In the continuing saga of the overwhelming white maleness of superhero movies, Latinos have been markedly less visible than even blacks and Asians. However, we now have the first Latino superhero movie, even if Logan did have to sneak that in the back door. That’s just one thing that makes this effort better and more watchable than the last few of Wolverine’s adventures. Those last few movies felt exhausted, but here, the exhaustion is intentional.
That’s because old age has caught up to Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) with a vengeance. In the year 2029, he’s a gray-haired alcoholic who needs reading glasses. With no mutants born in the last 25 years, or so everyone thinks, he’s working as a limo driver near the Mexican border so that he can more easily get to Prof. Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who’s now stashed in a hideaway in the Mexican desert because he’s a gibbering old man who tends to lose control of his superpowers. Logan thinks he’s caught a break when a nurse (Elizabeth Rodriguez) offers him $50,000 cash to transport her and a mute 11-year-old girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to Canada. However, the nurse turns up dead and Laura turns out to have adamantium claws and a raging temper. Wonder where she got those from?
This movie is rated R, which you can readily see in fight sequences that are far bloodier than in previous X-Men movies. However, the R rating has another, more salutary effect: As Logan and the professor, who regains a measure of lucidity now that he has another mutant to look after, transport Laura across the country, they can hurl obscenities at each other like a bickering old couple weary of each other’s quirks. This has an energizing effect on both Stewart and Jackman, and there’s a splendidly catty moment when the professor teases Logan about his glasses: “They make you look younger.” These guys seem to know that this is their last rodeo, with Logan newly vulnerable because of his reflexes slowed by age and alcohol and the bad guys now firing adamantium bullets that can hurt him. (Man, why did nobody think of this earlier?) The other thing that makes him vulnerable is that he’s suddenly in possession of a daughter whose existence was unknown to him, and while there’s nothing in this father-daughter story that we haven’t seen before, it’s still done reasonably well.
This thing is probably too long, but there’s lots of neat little touches around the edges here, like a thematically on-point clip when the professor and Laura watch the 1953 Western Shane in a hotel room. British comic Stephen Merchant makes a sharp impression as a light-sensitive mutant who can tell the future, and Richard E. Grant and Boyd Holbrook are well-cast bad guys. Director/co-writer James Mangold (who previously did 2013’s The Wolverine) frequently has violent moments happen before we expect them; he stole that trick from Hitchcock, but if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. A key clue to the heroes’ quest turns up in an X-Men comic book, which Logan predictably dismisses as a grotesque distortion of reality. The movie misses a chance to comment on immigration, but the Spanish-British newcomer Keen makes a properly feral, funny, and alert presence that more than stands up to her famous co-stars’. We still get a chill, too, when we find out how Laura was created, along with a clutch of other Mexican kids with superpowers. (Trump jokes! Too easy! Must resist!)
Westerns seem to fire Mangold’s imagination, as evidenced by his best previous film, 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma. He turns Logan into a brooding, melancholy Western, as these three misfits who have blood on their hands and killers on their trail make their way north through a barren landscape. Never does the movie feel more like its Western self than in a terse late scene where Logan tells Laura that she’ll have to make peace with all the people she’s hurt, even the ones who deserved it. The film’s elegiac feel is appropriate, since even though anything’s possible in the X-Men universe, Jackman has made it clear that this is his final turn in the role that made him a star. His personality has come to dominate the series, and for all he’s brought to it, now feels like the right time for him to leave so other mutants can drive. Perhaps one day we’ll be like Brandon de Wilde and shout, “Come back, Logan!” For the present, though, Logan is a beautiful send-off for the proud, tormented warrior who was so recognizably human underneath his claws.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Dafne Keen. Directed by James Mangold. Written by Michael Green, Scott Frank, and James Mangold. Rated R.