Last night, I had a dream. It was an intensely personal dream, taking the two most emotional aspects of my life, thus far – one a former job, one a woman I once knew, both things long in the past – and throwing them back into the midst of my existence, complete with their best and worst components. It was bizarre and it was powerful and it stuck with me all day. Even with the bad parts, I was happy to have these things back because – at least in the dream – the good far outweighed the bad. And then I woke up and I lost them, all over again. And later, tonight, I also lost Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. That dream could have had better timing, because losing all three at once was kind of a punch to the gut. Or maybe a few claws to the gut.
Throughout the majority of my adult life, there has been a single constant . . .. Hugh Jackman is Wolverine. As of right now, that is no longer a truth to be taken for granted. James Mangold’s Logan is now officially in theaters and with it comes Jackman’s highly-publicized final appearance as the eponymous mutant. Jackman has become so tied to the character in the minds of the public that they are nearly considered one-and-the-same. For me, personally, as a lifetime comic book lover, Jackman made Wolverine more interesting. I was never particularly drawn to Wolverine in the comics, but the live-action film version is dynamic, charismatic, and irresistible.
If that’s not enough, Patrick Stewart has also just announced that he intends for his part in Logan to also be his final appearance as Charles Xavier. He’s been playing Professor X as long as Jackman has been portraying Wolverine. He’s not quite as synonymous with Xavier as Jackman is with Logan due to the fact that James McAvoy has also had his time with the character, forcing Stewart to share the spotlight. Despite that, Stewart was the fan choice for Xavier for years before Bryan Singer transformed that wish from a fantasy into a reality with 2000’s X-Men. It was everything we ever hoped for as Stewart slipped effortlessly into the part, lending it poise, intelligence, class, and even a sense of regality. And now that, too, is a thing of the past.
But some must die for others to be born. Valar morghulis, right? And with the passing of these two iconic portrayals of two legendary characters comes the long-awaited birth of a new one. Dafne Keen bravely steps up to take a massive weight onto her shoulders as she brings the fan-favorite X-23 to the big screen and to live-action for the first time. X-23 is a female clone of Logan and her popularity just continues to expand and leak into more and more of the comic book culture. She is currently serving as the primary Wolverine in the Marvel Universe, as Logan has been dead for a few years, now (though an alternate universe “Old Man Logan” is also taking up space in the Marvel Universe Prime). Her book, written by Tom Taylor, is a fun ride and she is worthy of the Wolverine mantle. This living, breathing, real-world version is quite a bit younger than what the comic readers are accustomed to, but it allows Keen to grow into the part, should it take hold and she desire to run with it.
So, there are a lot of people with a lot of reasons to be invested in this film. It’s a bittersweet cinematic arrival and it follows the fantastic, well-received The Wolverine, also directed by Mangold, and that film’s predecessor, the far-less beloved X-Men Origins: Wolverine (directed by Gavin Hood). The story is vaguely inspired by Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan story, but shares little in common with that tale, outside of most mutants being dead and Wolverine being old. This film completes a natural solo trilogy for Wolverine that told a beginning, a middle, and, now, an end.
And what an end it is. It’s going to be tough to discuss what I liked (loved) and didn’t like (which is very, very little) without going into detail, but I’ll make it work. Much was made of Mangold’s decision to acquiesce to Jackman’s wishes to make the film R-rated. I’ll say this in as simple a fashion as I can: it works. It feels much more organic than the R-rating for Deadpool. That film took a traditionally PG-13 character and forced an R-rating onto him because people had somehow gotten it into their head that he had to be R-rated to work. While it worked fine, it was in no way was necessary, and did nothing to add to the artistic merits of that film.
That’s not the case with Logan. While I’m still not prepared to declare that the R-rating was necessary, Mangold uses it to elevate the emotional stakes of the narrative and lead to a much more satisfying climax to the story of this version of the character. Logan talks the way he really would and we finally get to see the damage his claws can truly reap. But it’s never gratuitous – it’s never violence for the sake of violence. Instead, this is the first time we as an audience get to actually feel the Wolverine experience. It’s no longer watered-down to make the PG-13 rating. We are forced to understand what it must be like to have the superpower of murderous, animalistic claws. He isn’t Spider-Man or Captain America. When Wolverine uses his “gifts”, people are unavoidably maimed and killed. What kind of an existence would that be?
It matters that we see that in this story, because a full comprehension of Logan’s mindset this far into his life is an undeniable requirement. Without that understanding, this story has no – or at best a massively diluted – emotional payoff. So, this isn’t an R-rating that came about because Deadpool was R-rated and made a ton of money. It’s a creative decision that adds to the weight and impact of a seventeen-year-long journey. Only once does some of the language feel out of place and unnatural and that moment is the only aspect of the film of which I wasn’t a fan. And it’s a brief, fleeting moment.
Going back to Dafne Keen’s X-23 . . . in my mind, she is the coolest character to appear in any X-Men film, to date. Keen is an excellent young actress and a huge future in the business is hers for the taking if she wants it. Going by “Laura” for the duration of the film (her civilian name in the comics is Laura Kinney), she impresses in a wildly diverse cavalcade of manners, ensuring that she will be on the tongues of every post-film discussion in which viewers partake upon exiting the theater. While she does plenty of damage – and much of it in spectacularly brutal fashion – most of the viscera is kept off-screen, furthering my point that the violence is all tied to Logan’s character arc and not a desire to pull in the Saw and Hostel crowds.
I wish James Mangold had come along earlier in the life of the X-Men film series. He perfectly balances the fun action side of the property with the complex characterizations that would naturally come along with this sort of existence. I personally think I still prefer The Wolverine to Logan but that’s probably because I really like Japanese culture. I will say that Logan is a slightly better film, regardless of which is my favorite (and don’t even ask about X-Men Origins: Wolverine). In fact, Logan may very well be the best film in the entire X-Men series. I’ll need a little more distance and probably another viewing or two before I feel confident in saying that unequivocally, but it’s in the running, for sure. The characters are layered and believable, the stakes are high and meaningful, the action is thrilling and ferocious, the performances are moving and breathtaking, and Mangold’s direction is impeccable. I’m not sure what more anyone could ask for.
If I were Jackman or Stewart, I would stick to my word and leave these characters behind. One always wishes to go out on top. And that’s what they’ve done with Logan. I’m going to pretend that they’ll read this and take the time to thank Hugh and Patrick for everything they did for these characters, their legacies and pop-culture footprints, and their fans. It’s always sad when a wonderful journey ends, but this was a journey worth taking with an ending befitting of these iconic characters. Don’t miss this one. It’s your last chance to let them take you on one final ride.
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