18 years is a long time to play a superhero, but now Hugh Jackman has decided to hang up his adamantium claws with his ninth film in the role that made him a household name. Following on from the rollercoaster of the convoluted X-Men film series, the critically panned X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the divisive The Wolverine, all eyes are on Logan to end Jackman's iconic portrayal of the Wolverine on a high.
The film echoes the acclaimed comic storyline of Old Man Logan, set in a dystopian future where new mutants are extinct and Logan (Jackman) lives a depressed and impoverished life caring for an ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) alongside fellow mutant Caliban (recast from Apocalypse with Stephen Merchant here). This tragic but peaceful life is brutally interrupted when Logan is forced to protect an enigmatic and yet familiar young mutant named Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen) from sinister forces out to apprehend her. What follows from this is a thrillingly violent and dark chase film, as Logan's makeshift family become fugitives on the run from a band of mercenaries.
Jackman gives his finest performance yet as Logan, offering a tortured, mournful and tired version of the character that soaks the film in melancholy. Jackman's on-screen chemistry with Stewart - also in his final appearance as Xavier - is a real high-point as their relationship is entirely bittersweet here; they have a familial bond but Logan is now Xavier's carer, and both are haunted by a shockingly dark secret about Xavier's mental decline; a transformation that allows Stewart to really try something different with the character here. The pair keep a great banter to their relationship, bringing some real warmth to proceedings; aided by a dry Merchant as albino mutant-tracker Caliban. Child-actor Dafne Keener is also a real find as Laura, her performance terrific in its alien-quality; animalistic and yet sweet, expect to see more of this newcomer. Keener and Jackman work very well together and it is this relationship that the film hinges on and it is their success at selling this bond that makes the most emotional scenes really hit home. However, as with many films in the superhero genre, the antagonists are rather thinly written. Richard E. Grant provides a shallow 'evil British scientist' cliché in Dr. Zander Rice, while Boyd Holbrook manages to make the most of his ruthless mercenary role of Donald Pierce, bringing some much needed charisma to an otherwise one-note role.
Praise must be shown to director James Mangold, who completely changes the tone from his previous instalment, The Wolverine, the almost cartoonish style is replaced with that of a gritty western here. The cinematography is glorious in places with its desolate landscapes, but the focus on more practical effects and extremely well-choreographed violence is what really brings a sense of faithfulness to the character. The sense of urgency, tension and also heart from the core players present a closeness that has often been lost in the previous instalments of the franchise. When the film's darkest moments hit the audience, they are really crushing. Thematically there is a continuity with the franchise in its examination of the desire for family, but the focus on ageing and mortality are unlike any other superhero films. The kind of material some texts may hint at, Mangold's screenplay tackles head on, and this kind of dark examination of human emotions feels original for the genre and should certainly impress some fans in its risk-taking; while keeping - on a smaller scale - some of the meta examination of comic-books from last year's Deadpool .
Overall, Jackman can rest easy knowing that he has left the Wolverine's legacy on a high, providing fans with the violent and emotionally rich character piece they craved, and delivering a great piece of suspenseful film-making and an original superhero flick. Some X-Men film fans may find this instalment a little too dark and daring, and while not perfect with some of its clichés and predictable plot points, this no-holds-barred approach offers some interesting possibilities for a genre that was starting to feel tired.