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Fox has made two previous attempts at a Wolverine solo outing, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Wolverine (2013), and neither were quite up to par. The first suffered from an overstuffed script, some poor special effects, a mangled sense of continuity and no real direction to the plot; the overall thrown together feel makes it reek of cash-in. When announcements were made of a second outing for Logan, hope was initially high; indie talent Darren Aronofsky was set to direct an R-Rated take on the Frank Miller stories based in Japan. A lengthy overseas production schedule turned him off though and James Mangold took his place, crafting a more cohesive and entertaining effort than the first. The deliberate, character driven beginning gives way to an action filled middle, let down by a silly and bloated final battle. Both movies were box office successes but critics were less pleased, dismayed at the lack of emotional involvement and characterisation, and reliance on special effects and noise.
The third, and Hugh Jackman has suggested final, Wolverine film is very different beast, not only to its predecessors but to virtually every superhero flick to date. After years of struggling, the writers have finally devised an emotional journey for Logan you can invest in. Set in 2029, the mutant populace has been decimated and no new mutants have been born in 25 years; a weary looking Wolverine (using his real name James Howlett) lives south of the border with nonagenarian, Alzheimer afflicted Professor X, and has a crappy job driving a limo to pay for Xavier's treatment. When he doesn't take the requisite drugs, Charles is prone to seizures that send his telepathy and telekinesis out of control. With seemingly none of their X-Men comrades alive anymore, they scrimp to survive and save enough money to buy a boat; the implication seems they'll go out to sea, where they aren't a danger to anyone, and be their company until the end. Things take an unexpected turn when a young girl, possibly a new mutant, enters their life, pursued by dangerous forces; they must make a choice whether to risk everything to put a bigger cause first.
From the offset, Logan sets up its leads as vulnerable; the opening has Wolverine take a beating from some thugs, and it's obvious his advanced age has made him weaker, and we learn his healing factor (the key to his invulnerability) is failing. Xavier's mind and body are both letting him down, barely able to move without assistance and the faltering control over his psionic powers lending a constant threat of catastrophe. For the first time in a film series lasting 17 years, there is a genuine feeling not everyone may be getting out alive, with Jackman and Patrick Stewart's nuanced, heartfelt performances actually making you care. Other cast stand outs include Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook and Richard E Grant in roles I wont reveal here.
Lending to Logan's melancholy mood and broader scope are allusions to the Western lore (outliers at the dawn of a new era), and the aesthetic similarities; the wide angle landscape shots and earthy colour palette. The film even directly references George Steven's 1953 classic Shane in multiple scenes and the thematic likeness is there; both are tales of old gunfighters/mercenaries confronting their inner violence as they clash with new, ambitious forces that seek to supplant them, and both have a child who serves as the naïve, hopeful heart of the story. In a touching tribute, Shane's final words to Joey are used perfectly in scene that may rank as the X-Men series most poignant.
There is nothing in the way of overt flaws, although the run time could easily have been shaved by 10 minutes. A minor plot element that felt contrived and lazy can't really be mentioned here for spoilers sake, but it didn't really detract from my overall enjoyment. It should be noted that this also is definitely not one for kids; the action is grim and blood splattered, and the language expletive laden. For the appropriate audience, I can't recommend Logan highly enough.