“The world is not the same as it was”, says Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine to Patrick Stewart’s ailing Charles Xavier in Jackman’s ferocious farewell to his career-defining role. And he’s not wrong.
The Aussie star’s ninth appearance as the brooding, beclawed X-Man is a nod to Mark Millar’s 2008 comic-book series Old Man Logan, which featured a grizzled Wolverine surviving in a post-apocalypse world ruled by supervillains.
In director James Mangold’s elegiac tale, it’s 2029 and there’s no global catastrophe but the X-Men are gone, no mutants have been born in decades and an ageing, permanently scarred Logan – his healing mutation now fading – works as a limo driver and lives in a junkyard hideaway south of the border with a decrepit Xavier, whose fraying psychic powers are only kept in check by drugs. The other member of this off-the-wall nuclear family is former mutant hunter Caliban, played by a barely recognisable Stephen Merchant, a dab hand at getting in a bit of wry British humour involving spotted dick.
However, the trio’s self-imposed exile is shattered with the arrival of Laura (Dafne Keen), a young girl who has a lot in common with our scowling mutant hero (claws, surliness, anger issues). Unfortunately, she’s also wanted by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and the Reavers, an army of cyborg killers under the command of Richard E Grant’s up-to-no-good scientist.
Following an initial skirmish – and bloody confirmation the film’s violent, no-holds-barred action is not for kids – Logan, Xavier and Laura take to the road in search of Eden, a promised land mentioned in the girl’s X-Men comics and derided mercilessly by Logan when he delivers a reality check to her (and us) that this is not the usual X-tale.
A road movie, then, but one punctuated by grumpy old men banter and fearsome confrontations in Vegas, at a family farm (and the appearance of an unexpected adversary) and a forest where Logan makes his last stand.
It’s no secret that Jackman’s follow-up to 2013’s The Wolverine (also directed by Mangold) is his swansong in the role, and what a swansong it is, with Marvel’s ever-popular mutant at his most vulnerable and savage. Indeed, fans will be overjoyed to finally see the clawed brawler unleashed like never before. After all, last year’s Deadpool proved being more rude and violent doesn’t necessarily mean less box-office takings, so be prepared for heads to roll and be skewered.
The allusions to classic western Shane border on sentimentality, but that’s a minor quibble. Mangold and his star have produced a visceral, genuinely moving drama with an end-of-an-era tone that will be familiar to aficionados of Sam Peckinpah’s work. It also helps that Jackman and Stewart bring their A-game to their performances.
No doubt, a reboot is on the way for the X-Men franchise, and the Wolverine character in particular, but make no mistake, Jackman has left big boots to fill and an indelible impression where X marks the spot.
Logan is released in cinemas from Wednesday 1 March