The claws are out for the last time, but it’s clear early on in James Mangold’s ruddy, ridiculous Logan that they should have been put away ages ago. All Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine character has left to live for, cinematically speaking, is his long-awaited opportunity to swear like a sailor. Coincidentally, his dream is now to actually become a sailor, so it’s a fitting change all around. Yes, the hirsute man-beast that has been the face of the X-Men franchise more often than not has finally earned an R-rating in his third solo effort and he is going to let his f-bomb flag fly.
He also takes advantage of the situation by decapitating a few people and chopping off various other limbs, all gory activities his previous PG-13 appearances prevented him from doing. But good luck making any sense of how this all unfolds, because Mangold isn’t in the business of delivering well-shot action. He stages flurries of violent clashes haphazardly, as if causing confusion and disorientation was actually his goal, and hurls so many generic henchmen Logan’s way that every fight sequence looks lamely the same.
While Logan can now slash up his enemies more grotesquely than ever before, there’s no catharsis here in this collage of muddy colours and fuzzily edited mayhem. This feels less like an overdue unleashing of the iconic character than a juvenile revision that’s arrived too late to serve any worthwhile dramatic purpose. We’ve seen Jackman play Logan so many times now that the shtick got old well before the character did on screen and whatever emotional well his tragic backstory drew from in the past has long since dried up.
He’s just slashing at nothingness now and the predictability of what this swan song is building to undercuts the potential impact. Set in 2029, when a few remaining mutants are in hiding, Logan charts the journey of its titular character and fellow former X-Man Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, bringing some class to this undeserving mess) as they carry out the task of shuttling a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) to safety. Hot on their heels is a bland villain (Boyd Holbrook) who hopes his robotic hand and gold tooth will hide his complete lack of menacing personality.
As the movie becomes a rickety road trip flick punctuated by violence, it sets its sights wider on a more open genre. Mangold desperately wants to make this a western, but entirely botches one of the key opportunities to tie his future-set movie to the Old West by establishing a sense of place. Most of the movie takes place in deserts or later around mountains and the colour palette is overwhelmingly brownish yellow, so the director’s genre preference is clear, but he seems content to simply leave it at that.
There’s no contemplative comparison between the serene beauty of the open plains and the unbridled ugliness of the hero’s rage. And there’s certainly nothing close to intriguing world-building here, even though the clumsy exposition droppings that provide details about the scarcity of mutants are intended to suggest a unique new era on the franchise’s timeline. These ideas are barely formed, though, fetus-like. Logan himself lives as though the world is practically post-apocalyptic, but scenes in bustling cities suggest nothing has changed at all.
World-building that majestically maps the crossroads of myth and history is a huge part of western cinema and Logan misses a great chance to deepen its devotion to the age of cowboys and outlaws by establishing a startlingly refreshing place for these characters to populate.
Instead, Mangold wastes his time showing several clips of George Stevens’ Shane, really hammering home his point that Logan is a classic loner and that Shane is super cool. It’s also the most obvious bit of foreshadowing imaginable, so obvious that the only honourable thing to do after this point would be to just end the movie since we all know where it’s headed and it’s just a downhill slide further into mediocrity from there.
The movie clocks in at a preposterous 141 minutes and includes a considerable chunk at a farmhouse that could be entirely excised without losing anything other than extra bloodshed. The bulky length is just one more of the many baffling decisions that plague this picture. It’s as though Mangold and Jackman are having trouble letting go of the character and they want to drag out his finish, but so little of this filler is even the least bit interesting.
There’s an apparent need for constant threats to keep the action engine running, which leads to all sorts of silliness, especially when the main villains haven’t had the chance to catch up to Logan and co. yet, so random substitutes have to be called in. Mangold gives his grizzled superhero no shortage of people to slice and dice, so pity the people that aren’t exceptionally nice, because otherwise they’re cannon fodder. Actually, pity the nice people, too. Practically everyone here is eligible for dismemberment.
Perhaps because of that, no one is disputing that it’s time to hang up the claws, but Logan has gone out with a whimper when he clearly intended to roar. This is not the iconic ending the once-great Wolverine was likely hoping for. As a cinematic loner, the character has drifted too far, his journey gone on too long. Saying goodbye feels too much like bidding good riddance. Every hero has his limits and Logan’s are under a glaring spotlight here. He can still ride off into the sunset, figuratively speaking at least, but he’s no Shane, that’s for sure.