I feel like Hipster Jr. Jr. and I went on an X-Men journey a couple years ago. That included the other two films in the Wolverine trilogy, but we stopped at this film. At the time I probably thought an R-rated movie about an old-ass superhero that I knew ended badly wasn’t great for an eleven year old. I may have been wrong. I may have been crowned parent of the year. We’ll never know. But, that said, I decided I was way adult enough to watch this thing. And it’s been coming up a lot lately, what with The Last of Us in the entertainment headlines. Because this, like that, is the story about a grizzled dude in the throes of middle age ferrying a child to safety. The so-called “lone wolf and cub” scenario. And while this isn’t post-apocalyptic like The Last of Us, or even other similar tales like Sweet Tooth, Children of Men, The Road and even another Pedro Pascal joint, Prospect, it is much in the same vein. Point is, these types of neo-Western-style stories about a gruff guy you would never expect to shelter a child sheltering a child are numerous and far-reaching.
I assume most people know who Wolverine is (or, properly, The Wolverine, I guess). I’m still a little unclear why he’s called Logan, but that’s probably unimportant. What I think this whole thing comes down to is Hugh Jackman driving a narrative and a movie where he can just kind of cook. In other words, I’m sure the dude was salivating over this script and the concept of the film, if not just straight-up lobbying for it. Very few actors in these superhero films get this type of arc. They get in their tights, they romp around for a few films, they age out and then their character gets rebooted, re-imagined or just replaced by a younger, hotter actor. We don’t see old Superman or Batman. Nobody gets a full lifecycle as their character, with the possible exception of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. Sort of. Anyhow, I’m sure the opportunity to play 2029, banged-up Wolverine was a very attractive role for Jackman. Even if it’s another lone wold and cub tale, which he famously already pulled off with tons of aplomb in Hipster Jr. favorite, Real Steel.
As mentioned, I had watched all the X-Men movies a few years back. Other than that, though, I have absolutely no connection or background with that series. Comic books or otherwise. And, truth be told, I don’t care one bit about any of the characters. I couldn’t tell you what Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) powers are. I don’t know why Logan and an albino Stephen Merchant are keeping him a giant, old oil drum thing in the desert. I mean we find out it’s because he’s old and presumably senile and his powers are unstable and stuff, but that still doesn’t really mean much to me seeing as these powers can be stopped by a pill and what amounts to a rusty tin can. This is clearly a film with personal stakes for Xavier and Logan, but really only if you have an attachment to the existing characters as they exist. It’s a Wolverine fan film. And, from what I understand, he has a pretty broad audience. It’s not that you can’t enjoy this on its own, but I imagine there is a way deeper connection emotionally and stakes-wise if you have a pretty decent understanding of X-Men, mutants in general and Professor X and Wolverine’s arc in total. As it stands, though, I was missing some of that emotional heft. They were definitely going for an Unforgiven vibe, but obviously had a deeper totemic well to draw from. The issue being, if you don’t have that foreknowledge of these characters, the drama of it all feels a little thin in the present.
I think my expectations outstripped my actual experience. Not that my experience was bad, but I think I expected No Country for Old Men, but still got a Marvel superhero film. My bad, I suppose. There are the Western elements, and sections with Logan’s feral charge that feel a bit like the movie Hanna, but there is also the kind of unexplained cartoon-y stuff with an indestructible Logan clone (also played by Jackman) that feels almost like a goof, and some very altered-children-in-a-lab scenarios a la Stranger Things that feel a bit gratuitous. And also illogical. Seeing as they’re children raised in a lab, escape said lab and somehow know how to navigate themselves to an isolated spot presumably way far away from the lab’s location. On their own, with no money, no sense of the world and, well, they’re a bunch of kids traveling together. And nobody noticed? All with the end goal of going to Canada. As if an imaginary border would stop the murderous bad guys? I mean these are people willing to slaughter innocent children. Do we think they’re going to get to the US border and be like, “Oh well, we don’t want to be depraved murderers in two countries!” It’s asinine.
But, again, this is ultimately a comic book movie. Logic and details are unimportant. What is important is getting the heroes you love from battle to battle. From harrowing situation to harrowing situation. I think what feels different about this film than others is that it has that The Empire Strikes Back ending. Not the cliffhanger per se. Not the unfinished nature of it. But the downcast ending. The feeling of accomplishment, but also the feeling of us moving on without someone. The almost nihilism of it all. Which speaks to the character’s arc. I imagine for fans of him, this is closure. This is the end of that arc. And I imagine it’s satisfying. Otherwise the praise and box office wouldn’t have been so outsized for a superhero film. Look, I get the grittiness of it. I understand this feels different than most, if not all, of the other films in this genre (even if elements certainly don’t). But judging it purely as a film in this trope universe, I’ve certainly seen better. Which I suppose means in some ways it was tied down by its lore, but also bolstered by it. It just depend on which end of the telescope you’re looking through.