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With Hugh Jackman's 17 year tenure as Wolverine ending, Patrick Box reviews Logan, a film that some are calling the best comic book film since The Dark Knight
Logan is a film that shouldn’t exist. At least not in this form. The first Wolverine standalone film, 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was so diabolical that Fox studios had to re-evaluate its plans for the franchise and now openly mocks it within their own films (looking at you Deadpool). However its $373 million box office earned it a sequel, the ambitiously titled The Wolverine in 2013. Better received, and a strong earner for Fox ($414 million), The Wolverine is enjoyable but mostly forgettable with a final act that falls into CGI drivel. After deciding he wanted to end his tenure as the clawed mutant, Hugh Jackman reunited with director James Mangold and approached Fox with an idea for a Wolverine film that would finally do the character justice. The result is Logan. A film that transcends its genre, being at once bleak, brutal, and shockingly heartfelt. “
“Logan is a film that transcends its genre, being at once bleak, brutal, and shockingly heartfelt
Set in the year 2029, we find an aged Logan eking out a living as a limo-driver on the Mexican border. Together with fellow mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) he spends his time caring for a dementia-stricken Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in an abandoned smelting factory. He’s soon approached by a mysterious woman who offers to pay him a large sum in return for escorting herself and a young mutant, Laura (Dafne Keen), to the Canadian border. However the arrival of the Reavers, a paramilitary unit led by the cyborg Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), hellbent on recovering the girl forces Logan to take to the road with Laura and Charles. However Logan isn’t what he once was, a lifetime of violence has left him scarred both emotionally and physically as the healing factor that has kept him alive for centuries begins to falter. The film’s plot is refreshingly simple yet highly effective, abandoning the convoluted trappings of franchise cinema. Twists, both major and minor, occur throughout. Just as you think you know where the film is heading it takes a sharp left turn.
On a performance level, the film is pitch-perfect. Patrick Stewart’s turn as Charles Xavier is a revelation. Confused and vulnerable, he’s almost unrecognisable, rambling gibberish and swearing at Logan and Caliban. He’s a man who’s mind is classified by the government as a WMD, and he’s lost control of it. It’s a career best performance from Stewart; he’s played this character across five films yet this is the first that has allowed him to truly stretch himself with amazing results. Continuing the recent trend of child actors who are not only bearable but actually pretty great is Dafne Keen as Laura. Mute for most of the film’s runtime, she radiates a ferocity that makes the moments she indulges in violence chillingly believable. The trailers have made it no secret she shares certain characteristics with Logan, and her presence raises the question of legacy that is central to the film. In her, Logan sees a mutant in danger of following his own tragic footsteps, and recoils from any potential responsibility. Merchant as Caliban is a hidden gem; bone-white and bald his Somerset accent is the only thing recognisable. He somehow manages to tower over everyone yet seem the smallest man in the room. Although a little one-dimensional, Boyd Holbrook manages to elevate what easily could have been an at-most-adequate villain into an electric screen presence: a sadist who loves every-second of his job a little too much. Richard E. Grant even gives it a good stab as mad scientist Xander Rice despite turning up pretty late in the game. “
“On a performance level, the film is pitch-perfect
At the centre of everything though is Hugh Jackman as The Wolverine himself. It’s been 17 years and 9 films, and Jackman still manages to nail every aspect of the character. Abandoning the wry humour of his previous appearances, Jackman’s Logan is a man buckling under the weight of his tragic life; “Everyone I care about dies in the end” he snarls at one point. He’s a man whose circumstances shaped him into a weapon, yet his guilt comes from having done little to change that. He’s only ever been what people expected him to be. Logan unfolds as a character study of a man who’s ashamed by a legacy he deserves. In this vein the film has more in common with your classic Westerns than any superhero film. Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven is the clear reference point, as is 1953’s Shane which features heavily at several points in the film. This is evident in the simplicity of the title; it's about the man rather than the myth. Expert little touches augment this theme: Logan reads about his life in colourful comic-books that have left out all the pain and is only referred to as the Wolverine by strangers. “
“Logan unfolds as a character study of a man who’s ashamed by a legacy he deserves
Much has been said about the hard R rating (a 15 in this country) Logan targeted in order to tell this story. Director James Mangold wanted the film to feel as realistic as possible and has done a remarkable job achieving this. Everyone is believably foul-mouthed, and things get grizzly fast. Violence is central to the movie: what it really does to people both on and beneath the surface. This is the first time we see the damage a man with knives-for-hands would inflict in the real world and its harrowing. Every wound inflicted makes you flinch. Mangold skilfully manages to avoid making things gratuitous, but there were still some moments where the level of violence was distracting. Its hard not get taken out of the story when you're marvelling at how shocking everything is.
He clearly knows what he’s doing though. He directs the action as frenzied and seemingly unchoreographed without making it incomprehensible. The wide vistas of Westerns are utilised here alongside painful closeups that really embody the film’s tone. For all its scale, the film’s focus never wavers from its core characters. Yet thought has clearly been spared for background details. Taking its cue from Alfonzo Cuaron’s Children of Men, Mangold hints at a dystopia but never allows us to fully indulge. America has walled itself off from its neighbours, self-driving trucks dog the highways, and the populace is reliant on stimulants in order to forget their worries. This is all integrated so seamlessly that the few times the film slides into exposition, admittedly even if it is necessary, it jars with the fluidity the rest of the narrative possesses.
VERDICT: Logan is a triumph plain-and-simple. It manages to reinvent a genre people are desperate to label as tired, as well as delivering a worthy sendoff for an iconic character. Many are saying it’s the best superhero film since The Dark Knight. They’re not wrong. A film for people who don’t like superhero films, yet sure to please fans too, Logan is a brutal and beautiful look at the unwanted legacies we make for ourselves and the perfect sendoff for Jackman. It’s the end of an era, but it ended with a hell of a bang.