A restrained, thoughtful last outing for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, at times as much a character piece (with smatterings of a western) as a superhero action film.
That sense of restraint is what impressed me most about the film. Sure, there are impressive setpieces and gory action scenes, but the restrain and very deliberate writing and directing really make the film stand out from its superhero peers, so often over-plotted and under-felt. The considerable backstory of this film (tangentially tied to some previous X-Men films, but mostly its own thing) is hinted and suggested at, but never revealed outright. This works particularly well with Charles Xavier’s arc, and with the machinations of the antagonists, always nipping at the edges of the film, but never overtaking what is fundamentally just a story about Wolverine, about Logan.
It’s a grim movie, but not relentless, with occasional moments of powerful emotional connection and levity. Everything feels earned here, even the dourness and violence, because everything is central to Logan’s arc. As gory and violent as the film gets, the most relentless darkness is in Logan – not in a “he turns evil!” way, or anything like that, but in how beaten down he is by the brutality and cruelty of the world. This is a resigned Logan, ready to die, and that hits harder than any of the bloody action.
Director James Mangold stages the action setpieces very skilfully, but its the performances he gets out of the cast that’s the best achievement. I liked the touches of a western he gave the film both in visuals and in story. At one point he even basically pauses the narrative to show a few scenes out of “Shane” and have the characters reflect and frame themselves in relation to the classic western.
The film never wallows in its own fascinating world, but instead pushes on to tell its story of Logan, Xavier, and Laura. The emotions are what matter most here, and the cast do an excellent job communicating them. Hugh Jackman gives easily his best performance as the titular character, Patrick Stewart skilfully conveys the nuance of Xavier’s current mindset (and does a great job suggesting his new tragic backstory, without overplaying it), and Dafne Keen makes a strong debut as Laura, a character enormously pivotal to the film.
There’s plenty of great action here, but it’s the heart behind all that action that makes the film land so well. I give it three and a half sodas full of corn syrup, and an adamantium bullet.