“I’m the best there is at what I do … but what I do best isn’t very nice.”
Comic-book fans will recognise that as Wolverine’s most famous quote. Comic-book fans who watch movies will also be quick to note that – after all those X-Men movies and two solo films – we’ve only ever come close to seeing exactly what it is that Wolvie does best. Curse you, PG-13 rating!
Well, curse no longer. With the R-rated Logan, acknowledged by nearly all parties involved to be Hugh Jackman’s last time in the role, we see “it” in all its gory glory. And true to Wolvie’s word, it isn’t very nice.
Which is hardly something that can be said of the film, which is easily Jackman’s best solo outing and also one of the best of Marvel’s mutant movies. James Mangold, who gave us The Wolverine – yeah, the one with the yakuza and giant samurai battlesuit – also directed the elegiac Western remake 3:10 To Yuma with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. And Logan is much closer in tone to that one than any of the X-titles.
Western, superhero flick, road movie, character study … Logan is all that, with visceral violence and berserker fury present in huge quantities.
It takes place in a bleak future where mutantkind has almost been erased. Logan/Wolverine/James Howlett plies his trade as a limousine driver, hoping to save enough money so he can buy a boat and take an ailing Professor Charles Xavier (a delightfully potty-mouthed Patrick Stewart, flitting between lucidity and sundowner state with ease) away from their gloomy existence.
Logan isn’t doing so well, either. Something is slowly killing him, and his healing factor isn’t what it used to be. Into this not-terribly-idyllic life comes a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen), who seems very much like Logan, right down to the adamantium-coated claws (two on each hand and – bonus time – one in each foot) and healing factor.
With a small army after her, led by the smarmy cyborg Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and sinister boffin Dr Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), Laura is seeking a place of sanctuary that may or may not exist. And anyway, since Xavier and Logan’s hideaway is now exposed … road trip!
Before you can say “Are we there yet?” a lot of bad stuff happens, and then some more terrible stuff (Good Samaritans everywhere: render aid to Wolverine in one of his solo movies at your own risk), interwoven with moments of painful healing attempts and tortured reflection on Logan’s part. The good news: no more Jean Grey flashbacks because, heck, we no longer really need to be shown what haunts him.
And that’s the beauty of Jackman’s nuanced performance here. Without over-reliance on storytelling frills, we see all of this largely through his tortured movements, his hacking cough, his mournful expression.
It truly is an “Old Man Logan” story in the way Jackman deftly presents a man nearing the end of the trail, looking back with remorse on a life filled with regrets.
Desperate to make amends by helping Xavier (and perhaps redeeming his mentor/saviour … you’ll see why), he brings a whole new dimension of unflagging resolve to the character that we only glimpsed fleetingly in past outings.
By the time he accepts his responsibility for Laura – duh, non-spoiler – Jackman gives us the perfect coda to a 16-year screen “career”.
As Laura, the girl comic-book fans know (and fear) as X-23, 12-year-old Keen is – to use an oft-overused word – a revelation. Child actors can do certain things really well, but Keen brings it all: the physicality and pathos and remarkably, despite the berserker rage and the horrific acts her character commits, she manages to project an aura of innocence as well.
She is a perfect foil for Jackman’s ageing bull, a nimble gazelle by comparison … er, if gazelles went around slicing and dicing goons and bellowing their rage at the heavens, that is.
Mangold makes optimum use of the film’s minimalist trappings and washed-out colour palette to deliver an accomplished, genre-transcending film that is reaffirming more than it is groundbreaking.
It is an old man’s film, an old fan’s film, one which – like Shane, the classic 1953 Alan Ladd Western it references a couple of times – celebrates the violence and sacrifices necessary to carve out a hopeful future for the innocent.
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle