When Hugh Jackman first "snikt'ed" his Wolverine claws in 2000, his biggest accolade was an Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical for playing the lead role in Oklahoma! in London's West End. Director Bryan Singer took the unknown song-and-dance man and cast him as the most popular character in Marvel Comics' most popular comic series. Twentieth Century Fox was taking a big chance with X-Men: Three years before, the failure of Batman and Robin had brought the superhero genre to the verge of extinction. But the studio's bet paid off, and Singer's slick, new vision for comic-book films kicked off a boom that shows no signs of stopping any time soon.
The franchise has had its ups and downs over the years, but the best X-Men movie in a decade, 2014's Days of Future Past, came after Jackman had left for a Wolverine solo trilogy. Today's X-Men lack a Wolverine, and all of the original actors — Famke Janssen's Jean Grey, Halle Berry's Storm, James Marsden's Cyclops, Rebecca Romijn's Mystique, Ian McKellen's Magneto, and Patrick Stewart's Professor X — have been replaced. Jackman, however, has been the only onscreen Wolverine. His announcement that Logan represents his retirement from the role has been the big driving force behind the film's $244 million opening weekend — but the fantastic word-of-mouth advertising it's been getting obviously helped. I'm here to add to that word of mouth.
Jackman's got the brooding, the barely concealed inner pain, and the howls of berserker rage down to a science at this point. The safe move for Logan would have been to just pick a couple of exotic locations and another set of bad guys. Evil mutants? Did that. The military industrial complex? Done. Robots? Did that, too. Yakuza? Yep.
Instead, director James Mangold and Jackman, who is the executive producer, found a way to let Logan go out in style. Superheroes usually work with unlimited resources. Batman and Tony Stark are billionaires, Superman has a Fortress of Solitude packed with what's left of Krypton's technology, and Professor Xavier's sitting on a fortune he used to build his School for Gifted Youngsters, the only prep school with an X-Jet. When Logan opens, our hero, Wolverine, is hustling for bucks as a limo driver in El Paso. It's 2029, and it looks like Trump's presidency has gone as badly as we fear. Among Logan's fares are groups of drunken frat boy types who hang out of the sunroof and chant "USA" at Mexicans detained by the border wall. His first dust up is with a bunch of gangbangers trying to steal his hubcaps. When he's forced to let the air out of a few of them, he reveals his existence to Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a cyborg working as head of corporate security for TransGen, a pharmaceutical company that is actually a front for Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) to carry on the work of the Weapon X project that created Wolverine in the first place, back several movies ago. Pierce warns Logan to be on the lookout for a woman and a young girl who will ask him for help. In fact, they already have asked him for help, and he refused, because he's trying to protect a bigger secret: He's hiding Professor X down in Mexico. Charles Xavier is dying from a degenerative brain disease, but since his psychic brain is a weapon of mass destruction, his seizures pose a real public danger.
Logan and Professor X help the child, a refugee from the revived Weapon X program called X-23. Laura, as the nurses named her, is played by 12-year-old newcomer Dafne Keen, who looks something like a 2/3 scale model of Natalie Portman. The three mutants embark on a desperate road trip to North Dakota, where Laura can find sanctuary at a secret base called Eden.
Stripping Wolverine of his superhero trappings and putting him in charge of the dying Professor X and the volatile, mute Laura was a brilliant move. Logan has more in common with Sicario or No Country for Old Men than it does with Doctor Strange or Batman v Superman. Stewart and Jackman give a pair of brilliant performances, and Keen shows dazzling range for a girl younger than the franchise itself. The X-Men subtext has always been about the treatment of outsiders by the larger culture, and unfortunately, that maps perfectly with the story of a young Mexican girl struggling to find safety in a post-Trump America, imbuing Jackman and Stewart's superhero swan song with an urgent relevance.