2017 – USA
Director: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Richard E. Grant, Stephen Merchant
Words: Nathan Scatcherd
It’s been seventeen years since X-Men was released, and Hugh Jackman’s performance as everyone’s favourite adamantium-clawed mutant Wolverine catapulted the character into the stratosphere of mainstream cultural recognition and fandom. Since then the X-Men franchise has had its ups and downs, from the excellent (X-Men 2; First Class) to the dire (X-Men 3; Origins: Wolverine), finding time in-between to be vaguely listless and uninspiring, but not exactly ‘bad’ (the rest of the franchise*).
There’s definitely a sense – at least for me, although almost certainly for a lot of others specifically of my generation – that we have grown up with the franchise as something ever-present and almost comfortably ubiquitous. Wolverine/Logan is of course a fan favourite, and even when Jackman has had to work with sub-par direction and poor scripts, he’s always found a way to make his interpretation of the character interesting; noble, weary, outwardly gruff but with a good heart and the grit of a warrior. For seventeen years I’ve been waiting for a Wolverine movie deserving of him.
Logan is that movie.
We find our blade-fisted protagonist down on his luck in the year 2029, driving a limo around the Mexican border to make ends meet and tending to a senile Charles Xavier (Stewart, on heartbreaking form here), whose occasional psychic seizures need keeping in check with constant medication; something which appears to be in dwindling supply. Mutantkind is all but extinct, and Logan is an old man now. His healing factor is failing him; he coughs and wheezes and seems to struggle with walking at points, let alone fighting with the berserker rage he has struggled to control all of his long life. Formerly, he could withstand bullets and knives and beatings with minimal effort – now he is slow, scarred physically as much as psychologically, approaching the end and apparently more than willing for it to claim him.
When a mysterious young girl (Keen**) appears on the scene and Logan finds himself having to transport her across the desert to North Dakota, the quiet life he has tried to maintain quickly implodes, as he faces up to mortality, the toll of his violent past, and the small spark of hope that comes from this young girl, and the choices she may or may not yet make regarding her own special abilities.
It is this central relationship that provides Logan with much of its heart (and it’s a film with moments of genuine warmth alongside the otherwise relentless intensity of the violence and bleakness of the narrative). Events play out in the style of a Western road movie rather than what one may expect of, by now, sadly codified and strictly-enforced ‘superhero movie’ conventionality. It can be very on the nose with its influences – at one point the classic Western Shane is actually playing on a TV screen, and some of its dialogue is explicitly lifted later on – but it retains a genuinely dark, sombre tone setting it apart from other comic book movies and letting it stand apart even from the rest of the X-Men franchise. The action sequences are frenetic, gory affairs, and it’s grotesquely gratifying to finally see Logan let loose with those claws without the constraints of a 12A rating (it always bothered me that a dude with unbreakable, razor-sharp bits of metal sticking out of his hands never seemed to draw any blood when he used them onscreen). However, the violence is so effective because it seems to really have weight, and consequence. That line from Shane about killing being “a brand that sticks” basically sums up this whole film’s perspective on Logan’s long, bloody history; he’s a tragic figure who feels the heft of every kill, every time he’s had to pop those claws, and it haunts him.
Logan is the send-off he deserves; viscerally exciting and emotionally satisfying.
*Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Apocalypse. It just looks dull and phoned-in and when it came out, I found I had no desire to bother with it.
**Dafne Keen is a revelation here. This is her first film role, and she does a lot without even speaking for the majority of the movie’s run time. The fact that she can communicate so much simply with a feral look in her eye or the faint impression of a smile (and the game way she tears into the violent stuff) marks her out as a real talent to keep an eye on in the coming years.