Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Director: James Mangold
Running Time: 137 mins
Synopsis: The year is 2029 and no new mutant has been born in 25 years. Hiding out in the desert near El Paso is a weary battle scarred Wolverine (Jackman). Unable to heal as well and in a constant alcohol induced haze, he cares for an ailing dementia ridden Professor X (Stewart). Into this comes a young girl, Laura (Keen), who is being hunted by the mutant hating Ravagers, and Logan is forced to intervene.
It is hard to name an actor more synonymous with a character than Hugh Jackman as The Wolverine. Across 17 years, 9 films and numerous confusing timelines he has embodied the rage-filled Wolvie with heart, soul and immense charisma. Loved by audiences but due to that the ensemble films became just a little bit too focused on his backstory, to the detriment of other members of the X-Men. Two solo films suffered from being either too character heavy and confusing (X-Men: Origins) or sacrificing interesting themes for senseless boss battles (The Wolverine). Director of the latter, James Mangold, returns here and is blessed with an R-rating (some claim due to Deadpool’s success but this was in the works months prior) and intimacy in favour of scale.
The R-rating is put to bloody use in the opening moments as Logan, drunk and tired, fights off some car-jackers attempting to steal his stretch limo (he is earning a living as a chauffeur), and subsequently slashing, hacking and dicing them to pieces. The gore is not the only difference here (although this is most certainly the stabbiest film you will have ever seen), Logan suffers an almighty beating himself. No longer the breathless killing machine of the previous pictures, he is exhausted and slow to heal. After all these years of saving the world, and losing all that he loves (invulnerability is not all it’s cracked up to be) he has resigned himself to caring for the only real personal connection he has left, Professor X.
Patrick Stewart plays the once all knowing and caring X-Men leader as a confused, angry and helpless old man. First seen cursing and ranting around Logan’s barren homestead (this film also takes ownership of the ability to swear and runs with it), Stewart cuts loose with a fierce and sad performance. You see his dementia ridden outbursts aren’t the same as mere mortals, his cause mind altering blasts of nuclear powered destruction. These moments are filmed with a shaky time-slowing visual effect that conveys their strength without the need for CGI splashy OTTness. Although these scenes are captivating, and responsible for some great action moments, it is in the quiet regrets Charles conveys where the true power lies. He factors into a couple of tear-inducing revelations that break the heart, helped immeasurably by the strong kinship him and Logan have for each other.
This feeling surrounds the entire film, the years we have spent with these two gives the film an added layer of heft that truly disarms. It is possible to enjoy this film without having seen the previous movies, Mangold wisely doesn’t attempt to make sense of the ever-increasing confusion around the film timelines choosing to reference only a couple of past situations in a blink and you’ll miss it way. But the films’ themes and power is amplified if you’ve seen just what Logan has suffered through. His unwillingness to care for anyone else makes more sense when you remember just how many have died in his presence, this is one unlucky mutant.
The one addition to Logan that encapsulates all this is in newcomer Dafne Keen’s Laura. A mute seemingly vulnerable little girl, who is anything but. She is dumped on Wolverine after her carer decides he is the only one who can get her to a so-called Eden for mutants. Yes Laura is a mutant, one who has a number of similarities to our hero not least his uncontrollable rage. Laura becomes the centre of a few hard-hitting visceral action scenes, aided in their gore by her adamantium protrusions. When the two fight side by side it is a symphony of screams, stabs and rivers of blood, they are breathlessly exhilarating to watch. As the film progresses she becomes the beating heart, her seeing in him the father figure she never had, him seeing the chance to leave something good in the world. It may not be a particularly new plot device but it is a damn effective one.
Their relationship also builds on a theme of not letting others perceptions of you cloud who you become. Both born into a world of violence and in themselves a capacity to let the violence take control the search to be better than that is palpably moving, especially after witnessing the amount of victims Logan has carved up over the years. Although Logan possibly skewers more enemies than all of those films combined, enemies led by Boyd Holbrook’s Donald Pierce. Pierce is the leader of the Ravagers, cybernetically enhanced soldiers who have come to claim Laura for reasons I will not spoil here. Working for Richard E Grant’s sneering Dr Rice, they are solid if unsurprising villains. Holbrook gives Donald a gleeful Texan snarl and is certainly one to root against, but are very much pushed to the side in favour of the character piece of the central threesome. A mid-film introduction of an even bigger bad is shocking but brings the film a tad too close to the operatic cheese of the ensemble films.
As a send off though Jackman could not have asked for a better more focused film, and rewards Mangold’s faith with his best performance in the role. Perpetually wounded and constantly bedraggled, he is a man truly lost. The moments he ever so briefly showcases the caring man within are conveyed with but a glance and are devastating to watch. This is probably the first X-film to elicit repeated tears, especially in the films cathartic final grace notes. It isn’t all heartache though, with Jackman gifted a few crowd-pleasing Berserker moments that reach balletic heights of gore and ferocity.
James Mangold’s direction is impeccable here, images are sparsely beautiful contributing to the Western vibe of influences such as Shane (a film explicitly referenced perhaps a little too much). Mangold never rushes to get to the next action scene, allowing the film to naturally build to them through character, notably in a mid-film break with a local family that ease into the hearts with simplicity and subtle grace-notes, culminating in images of violence that just break you. Mangold lets the films’ many themes of ageing, legacy and man’s nature lie in the background, never feeling like he needs to signpost them for his audience. Marco Beltrami provides a elegiac score, that never plays on the Western sound too heavily and the visual effect work is refreshingly almost all in camera. It is a film built with care and delicacy, all evidently driven to deliver the ultimate send-off to one of Superhero cinema’s most beloved characters. Hugh Jackman couldn’t have asked for better.
Verdict: Lyrical without being pretentious, violent without being gratuitous, character based without foregoing the need for action, Logan is not only a triumphant comic-book movie but a great film, period!