"Logan, you still have time."
It was an offbeat choice when, near enough to two decades ago, 20th Century Fox cast the lead for their highly anticipated movie adaptation of “X-Men” because as opposed to the short and stocky tough guy fans were expecting they cast a six foot tall Broadway leading man. It was an off kilter choice but since then Hugh Jackman has so definitively made the role of Wolverine his own that it will be hard to imagine him no longer being connected to it. Nonetheless, that is where we now find ourselves and ‘Logan’ is his swansong to the character.
In 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman), who has aged greatly when his healing factor began to falter over the years, spends his days working as a chauffeur and hustling for prescription drugs in Texas to care for a mentally unstable Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). However the aged mutant is called upon when a mysterious child is placed in his care, pursued by a shadowy group of mercenaries with dangerous motives.
I’m just going to say it right from the start, ‘Logan’ is unlike any other superhero film I have ever seen. It transcends the genre in a way very few movies of its nature have, and delivers something more profound and personal than I ever could have imagined. Is it so powerful because of what we perceive a superhero movie to be? That is hard to say because when one looks at it in the context of the modern blockbuster it is a marvel, but even when taken as a singular piece of filmmaking it stands as a hauntingly brutal tale of redemption and legends.
To many degrees it does not even feel like a superhero movie. That is not to say mutant powers and science fiction elements do not play a large part in the story, as they in fact do. But I suppose I am so unfamiliar with superhero films having this kind of depth, stakes as real as this or characters that I can identify and empathise with as much as this. Stylistically it has echoes of a neo-noir or a modern western and in many ways it carries similar themes. Epic stories of spent out men coping with the violence that surrounds them, living up to their own legends and the inevitable fact that all things end in time. If it was not for the fact that it is integrated into the movie later in quote form, I would say it was too on the nose for the characters to be watching a scene from ‘Shane’ halfway through the movie.
But despite these call backs to other genres ‘Logan’ is able to feel highly fresh and original, in large part due to director James Mangold’s understanding of his films thematic weight. His story paints Wolverine as the archetype of any classic western, but still presents him in a way that we are familiar with. Logan himself is at the end of his tether when we still meet him, a shell of whom he once was but those glimmers of his past self still remain and are what make his situation so poignant to observe. Mangold is never afraid to let the quiet moments speak for themselves and allow the weight of the moment to speak for itself. He trusts his audience to understand the character’s internal conflicts without saying a word and employs visual storytelling to a great degree as well, whether it is by framing his characters in the vast expanse of the landscape or taking time to emphasise their limited movement with age.
But Mangold’s direction is not just more thoughtful in its thematic aspects of ‘Logan’. Even the action carries a greater weight to it. There are no fast edits or sweeping shots that would otherwise be used to hide CGI or stunt work. All of the action is shot in close quarters, being graceful and fluid but also brutally violent as it takes a ground level, no nonsense approach to portraying it. Despite copious amounts of blood the gore factor is not what struck me about the fight sequences. The way they were framed and shot spoke volumes about what the movie wanted to convey, showing the cost of such violence and the toll it takes on the character. Wolverine has started to slow down and the movie makes us acutely aware of that, to the point where b the time he is nursing his wounds after a battle we don’t need to be told twice why he is suffering so badly. Not only does he take longer to heal but the punches feel harder than ever.
However, where ‘Logan’ exceeds on a technical level, it is even more accomplished when it comes to the performances. Supporting players like Stephen Merchant do an excellent job, while the main villains of the feature each carry their own unique assets. As a ruthless mercenary leader Donal Pierce, Boyd Holbrook brings a sense of menace with him wherever he goes, while Richard E Grant, who despite being relatively quiet for the movie’s first half, is let loose to chew some scenery in the latter section. While I could criticise the villain’s in question for being a bit lacking in depth or motive their role in ‘Logan’ is not to be the main antagonist. That role goes to the theme of time itself, while Holbrook and Grant are there to provide the conflict, narrative thrust and reason for Logan himself to perform one last act of heroism as he battles against his greatest foe.
Before I address the titular character himself I also have to talk about his current companions. Despite being such a young actress Dafne Keen is able to bring a lot to her role as Laura/X-23. She has very few lines of dialogue but uses her physicality and small gestures to forge a powerful impression, and when she does speak it is made all the more powerful as a result. When it comes to her fight scenes she may be the most terrifyingly brilliant part of the film. Meanwhile Patrick Stewart carries an air of world weariness from the very start, and expertly conveys the notion that Xavier, despite possessing the most brilliant mind in the world is rapidly losing control of it. For certain scenes he is confused and angry whereas in other he feels grief stricken as repressed memories come flooding back. But amid all of this he retains those distinct qualities that made the character so unique.
But of course, we have to talk about Jackman. Like Stewart he possesses an aged quality to him but carries it on both a mental and physical level, using every fibre of his acting strength to do the character justice in this final outing. Regardless of the scenario, whether it be the tenderly poignant or the brutally violent Jackman exudes all the necessary emotions that give the film its resonant heart. He portrays Logan as a conflicted man at the end of his tether, but one whose conscience still resides within him and still has the beating heart of the Wolverine. It is hard to imagine a more appropriate way of bowing out than this eloquent swansong.
‘Logan’ is quite simply one of the greatest superhero movies ever made.