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MOVIES: Logan - Review

After 17 years and appearances in 8 different films, Hugh Jackman is donning the adamantium claws and muttonchop sideburns for what he claims will be his final portrayal of Wolverine in the character's third standalone outing, Logan. Whether or not Jackman actually walks away from his most defining role certainly remains to be seen - after all, Ryan Reynolds is keen to see Wolverine and Deadpool share the screen in an upcoming project. But if Jackman is truly riding off into the sunset, he's doing so with his finest performance yet, in a film that raises the bar for comic book movies.

Set in the near future, Logan opens with the titular mutant passed out drunk in the backseat of a limousine, sleeping off the latest in what we assume has been a long series of benders. He comes to when a group of opportunistic thieves attempt to abscond with the car's chrome-plated rims, and director James Mangold uses this opening altercation to firmly establish the film's R-rating, as our booze-soaked hero dispatches his assailants in especially grisly fashion. Claws tear through flesh and bone (not to mention gun barrels), appendages are severed from their limbs, and Logan emerges from the fray covered in blood - most of it his own.

It's here that we discover the once-formidable superhero is merely a shadow of his former self. His accelerated healing ability has diminished drastically, leaving his body covered in scar tissue, and wounds which would have previously healed in a few hours now take weeks to fully mend. His eyesight is failing, his body is slowly breaking down from an undisclosed illness, and he compensates for the pain and misery with a steady intake of whiskey. But still he soldiers on, acting as caretaker for his last remaining friend, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose descent into dementia and inability to control his powers has made him a high-value target for the Department of Homeland Security.

The relationship between Logan and Xavier has evolved from a connection between student and teacher to something more familial, complete with the resentment a child may feel when forced to care for an ailing parent. The love that each party feels for the other is masked by their outward displays of indignation and frustration, and the words they exchange often come across as harsh and bitter, but there's never any doubt that Logan still feels a deep affection for his mentor, a sense of duty to shelter him from the cruelty of the outside world, much as Xavier once did for him.

Logan's quiet existence on the south side of the Texas border is shaken up by the arrival of Laura (Dafne Keen), a young girl fleeing from a group of bounty hunters known as the Reavers. Xavier insists that Laura is a mutant, a notion which Logan balks at - no mutants have been born in the past 25 years. But when Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) arrives with the Reavers in tow to capture the girl, Logan is stunned to discover that not only was Xavier correct in his assessment, but Laura's abilities bear a striking resemblance to those of another well-known mutant - and she's not the only one. The rest of her kind are waiting for her at a secluded sanctuary in the forests of North Dakota, and Xavier charges Logan with delivering the girl safely to her friends - a task which turns out to be much easier said than done.

Jackman has never been better, imbuing the aging Wolverine with a gruff cynicism and a completely different sort of physicality than we've experienced in previous films. This version of Logan lacks the stamina and athleticism of his younger self, and each of the film's savage, visceral action sequences take a significant toll on his withering body. He's slower, less aware of his surroundings, and many of the decisions he makes in the midst of battle feel borne out of desperation, rather than by design. Logan is a man who clearly wants to die, but can't quite overcome the survival instinct that has kept him alive for more than a century.

Stewart's portrayal of the frail, rancorous Xavier is another high point, and there's something incredibly heartbreaking about the idea of the world's greatest mind no longer having control over his faculties. The professor has spent a lifetime trying to establish peace between man and mutant, an endeavor that brought him nothing but pain and misery, and his struggle to make amends for his own failures is a fascinating thread that Mangold follows to a satisfying conclusion. But it's Keen who emerges as the film's brightest star, with an earnest performance as the wide-eyed young mutant whose short life has been fraught with torture and torment, but still refuses to be defined by the circumstances which shaped her identity. It's one of the most impressive turns I've ever seen from a child actor, in any genre, and will almost surely be one of the most talked about roles of the year.

Resembling no less than a post-apocalyptic Western, Mangold's Logan is a landmark achievement in the superhero genre, providing fans with the most faithful rendition of Wolverine that we've ever seen while simultaneously painting a somber and melancholy portrait of redemption that transcends its comic book roots. This is the Wolverine film that I've always wanted to see, a meditative deconstruction of one of the most enduring characters in pop culture, and Mangold - free from the shackles of a PG-13 rating and a mandate to connect the narrative to other franchise entries - delivers the goods on every conceivable level. Not only is Logan the best film of the entire X-Men pantheon, it's quite possibly the greatest comic book film of all time.