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Stars: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Dafne Keen, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Doris Morgado, Quincy Fouse, Mary Peyton Stewart

Director: James Mangold

Hugh Jackman triumphantly brings his unique character back for the last – and most satisfying – time in director James Mangold’s riveting, action-packed, character-driven climax to the saga of the talon-handed ‘hero’ first seen in 2000’s seminal X-Men.

But here, as scripted by Mangold, Michael Green, Scott Frank (sadly, no relation!), in 2029 mutants are practically extinct and Wolverine “Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long”) is no longer the superhero he once was, being informed by Merchant’s albino Caliban associate that “Something is happening to you on the inside”.

But a fading superhero can still rise to the occasion.

Living isolated on a desolate part of the US-Mexican border (fortunately, Trump is no longer president by 2029), dependent on alcohol and left looking after Stewart’s incapacitated fellow-mutant Professor X and creepy Caliban, Wolverine works for petty cash as a limo driver – until Keen’s scary young girl Laura - “I’m in trouble. You’re the only one who could help” - turns up, laden with ready cash and persuades Jackman to battle the dark forces out to kill her and get her to safety in Darkest Canada…

To Mangold’s considerable credit, while he makes potent use of excellent special effects in creating his stark, scary thriller he doesn’t allow the film to become yet another Oscar-aspirant display of movie magic. He concentrates to great effect on character, story, a fast pace and the creation of hair-raising action sequences (the opening when Wolverine slices and dices would-be attackers sets a high action standard) that are strongly maintained throughout.

Stewart’s farewell to an iconic role is superb, too, playing his 90-year-old crumbling character whose once unique mind is disintegrating and subjecting him to more and more frequent – and terrifying – seizures. Merchant makes the most of his opportunities, newcomer Keen is a real find with a dramatic range far beyond her years and suitably villainous support come from Grant (continuing the hallowed Hollywood tradition of casting British actors as Bad Guys).

Interestingly, as featured, the future 2029 (cinematography: John Mathieson) largely resembles the well-used present-day California, New Mexico and Louisiana locations: Mangold has a story to tell and doesn’t vitiate its considerable impact by decorating it with unnecessary futuristic ‘Things to Come’-style creations.

It’s Jackman’s triumph, though. I recall enjoying seeing him play Curly on stage in Oklahoma! at the National Theatre in 1998 and reprising the role in Trevor Nunn’s 1999 film. He was superb. It is a major tribute to his considerable skill as an actor that he is as impressive and memorable as a knife-sprouting superhero here, without a song or a dance to his name..

Here, he could not be more different, bearded, worn-out, resorting to reading glasses and clearly running on borrowed time - but still capable of the scarifying slice-and-dice onslaughts that made him a unique superhero: Jackman gives a performance convincingly ranging from tender to murderous that could not be bettered. This is real ACTING and a perfect climax to playing a character that shouldn’t (and, let’s face it, won't) ever be revived, not even at the behest of Marvel maven (and one of the producers of the film) Stan Lee.

Even if the genre doesn’t appeal, the film should.

Alan Frank

USA 2017. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Colour by deluxe.
137 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 03 Mar 2017