Director: James Mangold (Knight and Day, The Wolverine).
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant.
How many times have you seen a bunch of overdressed, good-looking people with superpowers save the world from an invading threat, that often has them battling around a giant, blue laser in the sky?
How many times have you sat through over two hours of a film only to find several plot threads won’t be resolved until the sequel three years later?
How many times have you finished a film and thought, ‘I’ve seen this all before’?
Logan, both the film and the character, break the shackles of conventional superhero cinema by providing a story that follows the character, instead of a character following the story.
The film opens with Hugh Jackman’s titular character, Logan, waking up in the back of his limousine to find that parts of his vehicle are being stolen. The first word is a muttered ‘fuck’. Logan looks visibly older, he has bloodshot eyes and is unhinged from himself, drawing parallels to Max Rockatansky from the Mad Max series. It’s immediately clear that the Wolverine we’re familiar with has gone through some drastic changes.
He gets out to confront the goons stripping his car, and where one would expect a swift slice-and-dice from the Wolverine, instead we see Logan hit the ground pretty quickly. It’s clear he’s not the animal he used to be. We’re in 2029, not quite a dystopian future, but things aren’t looking great for mutants. Logan is one of the last of his kind, no new mutants have been born for several years, and the rest have either been captured or killed.
Nevertheless, Logan eventually gets back to his feet, fueled by his anger, and quickly retorts using his famous claws. The beast is back, but it’s not the same for him or the audience. A little later we see Logan in a bathroom, forcing the bullets of out his chest, allowing his mutant powers to kick in so he can begin to heal. It’s a slower process that we’re used to seeing, you can see him shaking as he starts to dress, it’s evident that Logan is more vulnerable than ever.
And it’s this slowed down, personal vulnerability that sets the film’s tone. While 2016’s Deadpool certainly gave studios confidence in giving their superhero films ‘R’ ratings, Logan doesn’t just take advantage of it just by making everything bloodier, but the rating allows for a more sombre, bittersweet story that couldn’t be told in a story with ten other X-Men characters.
Instead, we have enough X-Men to count on one hand. Logan is caring for a withering Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose wonderful, brilliant mind has now become extraordinarily dangerous. He frequently suffers from seizures which have devastating consequences to those around him, and Logan is the only one who can survive because of his accelerated healing and slight immunity. Aiding Logan with the care is Caliban (Stephen Merchant), whose mutant ability to track and find other mutants is no longer useful. Don’t mistake it, there’s a very clear theme to this film, loss. Not just in abilities, but in the soul, friendships and dreams.
But all of a sudden along comes a girl…
Laura (Dafne Keen) is much like Logan, ‘very much like you’ asserts Charles. She’s a child who has been genetically engineered to have Logan’s abilities. In a sense, she is his daughter. Hunting her down is a group of cybernetic-enhanced men called the Reavers, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). They work on behalf of Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), the mastermind behind creating a group of genetically engineered mutant children.
Logan is loosely based on the Mark Millar comic book Old Man Logan. In fact, the only cues it takes is the fact that the film stars an older, grizzled, bearded Logan. The film is clearly inspired by the likes of The Wrestler, Little Miss Sunshine and Shane, which the characters actually reference in the film. The distancing from both source material and previous adventures by the Wolverine allows the film to breathe without the constraints of continuity and universal connections. If you’re wondering how X-Men: Days of Future Past ties into the film, or why we don’t see Sabretooth, or what place Logan plays in the larger X-Men universe, you’re already thinking harder about it than director James Mangold did. Much is left purposely vague, the film has clearly been made without much regard to previous stories and films. If I have one piece of advice for those who haven’t seen the film yet, just relax your mind and follow the story in front of you. Stop trying to ‘beat’ the film like a video game.
To say Logan is a ‘comic book’ movie is a little disingenuous and feels pejorative, it’s closer to the long-gone Western genre more than anything else. Again, the Shane influence isn’t accidental, Mangold purposely set out to create a grounded and intimate adventure. His previous venture with Jackman, 2013’s The Wolverine, shares these conventions too, but they start to crumble as the film approaches its third act which leads to its inevitable downfall. Mangold, then, has learned his lesson, and keeps the loud, bold, bombastic CGI bad guy out of the picture, opting to leave it much more personal. Logan is very much comparable to Alan Ladd’s character in Shane, a killer on the ‘right’ side of morality, but doesn’t consider himself to be a good person. It’s the duality between Logan’s killer instinct and his duty to look after Charles and stay out of trouble that makes this the deepest look into the character that we’ve ever seen in the X-Men franchise.
This burden and duty portrayed through Jackman is no doubt helped by his bittersweet performance. To be the first superhero to age out of a role is a magnificent achievement, and Jackman doesn’t let loose as he’s at the top of his game. Those familiar with the 2013 Denis Villeneuve film Prisoners will know that Jackman is capable of much more than just shouting and stabbing, and he shows that in this final rendition of the character. Even if you go into Logan having not seen the last 17-years worth of X-Men films, you’ll likely still be enchanted by the chemistry between Jackman and Stewart, the latter also putting in his best interpretation of Charles Xavier in long tenure too. It’s clear they both respect and understand these important characters, and it shows through their performances. There’s a shared vulnerability between them, not just physically, but psychologically too, seen through their interactions with one another. Logan is tough but caring, and Charles is floundering but still speaks with intelligence and wisdom from time to time. Once Laura comes along to complete the trio, it feels bittersweet to know that we’re only going to spend one film with these three characters together because it was a delight watching them work with one another.
The ‘extended chase sequence’ is quickly becoming one of my favourite ways for a film to deliver its narrative. George Miller returned to his Mad Max franchise with Fury Road, which sees Tom Hardy’s Max and Charlize Theron’s Furiosa team up to take a group of young women to ‘the green place’, a safe haven for them to live free of their oppressors. Logan sees Wolverine take Charles and Laura across the country to Canada, where the young mutant girl will be safe in the elusive ‘Eden’. While Fury Road is almost non-stop car chase, Logan gives its characters a chance to stop, reflect, and talk. This allows us to see these characters at leisure, there’s one point we see Logan helping Charles go to the toilet. It’s a chance for the audience to see that despite the previous instalments and the ever-building stakes of other superhero cinema, these characters are still human. They bleed and feel emotions. They even get tired. This is the foundation of Logan‘s storytelling. It doesn’t lose itself in a CGI minefield or mindless cameos for the fans, instead, it feels closer to an expensive indie film. There’s only one instance of the film where it starts to retread old ground, but the reasoning behind it is metaphorical; if you can look past this instance and read a little deeper, it becomes nuanced from previous threads.
Brutal fight scenes elevated by the film’s ‘R’ rating will no doubt shock audiences that are used to the PG-13 affairs of other X-Men films, but it’s important to the story as we see Logan struggle with his limited healing powers and old age. Claws go through limbs, even heads at times. It’s the Wolverine that fans have wanted to see on the big screen for years, and only in the final act does it start to feel excessive. Nevertheless, gone is Wolverine’s previous stoicism, as well as his nihilism; X-Men’s true credo is still prevalent within him by the end of the film; hope, intimacy, family, and respect.
While we gaze upon the likes of Marvel Studios, Warner Bros, and other studios planning their cinematic universes and crossovers, James Mangold provides an intimate, standalone tale of a comic book character that finally gets his deserved due. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart give their best performances while newcomer Dafne Keen is a delight to watch. Logan escapes the tropes and clichés of superhero cinema by providing a character study instead of a character promotion. After almost two decades of stabbing and slashing, finally, in Logan, it’s not the claws that cut deepest. It’s Wolverine himself.