The days of being a hero are over for the man who was called Logan, Wolverine and ‘Bub’… he now goes by his original birth-name James Howlett. He drives an undiscerning limousine for those who can pay and tolerates the dregs of humanity that fill up his back seat. They are a means to an end… because close to the border his home has two guests that various governmental forces would love to locate: Caliban (Stephen Merchant) a mutant with the ability to track others of his kind and the man who was once the most powerful mind of Earth, Charles Xavier. But Xavier, now in his nineties, is not the man he once was: riddled with the on-set of dementia and forced to take medication to stop his powers manifesting so strongly and erratically that they could claim others lives.
Logan’s mission is to get enough money to get them far enough away from other people that they can live out their days away from danger – the Professor earning a peace he’s more than earned and Logan knowing that with the adamantium that laces his bones already beating his healing factor.
But when Logan crosses paths with a woman named Gabriella his bad luck gets worse. With her she has a child, Laura, whom she claims is her daughter and she explains that very bad men are after them. Logan isn’t interested – it sounds too much like exactly the kind of trouble he wants to avoid.
But when those bad people finally catch up with Laura, Logan is forced to defend her. Not that Laura isn’t capable of handling extreme threats. She shares some particular traits with Logan and – as Charles predicts – all their fates are now intertwined…
“The hairs on your arm will stand up
At the terror in each sip and in each sup
Will you partake of that last offered cup
Or disappear into the potter’s ground?
…When the man comes around..”
When James Mangold and Hugh Jackman announced a new Wolverine film on the horizon there was probably a section of even the most die-hard demographic that wondered if it was a good idea. Yes, Mangold’s The Wolverine was a fun movie and clearly made by someone who understood some of the printed-page milestones of Marvel‘s premier mutant… but Logan / Wolverine had been around for almost two decades and through the peaks and troughs, fans wondered if thy’d ever get to see the savage, beserker character in action – rather than being shackled to an all-ages certificate. The news that both Mangold and Jackman’s deal had them stipulating that this would be Jackman’s final outing as the X-Man and that a ‘mature audiences only‘ rating was guaranteed offered instant reassurance.
And so, Logan entered multiplexes for (possibly) the last time this weekend.
The world in which this takes place – near the end of the 2020s – is portrayed in broad-strokes. This isn’t some unrecognisable dystopian future set in some far-flung time populated by either glossy sheen or Mad Max apocalyptic wasteland societies – there are enough familiar touchstones to understand this isn’t quite ‘now’ but is only just beyond the everyday we know – the cracks more noticeable, the decay more obvious. The locations vary between dusty New Mexico (Logan’s home being a rusted, time-beaten outpost and disused farm), the wilds of the South Dakota mountain ranges to which they are fleeing with a bit of generic neon-hued downtown thrown in to the mix. That gives Mangold, serving as writer and director, some latitude to time and place. He leaves in some noticeable and deliberate blanks including the exact specifics of the event that tore Logan and Xavier’s world apart and set them off on a lonely tangent and we really don’t get a sense of the state of wider world – merely that civilisation has seen far better days and the few remaining mutants are tending to flee to Canada.
There’s a clutch of quite obvious touchstones. This is Hugh Jackman as Clint Eastwood in almost all his classics – and though the most parallel comparison is Unforgiven, there’s moments of the A Fistful of Dollars, Dirty Harry and even later fare like Gran Torino. But each and every moment of the film, be it dusty trail or rusty homestead is infused with that western mythos to the extent that Shane is directly referenced at several points.
Those looking for set-pieces will find much to like – the lycra-gloves are off and this is very much the ‘R’-rated version of the Wolverine / Logan character that die-hard fans have wanted for years. If there’s an initial worry that the adult rating is just an excuse for Jackman and Stewart to use an avalanche of four-letter words in their initial appearances – which they do – then that’s swept aside by getting down to the meat-and-potatoes and slicing-and-dicing we demanded. The adamantium-laced claws cut sharp and deep with the damage that they cause no longer sheathed by an all-ages rating.
Indeed, for a character that many have referred to as ‘Wolverine‘, there’s a reason why the film doesn’t have that moniker-merchandising-magnet in its title. The word appears infrequently and reluctantly, no character uttering the name unless it’s with a reluctance or venom. This isn’t ‘Wolverine’ it’s ‘Logan’, a man who has arguably lived far longer than he wanted or expected and has seen all his so-called heroics lead him to a dissatisfied and tragic existence. He pours disdain on the in-universe comics created by his supposed exploits and has no desire to enter into any fray that doesn’t pick a fight with him first.
It’s not quite the Old Man Logan story of the comics that were written by Mark Millar and which abstractly featured much of the Marvel universe characters in their post-apocalyptic twilight days and nor does it quite have the sharp-turn dynamics of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns title but it’s still the winning result of Mangold’s hard-fought attempt to wrestle away the commercially-driven restrictions of the past and tell one, last blow-out story while keeping it focused on the ‘man behind the mask’…
Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23 gives a memorable performance made all the more impressive by the fact that most of her scenes have her silent throughout. Able to act with her eyes as well as fists, she’s instantly more than the maguffin at the centre of the story. She makes Logan and the audience care about her misfortune and abuse while never being a simple victim or wallflower. The result is a film which could do as much for Keen’s profile as films such as Leon and Kick-Ass did for Natalie Portman and Chloë Grace Moretz respectively.
Ricky Gervais writing-partner and straight-man Stephen Merchant would have been the guy voted least likely to be a Wolverine sidekick but he actually provides an interesting, sardonic take on Caliban, the mutant able to track other mutants – so useful to both sides. Again, it would have actually been interesting to see more of his backstory and how he came to be in the state and place we find him.
That being said, it’s not perfect. There’s a danger that in putting in too much: with Reavers, an X-24 ‘clone’ and allusions to the New Mutants, Mangold has perhaps squeezed in too many examples of X-Men lore to fit comfortably into a two-hour-seventeen-minute film that feels longer. The pacing of the film is off and feels like it is series of distinct ‘acts’ – ones that sometimes feel very disconnected from each other and would perhaps be more suited to a short mini series.There’s a few too many characters around and a sequence involving Eric LaSalle and his family could be lifted out of the entire film with the exception of the set-piece into which it leads.
While Boyd Holbrook’s cybernetically-enhanced hunter Donald Pierce is given some welcome charisma as he hunts his quarry down, Richard E. Grant’s cookie-cutter bad scientist is a brief, phoned-in, 2D performance that also seems so superfluous to the plot that his role could have been handled in anecdotal back-story.
We arrive on stripped down, none flashy titles but it’s Johnny Cash who plays us home. His rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt has become a go-to for an emotional punch to scenes and was heard in the trailer, but it’s Cash’s When the Man comes Around that ends proceedings in a film where it’s easy to underestimate the importance of the soundtrack. It’s an on-the-nose choice to a film that may have some flaws but turns out to be the film many of us have been waiting for and was certainly the best of the series at what it did…
Logan (R/15) is released by Twentieth Century Fox and is out in the US on DVD with a UK release in July.
- Box-Office Potential10