When Hugh Jackman hinted that he would be hanging up the claws last year, we all knew that the end was coming for the X-Men’s most beloved brute, Wolverine. Having snarled and slashed his way through nine films over a period of 17 years, there’s little on the spectrum of emotions that Jackman hasn’t explored during his illustrious portrayal of Wolverine – from longing for purpose, to losing love, to exacting revenge. It’s understandable, then, that the Australian actor would rather close the book on the superhero in a blaze of glory than see it fade away into obscurity, evidenced by his willingness to accept a pay-cut to give Logan the R-rated treatment. While standalone Wolverine films have been hit and miss in the past, Logan surpasses all previous efforts to portray the clawed crusader in a light that’s as equally emotional as it is explosive, elevating the entire superhero genre to newfound maturity. How does it do this? Simply, by bringing a human story to a mutant universe.
Set in the not-too-distant future of 2029, a time in which mutant existence has become a mere memory in the minds of the human public, we find James Hewlitt (AKA Logan, AKA Wolverine) at a low point like we’ve never seen before. Reduced to driving a limousine and visibly weathered-and-worn with a bottle in hand, the near-invincible superhero has become a husk of his former glory – a glory he doesn’t wish to return to. Living in hiding on the Mexican border with his albino mutant associate, Caliban, with whom he acts as caretaker for an ailing Professor Charles Xavier, the three no longer enjoy the safety or financial security of the Xavier Institute of Higher Learning’s mansion estate. As Xavier becomes progressively dependent on medication to retain control of his mind and its consequent powers – hinting that his loss of control was responsible for a catastrophic event – Logan, who is also discovering that his healing abilities aren’t what they used to be, is thrust into a situation that puts his group at risk when he meets a young girl named Laura, with whom he has more in common than meets the eye.
The seeming non-existence of mutants in Logan presents one of the simplest plots to date in the X-Men franchise – and, while its plot summary sounds rather generic on the surface, this is perhaps the film’s greatest strength. Removing the need to introduce countless mutant characters for the sole intent of fan service, while leaving little room for story arcs to overlap, Logan adopts the timeless narrative of a cross-country chase that audiences have come to love time and again; The Terminator, First Blood, Road To Perdition all come to mind. It’s this simplicity that gives Logan the breathing space for its emotionally gripping moments to develop. Similarly, it’s the absence of superpower-saturated action sequences a la The Avengers that makes the violence all the more visceral.
“For the first time, Marvel confronts something that is becoming more and more relevant to its now-adult following: the fear of getting old.”
In contrast to Deadpool, a film in which its R-rated freedoms are balanced with comedy, the graphic violence and explicit language in Logan bludgeons the viewer with little remorse. While we always imagined the kind of language Wolverine would use when cursing his enemies or an unexpected predicament, hearing it in an X-Men film will undoubtedly catch viewers off-guard. Hearing Xavier join in on dropping F-bombs is even more startling, but endlessly amusing. In the same vein, we’ve seen Wolverine slash his way through hundreds of foes, but without the PG-rating to soften the blow, this time around we’re shown in great detail exactly what those blades are capable of. Simply put, Logan is not for the faint of heart.
However, the fact that there’s an indulgent amount of blood and gore slathered throughout the narrative is not what makes Logan a comic book film for adults; it’s that for the first time, Marvel confronts something that is becoming more and more relevant to its now-adult following: the fear of getting old. Aging itself is something that scares many on a superficial level, but succumbing to death before righting wrongs and fulfilling one’s perceived purpose are themes that Logan hits home with brutal honesty. It’s in the pensive silences when Logan’s wounds take longer to heal; the frustrations of witnessing a great mentor requiring constant attention and care; the fatigue and frustration of being called on to be a hero, only to see it end in tragedy; that the world cannot be changed. But in all this futility, there is a story of redemption: Xavier seeks atonement for the loss of control over his powers; Caliban for the betrayal of his kind in his former service to the military; and Logan, who can no longer turn his back on those who need him. By transposing these very human hopes and fears on a mutant tale, Wolverine has become more emotionally relevant than ever.
While Deadpool raised the bar for injecting violence and adult humour into the Marvel universe, Logan cemented our readiness for R-rated superhero films in its exploration of adult themes. In accepting that X-Men fans are no longer the children that used to be dazzled by special effects and character cameos, Logan triumphs in understanding that Marvel must evolve with its viewers to keep them enthralled in the superhero fantasy. With Jackman now out for good, the only question that remains is: Who’s gonna be next, bub?