Hugh Jackman takes out his claws for the final time in this X-film like no other. Richard tells us the praise is justified.
When the first trailer for Logan was released, I was concerned I was witnessing promises that couldn’t be kept; that the stark visual style, when coupled with the dark and forlorn ballad “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, was only setting me up for disappointment. To make a film which could truly justify using that song would require more than an R-rating and a decent budget. It would require honesty, depth and some serious guts. Somehow, stunningly, James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have delivered all three of these qualities and then some. This may be designated a film for adults by virtue of the essential R-rating, but that was also the same for Deadpool, which used the lack of limitation to push the boundaries of propriety and decency. Logan is an adult film because it is truly meant for a mature and invested audience. Mangold and Jackman didn’t give us the over-the-top superhero movie many wanted and we probably deserved; they gave us the potent and emotional story of one brutalised and broken mutant fighting against the inevitability of his sacrificial redemption.
This film has earned the right to tell its own story, so I would simply urge anyone who is still planning to see this film to stop reading. Don’t allow anyone to spoil this for you by throwing around plot points or describing their favorite moments. There are no major twists to fear here – the most crucial aspect of this story is in how its told. Jackman has simply never given a performance quite like this. That hallmark rage which for so many years defined the character has been buried beneath bitterness, self-loathing and cheap whiskey. This is not the Wolverine, this is simply Logan, and that distinction could not be clearer. Gone are the sweeping slow-motion shots and forcefully dramatic moments. There is simply nothing “super” about the way in which this far-gone hero is portrayed.
The great hidden character of the film is the dark and dirty world of 2029. This is not dystopia by war or plague but through the logical progression of mankind’s already established self-destructive tendencies. The highways are filled with hordes of self-driving long haul trucks, tigers are extinct, and no new mutant has been born for 25 years. In this ugly and brutal world, we find Logan working as a limousine chauffeur along the American side of the Mexican border. His hair is grey and his body scarred – the unstoppable Wolverine finally brought down by the progression of time. His mission is now simply to keep himself and the ill and unstable Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) alive and hidden. Introduced into this weary and fragile state of affairs is Laura (Dafne Keen), a young mutant in need of help and a ride to North Dakota. Given little choice, Logan and Charles begin the long trip to take Laura to her “Eden.”
Keen as Laura is a revelation and, had it not been for the other cast members, she likely would have stolen the film. This is a young girl we will likely see a great deal of in the coming years, and I suspect is currently being inundated with offers for roles. With the introduction of such a bright young star, it perhaps makes sense that we bear witness to the last time Stewart will grace us as Professor X. Thankfully, I can’t imagine a more fitting swansong for the character and, not wishing to comment too much further on the plot, I will simply state that at long last Stewart has been given leave to bring the full brunt of his acting prowess to his second most famous role, and the result is heartwrenching. Along with Stephen Merchant’s dramatic turn as the tragic Caliban, the main cast is simply stellar. While Boyd Holbrook and Richard E. Grant may not be as distinguished as the main villains, the primary antagonist here is not an external threat but rather an internal struggle.
One aspect of the film which had so many excited before its release is the concept of Wolverine-style action no longer confined to the PG-rating. Interestingly, the new injection of blood and gore isn’t what elevates the action of these scenes but rather the sense of balance and consequence. No longer is Wolverine a killing machine who acts like a lawnmower chopping the heads of inconsequential henchmen, but now a limping older man who, while still a fighter, gives the impression of an aging bareknuckle boxer whose accumulated damage makes him formidable due to experience rather than speed or power. We see Logan beaten, bleeding and losing. Here for the first time we see true vulnerability in a character who has, up till this point, been essentially immortal. Now, Mangold already explored this in 2013’s The Wolverine, which while a solid standalone film, never managed to create a sense of real risk as everyone expected the character’s appearance in future franchise films. With the announcement of Jackman’s final outing as Weapon X, and the eerie and dusty atmosphere, very reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, the stakes here feel real and personal.
It has been announced that Logan will be getting a release in black and white and I find that only fitting. Much like George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road which received similar treatment, Logan has found a special place in cinematic tone which feels much like a post-modern western with tinges of a post-war survival story. This tone is clearly on purpose as the film itself makes a clear tribute to George Steven’s 1953 western Shane, both through its narrative and through showing a segment of the actual movie. I can admit that the last scene of Shane brought me to quiet tears when I saw it many years ago, and would never have expected a film about an immortal killing machine with metal claws to have nearly the same effect. But Logan does itself no disservice by drawing parallels to one of the greatest westerns, as by the time the credits started rolling, I was now, as then, trying to hide my quiet tears.