Review – Logan (2017)
Director: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant
After 18 years and eight appearances, Hugh Jackman has decided the time has come to say goodbye to the role that made him a star, and for his final outing as Wolverine he is going out with a bang. Logan is tonally, visually and thematically unlike any of the previous films in the X-Men franchise – it is arguably unlike any previous film in the superhero genre – and proves to be a fitting ending for this iconic iteration of the character.
The year is 2029 and mutants are a dying breed, with no new mutants having been born for decades. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a shadow of his former self. With grey hair and a scraggly beard he is covered in wounds and scars and walks with a pronounced limp. His regenerative powers are slowing and he is being poisoned from the inside by his adamantium skeleton. Above all though, he is exhausted. Working as a limousine driver, he cares for the elderly Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who struggles with a degenerative brain disease which causes him to have seizures. Given his brain is so powerful the government class him a weapon of mass destruction, this is a particular problem. They live in hiding across the border in Mexico after one of Charles’s earlier seizures tragically caused numerous deaths. Their future plans are disrupted when Logan is approached by a nurse caring for a young mutant girl named Laura (Dafne Keen). Having escaped from the laboratory where she has been developed as a weapon, Laura needs his help getting safely to North Dakota where she and her fellow escapees plan to meet up and cross the border to sanctuary in Canada.
We are now in the post-Deadpool era of superhero movie production in which a PG rating and access to the kids market is no longer a box office necessity. Logan is a superhero movie for grownups, not just in the sense that it contains a level of violence that is not suitable for children (though it does), but in its desire to use the form to tell a more mature story. The violence on display is an undoubted step up from the bloodlessness of previous films, but the brutality is not intended to titillate and excite, rather its brutality is pivotal to the story. Logan is a film about consequences. At one point Logan finds an X-Men comic book in Laura’s possessions and admonishes her for believing the myth. “In the real world,” he says, “people die.” In this film people die, horribly. Violence has a consequence. There is blood and there are scars, both physical and psychological, that cannot be removed.
In telling this tale, director James Mangold engages the stylistic and narrative conventions of the Western. Logan draws heavily from Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and, in particular, George Stevens’ 1953 classic Shane. Both films concern men defined by the violence in their past. While Logan, Charles and Laura hide out in a Las Vegas hotel room, Shane happens to be on TV and, not so coincidentally, we get the climactic scene in which the titular gunslinger tells the young boy, “Joey, there’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand sticks. There’s no going back.” In this world Logan is our ageing gunslinger beaten down by the weight not of what has happened to him but of what he has done to others. He sees himself as a man beyond redemption. Caring for Charles, trying to get Laura to safety, are his last ditch efforts to do something right.
While it is a somewhat arbitrary distinction, one could say that while there have been eight previous X-Men ‘movies,’ Logan is the first X-Men ‘film.’ It demonstrates a maturing of the cinematic superhero genre, a willingness to put to one side the grand spectacle and save-the-world stakes in order to tell a more human story. That is not to say the film is entirely revolutionary, there are still moments that betray its comic book origins, but it is a notable step. The evidence of this maturity starts with the brave choice of title. Calling the film Logan rather than opting for a title which trumpets its franchise credentials announces the film as something intentionally different and separate from the previous instalments in the series. It’s a choice that is the complete opposite of 2009’s horrendously titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine. At a time when everyone is clamouring to imitate the interconnection of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Logan functions effectively as a standalone tale. While Mangold doesn’t make a point of contradicting the established X-Men cinematic timeline, nor is he beholden to it. He feels no need to offer those little moments of intersection and crossover in the form of character cameos and references which would have felt jarring in this film.
For 18 years Hugh Jackman has been the heart and soul of Fox’s X-Men franchise, a fact they are well aware of given their determination to have him at least cameo in those films where Wolverine is not a central character (X-Men First Class and the terrible X-Men Apocalypse). Where the franchise goes without him is to be seen. But he has picked one hell of a way to bow out. In Logan he offers up his best performance in the role in the most interesting story in the series.
Review by Duncan McLean
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