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film review

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in Logan.Ben Rothstein

With nine films under his belt as the mutton-chopped, cigar-chomping, adamantium-clawed Canadian mutant Wolverine, Hugh Jackman might seem like an easy candidate for the Guinness Book of Records. But in fact, there are a surprising number of comers in the singular competition for who has played the same film character the most amount of times, with Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton tied for the honour, thanks to their Blondie pics of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s (28 films in total).

Yet perhaps the record books should make a Hugh Jackman exception. The Australian actor may not have inhabited Wolverine's skin for as long as, say, Desmond Llewelyn played Bond gadget guru Q (35 years!) but he has survived the great Hollywood comic-book explosion of the past two decades, in which an inexhaustible hunger for fresh, rebooted content ensures no one actor gets to strap on the tights for all that long. Since Jackman first bared his claws in 2000's X-Men, the dawn of the spandex-cinema era, there have been three Spider-Mans, three Hulks, three Punishers, two Batmans, two Supermans and two too many Daredevils (sorry, but that character's a bore).

There has only ever been one Wolverine, and as the new, ostensibly final outing Logan proves, there should only be one Wolverine.

Whereas most actors half-committing themselves to a superhero film look like they'd rather be anywhere else (namely, the bank), Jackman has always been completely immersed in the spectacle of it all. His Wolverine (a.k.a. Logan, a.k.a. Weapon X, a.k.a. Alberta-born James Howlett) is an irresistibly compelling figure, and Jackman twists the pain at the centre of the hero's struggle into remarkably uncomfortable places for a blockbuster. A not-so-veiled truth about the X-Man is that his superpower is essentially tearing his own body apart so that he might do the same to others. In the eight films in which he's had to carry that agony so far, Jackman has redefined how heroes work and how they break down.

Which makes Logan all the more satisfying. Designed to act as a tribute to both Wolverine and Jackman, the film drops any of the X-franchise's more whiz-bang window dressing and CGI ridiculousness – this is a stripped-down, deadly serious drama about one man's struggle to make peace with the immeasurable pain he's caused, while at the same time recognizing that he must inflict just that much more damage to make things right. And Jackman nails it.

The film opens in 2029, with Wolverine inhabiting a depressing, if not quite apocalyptic, future (don't even try to reconcile how the timeline works compared with any of the previous X-films; continuity has never been this series' strong point). In Logan's world, corporations set the world agenda even more than before, no mutant has been born in two decades and border issues rile the United States. It's essentially Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men crossed with a Trumpian fever dream – Children of X-Men, if you will. And this is where our hero finds himself eking out a living as a chauffeur, driving a vaguely next-generation limousine while drinking himself to death, his body finally failing him after more than a hundred years.

But then along comes a surprise in the form of a little Mexican girl named Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen), who a near-senile Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) insists is the dawn of a new mutant age (yeah, this film leans heavily on Cuaron). So Wolverine gets to go on one last hero's journey and Jackman gets to remind audiences just how skilled he is at balancing agony with charm, anger with ease. His Wolverine is at once familiar here and fresh, the distance between his 2000 debut and today adding an impressive, complex weight to a character who has grown alongside an entire generation of moviegoers.

By the time the narrative reaches its climax – bad guys in pursuit, salvation just in sight, blood on the floor – it's almost painful to say goodbye, which is precisely the point. As the film's first trailer promised with its score of Johnny Cash's cover of Hurt, Logan is all about suffering, despair, the damage done – and not in some abstract way, but in the visceral sense. Which is where the movie hits its sole, though major, false note.

In a break with genre tradition, Logan was produced with a hard-R rating in mind (perhaps studio Twentieth Century Fox thought there was more filthy Deadpool lucre to be mined). Blood is spilled in buckets, and there are more severed arms, legs, torsos and heads than any reasonable gore-hound could keep count of. The idea behind the violence is intriguing – let's really show what happens to those who dare cross an X-Man – but director James Mangold exploits it too frequently, and with too much glee.

The effect is similar to a four-year-old boy discovering he can swear – cute at first, but distracting and even aggravating as time wears on. The very first line uttered in Logan is an F-bomb, and the vulgarity and excessive brutality only snowballs from there. There's even a bit of female nudity slipped into the proceedings, for no real reason other than, "Why not?" It all calls to mind a crude XXX-Men joke, but to deliver it might make the producers all the more needlessly tumescent.

Still, Mangold mostly lets Logan stand as a showcase for Jackman, that rare performer who can take an already-iconic figure and own him completely, to the point where it's hard to divorce the two. It will not be a shock when Fox inevitably recasts Wolverine, but it will be a crushing disappointment. Logan ends on a note of finality, but Jackman's performance is eternal.

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