Directed by James Mangold
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Richard E. Grant, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Eriq La Salle, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Daniel Bernhardt and Elise Neal.
In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.
The superhero movie has surely been sliced and diced every which way, from gleefully self-referential (Scott Pilgrim; Kick-Ass) to toweringly sober (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy) to high camp and, erm, rubbery (surely the only time Batman and Robin deserves to mentioned in the same sentence as the aforementioned movies). Eking out a singular and distinct approach is becoming more and more tough, so nothing but plaudits ought to be aimed at the conceptually ambitious, ferocious Logan, one that, refreshingly, molds Hugh Jackman’s signature superhero to the needs of a sparse, existential Western, rather than vice versa. Bracingly this is a movie where superpowers are incidental when compared to the haunted souls wielding them – at least at first, but more on that momentarily.
Helmed by James Mangold, no stranger to a dusty, sun-bleached landscape having made the terrific 3:10 to Yuma remake back in 2007, Logan picks up with our title character at his lowest ebb in the not-too-distant future. It’s a thrilling jolt watching Jackman, giving almost certainly his best performance as Wolverine, palpably beaten down by life: ageing, weary and whose adamantium exo-skeleton appears to be killing him from the inside, his grey hairs as stark as sagebrush.”The world is not the same as it was,” he sighs, a bleak encapsulation of what to expect.
Eking out a meagre existence as a limo driver on the Mexican border, Logan harbours desires of having enough money to take the ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), sliding into dementia and reluctantly ensconced inside a downed water tank, to the coast where they can live out their lives in peace. There’s more than a hint of sly social satire hanging around Stephen Merchant’s mutant carer Caliban, an oversized servant waiting on his all-powerful master who is increasingly succumbing to deadly seizures that threaten to obliterate all and sundry. But when Logan crosses paths with a mysterious young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), he comes into conflict with those after her in the form of Boyd Holbrook’s sneering cyborg villain and his army of mutant-hunting Reavers.
As if the strains of Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’ cover on the trailer (reinstated here during the end credits) didn’t make it clear enough, we’re a world away from the pop-infused action of the earlier X-Men movies, in whose footsteps this appears to follow, at least if the presence of key characters is anything to by. On more than one occasion, Logan dismisses the X-Men comics read by Laura as largely fiction, an effective if somewhat self-righteous way of ramming home this new movie’s desire to cut deeper than anything that has gone before.
Primarily, Logan is its own feral beast, occupying a darker world where danger cannot be deflected by humour, and where mutants are tortured locomotives struggling with the suppression of their powers. Throughout Mangold dangles a none-too-subtle comparison to the classic Shane, espousing the well-worn narrative idea that a man (or in this case, mutant) cannot ever truly escape who they are. The influence of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven also hangs over the reluctant Wolverine’s desire to retreat from the world, to bury both his past and his claws.
Fully embracing the freedom of the movie’s 15 rating, Mangold ensures the eventual explosions of violence marry effectively with the tortured needs of the storyline: this is a movie where killing is rendered in as messy and gory a manner as possible, a maturation of the solo Wolverine saga in which the character’s abilities are no longer cool but downright dangerous. Certainly, following the amateurish X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the somewhat vacant The Wolverine in which the Japanese backdrops were little more than fodder for a cookie-cutter storyline, Logan‘s world-building is visceral and effective.
What a shame that following the stripped-down nihilism of the opening half, one that spirals into a cross-country road movie shared by Logan, Xavier and Laura, the narrative becomes increasingly noisy and cluttered with character and incident, populated by the sort of freight that was notably absent in the hauntingly eerie early stages. Once Richard E. Grant’s sinister scientist Dr. Rice appears on the scene (who really ought to have ‘eeevil’ stamped on his forehead), the movie increasingly bogs down in exposition that alludes to the ongoing future of the mutant franchise.
It feels like something of a violation, a nagging feeling that the movie began as something startlingly different and daring but cannot escape its eventual fate as yet another place-setter amidst a wider comic book banquet. That’s not to say it cops out on the violence: that remains a pleasing, shuddering constant throughout, but the very simplicity of the storyline is eventually lost, rubbing up against which is an increasingly sentimental bent that feels overwrought and unearned.
That said the performances are exceptional, Jackman clearly relishing the opportunity to push his character into uncharted waters in what is mooted to be his final stab at Wolverine. Stewart is also reliably excellent and poignant: it’s truly powerful when watching the all-powerful, noble Xavier being reduced to disoriented shadow of his former self. Threatening to steal the show altogether is spry and watchful newcomer Keen, possessed of strikingly angular features and a commanding physical presence that speaks of Laura’s deadly powers. She is a charismatic harbinger of what is (hopefully) to come later down the line. The conviction of this trio is ultimately what holds together a tonally patchy and narratively uneven anti-superhero movie, one that nevertheless acts as a broadly satisfying send-off for Jackman’s clawed one.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★