It’s rare that a franchise goes through so much turmoil as the X-Men movie franchise and somehow limps on. From the early days of the original X-Men in 2000, to the timeline-bending First Class and Days Of Future Past detour that culminated in 2019’s Dark Phoenix, the one clear standout throughout has been Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.
The Australian actor’s portrayal of the violent, borderline antihero has been one of the most spot-on casting decisions in superhero movie history, ranking alongside Robert Downey Jr’s role as Iron Man. He even nabbed himself a Guinness World Record for playing the same Marvel superhero character for 17 years – culminating in 2017’s Logan.
Placing seventh in our Movies Of The Decade poll, this third solo adventure for the clawed hero set a new bar for the X-Men franchise as well as character-driven superhero movies in general.
Loosely adapting the ‘Old Man Logan’ comics arc, Logan tells the tale of a cross-country escort mission, with our now rapidly ageing Weapon X protecting Laura, a young mutant with an army on her tail. In this timeline, the X-Men are all gone, torn asunder by an accidental overload from Professor X’s dementia-addled brain. The remaining characters are hunted by the Reavers, a crack team of bounty-hunters.
Severing Logan from the rest of the convoluted X-Men franchise proved to be a smart move – the film remains endlessly enjoyable, and packs the same emotional gut punch time and time again. There are nods back to Wolvie’s dismal first solo movie, sure, but there’s very little linkage with the Japan-set The Wolverine, and the lack of a post-credits scene affirms that this is the end of a chapter.
What makes Logan so special is that it humanises the characters that have been comic-book legends since 1974. Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Logan is, for the first time in 17 years, vulnerable. He has no team, his healing powers are deteriorating, and Professor X himself is now a shell of the man he was – capable of losing control of his incredible psychic abilities and affecting humans and mutants alike.
It takes the idea of Logan being less overpowered that we saw in The Wolverine (director James Mangold’s first stab at the character from 2013) and kicks it up a few notches. Logan lost much of his power in that movie, but things are more desperate than ever here – the hero even carrying an adamantium bullet left over from X-Men Origins: Wolverine should he decide to take his own way out. It takes some doing to make these comic-book titans feel relatable, but Logan manages it – and in doing so raises the stakes.
Thankfully, Jackman’s not going down without a fight – in fact, if anything he’s more brutal than ever. The move to an ‘R’ rating (no doubt helped by the reception for 2016’s Deadpool, which placed 13th on our Movies Of The Decade list) allows the titular hero to slice and dice in ways comic-book fans likely never thought they’d see on the big screen (and allows the movie to begin with an expletive almost right off the bat).
It’s not all about Jackman, though – Patrick Stewart’s Professor X also gets his own chance to shine. Watched over by Logan and Stephen Merchant’s Caliban, he resides in an abandoned smelting plant in Mexico. Over 90 years old during the events of the movie, Xavier flits between sage wisdom and forgetfulness, while also showing a more sardonic side – even dropping an “F bomb” (something we wouldn’t have expected back in 2000!).
One moment in Stewart’s performance sticks out, as he looks to drift off to sleep in a farmhouse where the trio are hiding. He tells Logan he’s had “the most perfect night I’ve had in a long time”, before weeping.
“I don’t deserve it, do I? I did something. Something unspeakable,” he opines, before explaining that he now remembers the fateful event that killed the majority of the X-Men. It’s hard to watch, even more so as the audience is shown that he’s been recounting this to an aggressive clone of Logan in his prime, who promptly kills the long-suffering Professor.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t also offer special praise to Dafne Keen. It takes a special talent to make an 11-year-old girl feel vulnerable when we’ve seen her decapitate people with her bare hands (or should that be claws), but she somehow walks that line effortlessly.
Her love for comic books not only gives a nice little wink to the audience, but also offers the movie’s main plotline – suggesting to Laura that there is a refuge for mutants in Canada. As they travel further north, the deserts of Mexico give way to small-town America, and then to rolling forests – as Logan’s power fades, the movie’s flora and fauna increase in scale and beauty.
Logan’s final stand, where he overdoses on a healing serum and wages war against the Reavers, remains one of cinema’s most brutal and exciting battles. Heads roll, limbs are lost, and in the aftermath, Jackman’s battered body is impaled on a tree stump. Even though we knew the end of this iteration of the character was coming, we’d be lying if we didn’t shed a tear as Laura buries under a makeshift “X” before continuing the next stage of their journey.