Praised for its ‘indie aesthetic’ and hailed by some as ‘groundbreaking‘, and by others as an ‘awards contender’, the third stand-alone Wolverine movie and tenth overall in the X-Men franchise has sparked considerable buzz amongst critics and commentators since its release, with declarations that Logan is a ‘new breed of comic book movie’ or the film that ‘changes the face of superhero movies forever’, whatever that means. The film is intensely bleak and extremely violent, although the fact that the violence is inflicted by a guy with blades that emerge from under his skin renders these moments somewhat cartoonish – just like when Wile E Coyote gets crushed by an anvil or endures some other violent indignity at the hands of Road Runner. It is the fantastical elements of superhero movies that allow them to get away with levels of death and bloodshed that would ordinarily draw the ire of those who see themselves as the gatekeepers of public safety and morality. So, in that regard, Logan is like every other superhero movie, even if director James Mangold might like us to believe that what happens here somehow transcends genre conventions. Yes, it is different and has many impressive elements, but it still requires a considerable suspension of disbelief to truly embrace what transpires.
Although many of his X-Men brethren have embraced their mutations over the course of the film franchise, Logan (Hugh Jackman) has never been comfortable in his Wolverine skin and when we first encounter him in this chapter it is 2029 and our erstwhile hero is passed out on the back seat of the limousine he drives for a living; drunk, apathetic, angry, and filled with self-loathing. Woken by a gang who, unaware of his presence inside the car, are attempting to steal his wheels, Logan takes a few bullets in the subsequent confrontation before summarily despatching several of them with a swipe of his admantium claws. From here, we follow Logan as he returns ‘home’ to a compound where Doctor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) – who is apparently a danger to himself and others – is being housed in a disused water tank under the supervision of Caliban, a sun-shy albino mutant played wonderfully well by Stephen Merchant.
When a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) enters their periphery, it is obvious that she shares a particular skill set with Logan and it isn’t long before the two of them, with Xavier along for the ride, are on the run from a group of mercenaries determined to capture Laura and return her to the facility from which she escaped. From this point it becomes a road movie as Logan, Laura and Xavier attempt to stay one step ahead of the bad guys led by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Myriad action sequences (fights, car chases) ensue in their attempt to provide Laura with passage to a safe haven, otherwise known as Canada. A stopover at a farm house along the way adds little other than to give Eric La Salle (TV’s ER and Under the Dome) a rare big screen outing as a farmer under threat from a colossal agribusiness that has taken control of the water supply. Mangold has made some terrific films (Heavy, Cop Land, Walk the Line) and he does a good job here in trying to make Logan something more relatable; the virtual eradication of all X-Men and Laura’s bid to reach Canada is certainly relevant today given the political state of play in the USA at the moment. Given the fact that the film was made before Trump was elected, it’s almost as though Mangold and fellow screenwriters Scott Frank and Michael Green knew what was coming.
The biggest disappointment is when it follows the lead of other superhero movies by adding something that is probably meant to deliver a wow moment, but ultimately just seems gimmicky. In this instance it is the emergence of a Wolverine clone that results in Logan fighting a younger, fitter version of himself. Jackman is fine, delivering an unself-conscious performance as the ageing warrior whose mortality is fast reaching its use-by date, while young Keen makes a remarkably assured big screen debut. Stewart’s Xavier brings a levity to much of what happens, while Richard E. Grant is under-utilised as Doctor Rice, the man responsible for the creation of Laura and a bunch of other young mutants who have also fled to Canada, thereby ensuring that the franchise can live on indefinitely. Lensed with flair by British cinematographer John Mathieson, Logan is certainly one of the better superhero/comic book movies of recent times, spoiled only by occasional clever-dick moments and a corny final gesture from Laura.