. The action is terrifically shot and it never seems excessive despite all the slicing and screaming. Never before have the characters been more fleshed out than what Mangold makes of them.
The performances of Jackman and Stewart are terrific – Mangold plays with the 'much more' that both Wolverine and Professor X had to offer as people, as these incredibly strong characters. Keen plays her role with strength, matching her steps well with the veterans. You will be disappointed with Holbrook, but you can (re)watch Narcos to placate yourself.
Also, this is perhaps the first movie where the X-Men comics storyline and the movie storyline merge. It also has shades drawn well from Old Man Logan.
Logan and how it ends drives a schism between Marvel fans, what they see on screen and what they WANT to see on screen. As a handful of people sat obstinately in their seats waiting for that elusive extra scene after the end credits, the exasperation was palpable. And you leave the theatre with this tight feeling in your chest, there is so much to process and so little scope to express exactly how you feel.
Besides, Mangold barely gives you time to make peace with the end. You had made peace with Xavier's death once, but hey, he came back. But this time...
It's like dealing with Snape's death and getting reminded about Sirius Black and Dumbledore – all at the same time. But maybe, that's just me.
Call me a Wolverine fangirl, but I was left almost screaming as Logan end credits made way for a blank screen. That's how Logan makes you feel and hats off to Mangold for this. Who would have ever thought that a superhero franchise like X-Men could make you feel things other than – 'Hey! I want that superpower!'
I would go so far as to call it the best X-Men movie made so far (for me X-Men: Apocalypse was a bloody hack job) and I know no Marvel fan will miss this. But, I also feel, a non-fan who has a vague idea about Wolverine, will also like this movie just as much.
The only half a mark I keep to myself because I was hoping we could see Eden and Jean Grey handling the facility (I have a theory for this – Jean Grey destroyed Xavier once in X-Men: The Last Stand as Phoenix, her mind may just have been able to fend off Xavier's seizure-induced paralysis waves) – here's hoping.