Nearly seventeen years after he first donned the claws, Hugh Jackman returns for one last rodeo as the Wolverine. Finally freed from the shackles of the family friendly superhero flick, LOGAN takes well established characters and runs them through a ringer of tragedy, heartbreak and devastation. The result is a smart, stylish Neo-Western that, while in essence feels a world apart from traditional X-men films, still carries the core themes of family and ostracism that made Xavier’s mutants so damn relatable in the first place.
The year is 2029. No new mutants are being born anymore, and those that remain are slowly dying out. Having dropped his identity as the formidable Wolverine, Logan (Hugh Jackman, saving his darkest, most powerful performance for last) is now making ends meets as a limo driver. Together with a sun-shy albino mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), he is hiding out in an abandoned plant south of the border, caring for a mentally deteriorating Charlies Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Logan’s past soon catches up to him when he is hired to help a young mutant (Dafne Keen) escape from a cybernetically enhanced group of enforcers, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).
Throughout his eight previous appearances, everybody’s favourite Canuck has chewed cigars, put plenty of bad guys to the claw, and made passes at Cyclops’ girlfriend. In short, he’s done everything that Wolverine is supposed to. Everything, except for truly giving in to his trademark “berserker rage”. Such uninhibited ferocity doesn’t mesh well with a studio pushing for a child friendly film, and is therefore watered down to adhere to certification guidelines. Thanks to the overwhelming success of 2016’s Deadpool, however, Fox gave the go ahead for LOGAN to follow in its R-rated footsteps, freeing Wolverine to finally be himself.
LOGAN dedicates plenty of time to dealing with the complicated, often messy relationships between it’s principal characters.
This freedom is prevalent in the considerably more adult story that director James Mangold (The Wolverine, 3:10 To Yuma) sets out to tell. Where previous X-men films focused on world-ending threats, LOGAN dedicates as much time, if not more, to dealing with the complicated, often messy relationships between it’s principal characters as it does to impressively frenetic action sequences. Logan drinks heavily to numb pains that aren’t being healed by his faltering regeneration ability. He and Caliban fight like an old married couple while trying to care for Charles Xavier, now in his waning years and suffering from a neurodegenerative disease.
A deeper story means deeper characters, and none of the cast disappoint. Merchant delivers a strong performance as Caliban, seamlessly transitioning from his more comedic past into the much put upon, neurotic mutant. Stewart expands a character that he had previously only portrayed as a wise, caring teacher into much darker territory, carrying him through medication induced highs and depressive, self-loathing lows, in an astounding display of the actor’s range. Holbrook is equal parts a sadistic bounty hunter and genuine fan of Wolverine’s past exploits. While he may not be developed to the same extent as the “good guys”, he serves as a real and credible threat to them throughout.
Like Stewart, Jackman gets the opportunity to delve into uncharted regions of his characters psyche, his vulnerabilities and fragility, like never before. Moreover, this is the first time that Wolverine’s animalistic rage is fully unleashed, exploring not only why he is filled with such fury, but also what a burden it is to him, and how much he struggles to maintain close relationships as a result. His pseudo father/son bond with Charles is strained by the Alzheimer’s in a brutally honest look at the realities of dealing with such a disease. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s forced to take on a fatherly role as he escorts Laura across the country, leading to some great scenes between him and Keen. Laura is a complicated character for many reasons, not least of which being that she was never really taught how to conduct herself in public, but Keen handles all aspects of her unique personality with a finesse that is rarely seen at her age, holding up among actors who have been making films longer than she’s been alive.
Each action sequence, from the opening minutes to the final battle, is imbued with a critical sense of consequence.
Far from sacrificing action to focus on these deep emotional links, LOGAN features more than enough hacking and slashing to stand up to Wolverine’s previous appearances. The difference here is; the action isn’t used as a set piece to show off the heroes powers and plug a tonne of CGI into affairs – it feeds directly into the narrative. In the quiet moments where relationships are being strained and characters are being developed, there is always a lurking undertone of imminent danger, reflective of the dark forces that are in constant pursuit of Logan himself. One particularly powerful scene takes what is arguably the most honest, emotionally charged moment of the entire film and flips it on its head, quickly turning it into a bloodbath that, while brutal, is still driven entirely by the plot. This system ensures that each action sequence, from the opening minutes to the final battle, is imbued with a critical sense of consequence, making the stakes feel that much more dire.
The incredible risks taken with LOGAN could easily have seen Fox’s most valuable mutant bowing out (at least until they inevitably recast him) to a chorus of boos and sneers. The sheer weight behind this film is testament to the absolute faith that the studio has in James Mangold, not to mention his ability to piece together a satisfactory finale to Jackman’s epic legacy. Thankfully their trust more than paid off. By placing importance in character over action and abandoning the tired superhero formula, LOGAN emerges as the most exploratory and introspective of all the X-films, taking a long, unflinching gaze into the very nature of the Wolverine. As far as swan songs go, it’s a hell of a send off, bub.
Verdict: 5/5 Paddles