Jackman Redefines the Superhero Genre One Last Time

After 17 years and nine movies, Hugh Jackman has decided to retract his Adamantium claws and ride off into the sunset on a (probably stolen) motorcycle. Not without one final fight in a wifebeater and jeans, however. His last ride, simply titled “Logan,” is a testament to Jackman’s dramatic acting abilities as well as to his character’s arduous journey.

It is a tradition in comic book writing for the stories to never really end. In other words, heroes can be entirely different incarnations of the same character from one story to the next. This storytelling device is expertly utilized by 20th Century Fox in their “X-Men” series. To break it down, the Wolverine seen in the “X-Men” trilogy films, from 2000’s “X-Men” to 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” exists in two timelines, but one universe. This Logan exists in a separate timeline and a different universe than the Logan of the trilogy series.

In this universe, it’s the year 2029, and mutantkind has been almost entirely wiped out. A weathered and downtrodden Logan is living in New Mexico as a limo driver, a shell of his former self, trying his best to care for his old friend Charles Xavier. The two hide out in the desert with another mutant refugee, as the world is even less safe for them than it was before the mutant cleansing. When a young mutant girl named Laura is unexpectedly placed under their care, Charles and Logan are forced to help her in her cryptic quest to reach North Dakota. The three form a surrogate family, connected by their unique gifts and the adversity they face because of them.

Laura, also known as X-23, is a pre-teen mutant of few words and tremendous power. Her mutation appears to be the same as Logan’s, with Adamantium claws which protrude from her tiny knuckles at will, making her an incredibly skilled fighter. The mini mutant is played to perfection by breakout star Dafne Keen. Her natural chemistry with veteran actors Jackman and Stewart is the heart of the film. Keen’s chops as a dramatic actress and an action star are comparable to those of a young Chloë Grace Moretz in 2010’s “Kick-Ass,” the gold standard for tween performances in the genre. She is charismatic and unsettlingly intense throughout the film, and though Hollywood has some sort of an aversion to female superhero flicks, I’m still holding out hope for an X-23 solo movie.

You may notice that “Logan” has an unusual title for an “X-Men” movie, especially when compared to the titles of the character’s last two solo films, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “The Wolverine.”

This movie is not about the Wolverine. “Logan” is not about the superhero who kills with ease, womanizes and calls everyone “Bub.” The film is not about Wolverine the hero, it is about Logan the mutant rejected by human society. It plays to the ever-present theme of any X-Men story: people fear that which they do not understand. The X-Men have always been a symbol for oppressed groups of people in real life and “Logan” forces us think about the harsh realities of  that concept.

The James Mangold directed blockbuster is the most appropriately gritty comic book movie since “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012. By setting the New Mexico desert as the backdrop for the film’s first act, we really get a sense of how truly alone mutants are in this day and age. This barren environment is also beneficial in helping to draw comparisons between Logan and the cowboys of classic cinema. Given the emotional and brutal nature of the story, it was only right that the film receive an R rating. As much as I love any “X-Men” film featuring Jackman, “Logan” makes me wish they could have had R ratings all along, as the allowance for more gore and guts made Wolverine’s claws-out fight scenes significantly more fun.

Hugh Jackman’s casting as Wolverine 17 years ago set the standard for all casting decisions in comic book movies for the rest of time. Every casting choice must match the precise vision of the fans, as though they tore the character from the pages of the comic books and brought them to life. The Aussie actor not only perfectly embodies the spirit of the gruff and tough, no-nonsense, reluctant hero, but he happens to also be ageless like Logan himself, and a physically perfect man with the surreal proportions of a comic book character. Flawless looks aside, Jackman has put every ounce of his artistic being into this role for longer than any superhero actor ever. He takes the films seriously because he believes in the integrity of the source material and recognizes how much the character means to fans. For each heartbreaking, amusing and action-packed performance, Jackman has earned his place as the greatest superhero actor of all time.

While fans, including myself, will miss Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine more than words can adequately say, “Logan” was a beautifully raw sendoff of his interpretation of the character. A new era of “X-Men” is dawning, which may sound frightening to fans who fear that their favorite franchise may fall to pieces without its beloved star, but if X-23 is any indication of the mutants to come, I think the franchise is in good claws.

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