Milo Garner reviews the latest X-Men offering and finds the Wolverine film we deserve.
After seventeen long years and nine (nine!) film appearances, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine takes his final bow. Logan, set in 2029, opens with our hero a little removed from his heroic past – a limo driver, awoken by the sound of thieves stealing his hubcaps. At this point James Mangold’s film immediately reminds the audience that it has truly earnt its 15 rating – Logan, after being shot (naturally), unleashes his claws and dices the criminals. This isn’t to say a quick cutting camera obscures a bloodless massacre – limbs fly and blood spurts. Finally, a film able to do justice to a guy who has knives growing out of his hands; and after so many years of censorship, there is a catharsis in such a brazen opening. Besides an ample supply of ultraviolence and unrestrained swearing, Logan is also mature in its tone. There is no world to save here. Even if Wolverine’s actions at times have some wider implications, ultimately the film is about him. And it’s pretty grim. As mentioned, Logan finds himself a limo driver, and worse for wear in more ways than one. Beyond a greying mane he finds his healing factor weakened and ineffective, suffers from clawrectal dysfunction (sorry), and must even face the ignominy of using store-bought reading glasses. The film’s justification for this is a sort of degenerative illness caused by the adamantium in his body, but in effect we are seeing Logan age. Though still able to slice a few bad guys when the time comes, he’s not what he was, and more often finds himself at the disadvantage against opponents that would’ve been bloodless mince a few films ago.
Wolverine’s own decline seems matched by much of the scenery around him – inspired by the post-apocalyptic Old Man Logan comic series, Logan’s world seems to be set on the precipice of disaster. The world hasn’t yet come undone, but the signs are there, the most obvious being the distinct lack of mutants besides Wolverine himself. As we find, most had died, and none were being born. It becomes apparent the anti-mutant villains who were last defeated by literally turning back time had somehow had the last laugh even in this timeline. Outside of working hours, Logan finds himself travelling to Mexico often, to an abandoned farm that homes the nonagenarian Charles Xavier. Hovelled in a collapsed water tower, one whose rust has allowed speckles of light to pierce through its dome, the aged Professor X is also not what he once was. He speaks as a madman and often suffers seizures linked to his psionic powers, freezing all those around him, even stopping them from breathing. Wolverine therefore finds himself smuggling drugs over the border to subdue Xavier, if not to his will, as he saves up for what appears to be a pipe-dream: to buy a boat and escape America, though to where is unclear. To Xavier’s Frankenstein is Stephen Merchant’s Caliban, an Igor like mutant with the ability to track others with special abilities. Though fairly well played, he is in effect a plot device, one waiting to be captured and used against our anti-heroes – but the character works regardless.
To this sorry state of affairs is added the main impetus for the film, that being X-23, a mutant child (the first Xavier had seen in a long time) with abilities not far removed from Wolverine himself. This part, played excellently by Dafne Keen, was an aspect of the film I was apprehensive about. Would the inclusion of a child in a leading role, little more than eleven at the time of shooting, not compromise the grim old man’s club atmosphere the film was otherwise going for? The answer is resolutely no. In fact, through the wonders of CGI trickery and effective stunts, Keen’s character makes Wolverine himself look fairly tame. If the Logan of 2029 is a lagging a little in the stab-slice department in his old age (around 200), X-23 makes up for the slack. One of her initial reveal shots has her throwing the decapitated head of a henchman to his employer, just as an example. The basic plot surrounding X-23 is that she is an attempt at creating a synthetic mutant, to be used as a weapon, but one freed by one of her nurses. This mirrors Wolverine’s own story, though in this case is handled rather clumsily through another case of expository overload, a classic superhero trope. Regardless of that, Wolverine finds that X-23 must be taken to the Canadian border to get to ‘Eden’, a place for the new mutants, and therein is the road-trip/western that Logan becomes – get the kid north before the bad guys stop them.
Where the film really excels is in its action – much like John Wick the ultraviolent yet more measured approach to combat is appreciated and pays off well. There is also a car chase toward the beginning of the film that resembles Mad Max against the red, Mexican desert – a strong pedigree indeed. But on the note of pedigree this is a film that wears its influences on its sleeve. Chief among these is classic western Shane, which is not only quoted, but shown on-screen for a few minutes. This might be a little excessive, but the thematic links are close enough to justify it. Beyond this the film takes from Eastwood’s revisionist Unforgiven, and Aranofsky’s great The Wrestler – Logan is ultimately about a disillusioned hero needing to accept his responsibility, before it’s too late. This is also why Logan is so much better than the average superhero fare, or even than the likes of John Wick – not only are its themes strong, but its characters are too. Perhaps it is simply run-off from knowing him for most of my life (that was strange to type), but seeing Wolverine facing his demons is surprisingly affecting. Jackman’s performance here is certainly the best he’s ever given as the character, and one that perfectly captures Logan’s hopelessness and redemption. This performance is matched by Patrick Stewart, whose rendition of Xavier functions as an excellent hopeful counterpoint to Logan’s drear outlook. Despite being much-maligned, the superhero franchise that birthed Logan has a lot to account for its success, even if those individual films range from decent to awful – like I said, 17 years is a long time to know someone.
On the weaker side, Logan suffers a little toward its final act, as both its pace and narrative tightness come loose. The chase slows down for a while and exactly where the story is going becomes unclear, mainly because the film spends some time establishing characters that will presumably reappear in some sequel. Luckily, it pulls it all back for the final shot – definitely the best of any superhero film. And on the topic of shots Logan is a remarkably good looking film; John Mathieson brings in some wonderful colours and gets kinetic when the action requires it, without ever losing coherence. Ultimately, after a misfire in The Wolverine (not to mention the absolute mess that was Origins), Logan finally does justice to everyone’s favourite clawed anti-hero in a film of his own. It’s violent, exciting, even a little moving, and, as The Dark Knight did before it, perhaps gives the serious superhero movie another lease of life.