‘Logan‘ isn’t your average superhero film. It’s a road-movie, a western homage and a pay-off for long-term fans of the Wolverine…
Battles above the Statue of Liberty, cosmically-powered mutants posing a threat to all humanity… these are all distant memories to part-time chauffeur with a driving license bearing the name James Howlett. A handful of people still get to call him Logan (Hugh Jackman), but pity the fools who would call him the Wolverine. It’s the year 2029 and the birth-rate for mutants has bizarrely plummeted in the previous decade and the events of the past are quickly forgotten – fading into comic-book hued legend or looked back on as a historical blip best left in the past.
Only two strands bind him to that past: the people hiding in his homestead and who he cares for as best he can: a mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and Logan’s old friend Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Despite mutant-tracking abilities,Caliban can’t venture out into sunlight and Charles is a shell of his former self, his mind riddled with Alzheimer’s and full of medication that dulls his powers and only gives him short windows of clarity. Logan dreams of providing a sanctuary for them, raising enough money to buy a yacht and simply get away from the dregs of humanity.
It’s never going to happen. Their down and dusty status quo is ripped apart when Logan is approached to help smuggle a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), to Canada but though the payment would be considerable he knows it would attract the time, effort and attention that he’s now avoiding. The choice is taken out of his hands and claws when the child’s enemies come knocking – and shooting.
It turns out that Laura and Wolverine have a very specific connection, one that will bind them together in the coming days. Can Logan, Charles and Caliban get her to safety or will the past extinguish even the slightest hope for the future? And either way… what will be the cost?
Nowadays superhero movies keep upping the ante as if the world depended on it – and usually, at least according to the script, it does. The stakes must be seen to be higher, the villains must be seen to be more ambitious and the visual effects budget now has to cover the national debt of a small country.
So it’s interesting to see – and welcome to witness the immediate success of – a film like Logan. There’s plenty of obvious VFX and probably a multitude of even more that are too seamless to note, but director James Mangold hasn’t sought to furnish us a summer blockbuster of epic proportions. Instead, given the chance to return and helm what is likely to be Hugh Jackman’s swansong in the role, the writer/director has dialed back on a lot of the sure-fire elements studios and audiences generally expect for their money. The rating is what is called a hard ‘R’ or what appears to be a ’15’ in the UK ratings system – something the studios usually try to avoid as it limits the audience and therefore the box-office totals. And make no mistake – this isn’t a kid’s movie. Logan is one for die-hard fans, a love letter to Wolverine’s true potential, giving only subtle nods and lip-service to the past and is an outing that eschews the trappings of traditional superheroics in favour of the western.
Given the production timeline, it’s hard to tell whether the success of last year’s risk-turned-success Deadpool* was an actual help or not, but studios have been getting edgy and nervous about their superhero-franchise tent-poles. Sure, Marvel have their own universe (to which the X-Men‘s Twentieth Century Fox world is parallel rather than fully-inclusive) which has paid dividends and Warners/DC have their Super-Batty-Wondrous universe which has been arguably less so – so far. But they are all expensive to make and sometimes a riskier smaller film is more welcome than a riskier big one. Once in a while, the studios will roll the dice and take a chance. So whatever stars aligned to make Logan a reality (likely Mangold’s previous success, Jackman agreeing one last Wolverine outing and a budget considerably lower than before) were worth it because the earliest box-office numbers were impressive and the critical reaction strong.
Whether this will be everyone’s favourite X-Men related movie or not will be largely down to individual taste, but there’s little doubt that this is Jackman’s best ‘solo’ outing as the adamantium-laced mutant and it offers more character-development than most of his appearances combined.
Despite its near-future setting, this is an old-school action film through and through. Yes, it’s obviously taking its cues from Clint Eastwood and a raft of westerns such as Unforgiven (as did Mark Millar in the comic source material) but Logan is also a throwback to the days of Sam Peckinpah, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson, giving audiences a back-to-basics, weathered and flawed but still testosterone-fuelled hero, brutal, bloodied and bruised.
Pacing everything and the film does have moments where the action slumps and several sequences could probably have been removed without any real detriment to the plot, but it’s all ambitious without being extravagant. Some of the effectiveness comes in that cinema trick of quick cuts and there are moments where the otherwise impressive hand-to-hand combat is probably enhanced by the editing choices. Disposable bad-guys are sliced-and-diced like red-shirts on an away mission and various supporting characters could have done with better backstories. However Jackman is great, Dafne Keen’s Laura is likely a career-starter, Patrick Stewart gets to cut loose and Boyd Holbrook’s Pierce is a decent bounty-hunter bad-guy. Even Stephen Merchant grabs some spotlight for himself.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a counterpane of very good elements where it doesn’t matter if some of the stitching still shows.Brutal and bloody, this is a risk that paid off… it may not be the best entry-point for new fans (though one doesn’t have to know the franchise inside-and-out to follow it) but it’s an effective endgame and a brave farewell to adamantium-laced arms.
Logan is released by Twentieth Century Fox and is out now..
*Added bonus for mature audiences only, here’s the slightly-longer, profanity-heavy version of a Deadpool 2 extra that accompanies Logan‘s cinema release….