By Jack Mansfield
Wow. Where do I even begin? James Mangold’s Logan (2017) is a cut above not only the previous two Wolverine films, but also the entire X-Men franchise 20th Century Fox have built up, torn down, and ultimately confused over the past 17 years. One thing, however, has been a constant throughout this time: Hugh Jackman giving solid performances as James ‘Logan’ Howlett. Even in the universally panned The Last Stand (Brett Ratner, 2006), Jackman as Logan was still humourous and, at the film’s climax, did the best he could with a slightly hammy adaptation of the iconic Dark Phoenix arc. It feels somewhat wrong to be saying goodbye to Hugh Jackman as Logan in his final outing as the wise-cracking, cigar-smoking hero, but, here we are, and oh my, what a sendoff this is.
Except, in Logan, the eponymous hero never cracks wise (giving up cigars would be a step too far, it seems.) This is because we’re seeing a completely different Logan: one much older, bruised and aged by the loss of many of his friends and loved ones. Set in the near future of 2029, Logan is weary and wants a simple life near the Mexican border, living with fellow mutants Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), but when a mysterious girl (introducing Dafne Keen) arrives being pursued by sinister forces, that wish for a quiet life is thrown out of the window. Here begins a superhero story grounded in gritty realism – something that arguably hasn’t been done since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (2009), but Logan is Marvel’s first experiment with this kind of tone, and they get it so right.
The film is first and foremost a character-driven narrative, and the fantastic performances of Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen cement its status as one of the best superhero films of all time. Alongside Jackman’s weathered Wolverine, Stewart returns (also for the final time, regrettably) as Charles Xavier; once professor at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, now a nonagenarian slowly succumbing to a degenerative brain disease. Along with Logan, he is looked after by Caliban, played by Stephen Merchant (the second actor to play the mutant after Tómas Lemarquis in last year’s X Men: Apocalypse); I think that Caliban was an interesting addition to the story, especially having only seen him once before in the X-Men film franchise. Nevertheless, Merchant gives a good enough performance, with Caliban featuring rather briefly in the film. But the film’s shining star comes in the form of Dafne Keen’s Laura, a little girl on the run from Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) – one of the film’s main villains – and is protected by Logan and Charles. Keen is amazing in this role, and that to me was a really pleasant surprise.
Of course, a lot of the hype around the film before its release was based on the fact that Logan is rated R (or 15 for us Brits), something which ultimately wouldn’t have been possible had Fox not allowed Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds to finally make Deadpool (2016). Thank goodness they did, because a story with such emotional weight such as this one cries out for the accompanying violence to have a certain brutality to it. At the beginning of the film (I’m really trying to stay completely spoiler-free because I feel like the less you know about the film, the better, so apologies if I’m a little vague) we see Logan reluctant to get in a fight, but, inevitably, he ends up drawing the famous adamantium claws.
And, from the very first swipe, it becomes absolutely clear that this film earns its R rating. At times I found myself grimacing or curling up in my seat at the violence, and it goes without saying that this is one superhero film that definitely isn’t for the kids, and I’m grateful to Fox for allowing director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman the freedom to make Logan their way, without worrying about the studio pressing them to make it PG-13. Mangold said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that his main reason for making Logan R rated wasn’t just “to be able to deliver for audiences the kind of action they’d been wanting for a while [for the character]”, but also that “think it’s also about feeling the weight and the loss that the aftermath of violence results in”, and this rings true throughout the film. Not only do you feel the weight of every slash, stab, shot, evisceration, you name it; but you also feel the exhaustion that comes with it, with Logan often coming off just as bad as the opposition in the fights. Unlike John Wick: Chapter 2 (Stahelski, 2017), the violence feels far from stylish, more rugged, realistic, impactful.
(Plus, it feels very strange to hear Patrick Stewart say “fuck”.)
But this film, like Mangold says, is not about delivering gratuitous violence to the fans. The film’s story is undoubtedly the main focus here, and, while trying my best to stay spoiler-free, have to say that you will be left stunned when the end credits begin to roll. In the late night screening of Logan I attended, when the final frame faded to black and the credits started, no one rose from their chair for a good couple of minutes. We all just sat there in stunned silence, some wiping away tears (myself included) and simply not knowing what to say. And that’s what this film did to me throughout; not only was it sad to see my favourite characters from the franchise in such a situation, but the raw power and emotion of the third act – especially the closing images – left me absolutely drained. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the cinema where I’ve looked round and seen no one get up to leave straight away, and it was honestly a strange experience.
Logan is simply stunning. Hugh Jackman can be very proud of his 17 years as one of the most iconic comic book characters, and I feel like they couldn’t have made a better final instalment in his story if they tried. It’ll be very interesting to see where the franchise goes next, but anything that Fox do produce as part of the X-Men universe will have to be near-perfect to top this emotional gut-punch of a film. The best X-Men movie? By a country mile. The best Marvel movie? Quite possibly.