A world-weary farewell to the Wolverine that thrills and chills in equal measure, this is how superheroes should be played. Deeply affecting.
The year is 2029 and mutantkind is all but extinct. With no new births in 25 years, like Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, the few that remain hide in the shadows, hunted by mercenaries as fodder for immoral scientists, tinkering with fragments of their DNA in secret bunkers.
Haunted by his losses, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is finally dying, slowly poisoned by the invincible adamantium skeleton and attendant claws so cruelly inserted into his body as part of the Weapon X program. With his healing powers failing and battle-scarred body bleeding, this world-weary Logan no longer saves the world, instead spending his drunken nights ferrying folks around in battered suit and gleaming limo that’s pretty much all he has left.
Except, that is, for old friend Professor Charles Xavier (a returning Patrick Stewart). Hidden away in an abandoned water tower beyond the Mexican border, with Trump’s towering wall now a reality, whoever paid for it, Logan and fellow mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) administer drugs to keep their old mentor sedate, partly for his own safety, but mostly to protect a world at threat from its most powerful mind falling apart.
Their ramshackle shelter is disturbed by the plight of an impressive Dafne Keen’s Laura, a mute young girl who has a good deal more in common with Logan than it might, at first, appear. Thrust into their care by her guardian Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), the desperate woman is then brutally executed by Boyd Holbrook’s snarling, bionic hand bounty hunter Donald Pierce, forcing them to play along with Laura’s seemingly naïve dreams of sanctuary in Canada.
A dystopian road trip fused with the classic Western, writer/director James Mangold, returning to the series after the samurai-inflected The Wolverine and aided by co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green, wrings great emotional heft from this much-loved character’s swansong. Unbound by the promise of an R-rating used to far more devastating effect here than in last year’s Deadpool,
Jackman is game. With Wolvie world-weary and no longer reined in by the X-Men’s code of honour, he’s free to disembowel and decapitate at will, all the while spewing profanity, and yet this fury has, unlike most superhero instalments, actual weight. Wounds both physical and psychological matter here, and at times the genre crosses over into outright horror, as with a farm-set slaughter in particular evoking the unstoppable terror of the Terminator.
There is also a melancholic beauty, as Logan processes the encroaching infirmity of his surrogate father, most tellingly in a scene where he must help him in the toilet, something recognisable to anyone who has cared for an elderly relative, and also his own fast approaching mortality while suddenly finding himself, unexpectedly, a father figure too.
Deftly balancing thrilling action replete with bone-crunching fight choreography with these nihilistic concerns, Mangold has delivered the finest superhero film since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and a fitting end to this chapter of the X-Men franchise, even making room for a hopeful way forward.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords