Not that it’s had stellar competition lately, but Logan is the best X-Men film yet – it’s just a shame it took 17 years for Hugh Jackman to sink his claws into the character like this.
Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) is one of only a few mutants left in 2029, and his healing powers are failing. Working as a chauffeur to make ends meet, he lives in Mexico with a frail and brain-damaged Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) alongside fellow mutant ‘sniffer’ Caliban (Stephen Merchant). When Logan is approached to look after the mysterious Laura (Dafne Keen), he finds himself thrown into a bigger situation, pursued by scientist Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), enforcer Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and plenty of expendable goons.
The movie slowly and surely develops outward, giving every character an arc or defined set of motivations. In other words, beyond the more recent X-Men films First Class and Days of Future Past, this is one of the only movies given room to breathe, and characters some development. Wolverine has been an ever-present since 2000’s X-Men, and Jackman’s worked hard to make the character work as Logan suffers again and again (sometimes we’ve suffered as well, such as with X-Men Origins: Wolverine…).
Logan succeeds because it takes what we like about the character (dark humour, bastardly manner and violence tinged with melancholy and a need to help others) and wraps it all together with a strong story. There are many times that you have to remind yourself (or some of the more outlandish comic-book stuff does) that you’re watching an X-Men movie. It’s shot like a western, wide vistas showcasing the extremes of the USA, and one western, Shane, is shown onscreen and quotes used to reinforce similar points. Director and writer James Mangold essentially uproots the superhero and places him in a road movie that allows Jackman and Stewart to finally act, after movies where they barely had to.
The script (co-written by Scott Frank and Michael Green) is almost a retrospective on Wolverine, the series and superhero films, confronting that which only The Dark Knight Rises has already: what happens when a superhero begins to reach the end? Logan is not healing as quickly anymore, Charles is suffering catastrophic seizures, and both are looking toward mortality from near-immortality. Their diminishing impacts are shot cleverly by Mangold, particularly Logan’s poorly-repairing injuries and Charles’ spectacular powers becoming uncontrollable. With the addition of Laura, this odd couple becomes a family, and the road movie begins – the stresses and strains of the journey and time on Logan at the same time as his kinship with Laura grows and Charles’ acceptance of his health problems.
Jackman deserves a lot of credit for making Wolverine so iconic. Like a lot of other heroes, those he cares about end up dead, and the actor’s done well showing how the gruff sod is gruff because of the hell he’s gone through. I felt Logan gave the Aussie a chance at last to let acting, not muscles, do the talking, and it’s his best performance. He’s no slouch when it comes to the action, holding his own in choreographed fights and brawls, but it’s in the arguments, conversations and the smaller, quieter scenes that his performance rings out, particularly as he faces more and more challenges, stoicism giving way to weariness, sadness, melancholy and resignation.
Stewart clearly relished messing with what has always been a fairly boring character, Xavier here much more funny, fragile and weak. The British actor is the comedic centre of the film and a source for a fair amount of emotion, knowing his time is nearly at an end and that his abilities are becoming increasingly dangerous. Where the other X-Men movies have seen the two characters share a staid, father-son mentor relationship, in this movie it’s carer and dependant, and it’s honestly really interesting to see Stewart largely dispose of the calm and kind in favour of this crotchety, incapable, unstable and frankly more human Xavier.
Young Dafne Keen plays Laura, and without ruining her story, I’ll just say the child actor is fantastic. Remaining mute for a large part of proceedings, Keen’s furious features and angry gestures go a long way towards characterising her, and when Laura does speak, you’re shocked by how young she is. It’s a testament to how well she acts that you forget her age, and in some violent scenes, she ably presents a new kind of female hero striking back with ferocity. The quieter, more emotional scenes develop with her understanding of the world as the film progresses, and if there are to be any future movies, I hope they keep Keen, because she brings a new energy, more than holding her own in many fraught and shouty scenes with Jackman.
The rest of the cast are a mixed bunch – Stephen Merchant is strangely cast as Caliban, probably for his height and generally odd appearance! His Bristolian accent jars, but his performance is subtly understated – he can act without needing to be funny or with Ricky Gervais, and he’s an interesting choice that somehow works. The two antagonists offer different sides of the coin, Boyd Holbrook’s smarmy muscle contrasted with Richard E. Grant’s cold scientist. Their differences and motivations were areas the film could have given more time to, particularly Grant’s Rice, whose aims are thrown at us quickly come the end, while Holbrook’s character is underdeveloped to the point at which his offbeat humour and robot arm are the parts that stick in the memory.
The very good music by Marco Beltrami deserves a mention, at turns contemplative, western-sounding and horroresque at other points. Following Deadpool’s profane and gory success, it’s refreshing to finally see the bestial Wolverine finally stab people, and they bleed! Sick as that might sound to some, it’s been odd before considering Wolverine has METAL CLAWS. The adult rating benefits in more ways than one, giving gore and more gore so there’s a clear physical cost and an impact to the action, while it feels like Logan and Charles have now finally realised they’re not surrounded by kids and can swear, a root of much of the film’s comedy (particularly where Patrick Stewart is concerned).
I’ve droned on long enough – even if you’re not a big X-Men fan, I’d recommend seeing Logan. It’s evidence of how good a “comic-book” film can be if given the chance to be a little more adult in intent and portrayal, and it’s a fitting conclusion to Jackman’s long history with Wolverine.