Directed by: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant & Dafne Keen.
Logan is not the superhero film you are used to. James Mangold has directed a maturer, more personal story, that sees the titular hero older, grumpier, and more dangerous than ever.
It’s the tone of Logan that really sets it apart from other Marvel and DC films. This is not a superhero film concerned with global threats, indomitable evils, or even superheroes. Logan is about the man beneath the adamantium skeleton – James Howlett. He’s not alone in this story, however, with Patrick Stewart once again returning as Professor Xavier. There’s not another X-Man in sight, however, with mutants seemingly on the verge of extinction.
Logan is not a film for the faint-hearted. For the first time in 17 years, since Hugh Jackman’s first appearance as Wolverine in 2000’s X-Men, Logan finally shows viewers what 6 adamantium claws can actually do. It would be unfair to say that Logan features over-the-top violence, but it’s certainly not pulling any punches and some may find the realism offered in its 2 hour and 21 minute runtime unsettling. That said, however, it’s refreshing to finally see the Wolverine unleashed on screen, with his famed berserker rage in all its gory glory. If you’ve ever played X-Men Origins: Wolverine then you’ll be pleased to see James Mangold replicating the limb-slicing dismemberment that featured in this video game adaptation (which was infinitely better than the film it was based on). Deadpool opened the gates for a more violent, maturer, superhero film, and James Mangold has no problems following suit here.
Logan and Professor Xavier are joined by newcomers Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and Laura (Dafne Keen). The latter stars as X-23, a young girl born in a lab from Wolverine’s DNA through a project run by Richard E. Grant’s antagonist Zander Rice, whose father was killed by Wolverine during his escape from the original Weapon X experiment (as shown in X-Men: Apocalypse). Rice, who appears to be responsible for the mysterious extinction of mutant-kind, tries to create his own new type of mutant soldier by experimenting on children. He learns however, that children are not born soulless and evil and therefore do not make for great mindless killing machines, and so he creates a new mutant clone from scratch to do his bidding. Unfortunately this makes the children expendable, and whilst many don’t make it, a handful, including Laura, escape. This brings X-23 into Logan’s life, at a point where he has given up hope, turned to booze, and has seen his healing factor begin to fail him.
What follows is a moving journey of soul-searching for Logan as Xavier tries to encourage him to take Laura under his wing and show her that there is more to their powers than rage and violence. Through this journey Logan, Xavier and Laura are pursued by Boyd Holbrook’s Donald Pierce and Rice’s new mutant creation.
Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Steward put in their best performances in the X-Men franchise, and Dafne Keen is excellent as the broken, socially inexperienced child with a killer instinct and lethal claws. Stephen Merchant is, however, unconvincing as Caliban. Supposedly responsible for helping wipe out mutants through his tracking abilities, Caliban now seeks redemption by assisting Logan and Xavier. It’s impossible to believe that Caliban ever played a roll in ending mutant-kind though with Stephen Merchant just failing to fit in and make for a convincing reformed villain. He doesn’t deliver the worst performance however; that honour is reserved for Boyd Holbrook. His character, Donald Pierce, has no charm, no depth, and is an unthreatening bore. Fortunately, Richard E. Grant’s limited screen time makes up for this with a sinister charisma that more than makes up for Boyd’s staleness. Furthermore, the mutant clone is an unexpected, but welcome physical threat to Logan and his young protege.
Donald Pierce is not the film’s only misstep, however. Pacing is something of a problem in Logan. The film follows Logan, Xavier and Laura on a journey across America which, at times, is full of violence, suspense and drama. On other occasions, however, very little actually happens. It’s clear that James Mangold is looking to explore the human element of his mutant characters, focusing more than ever on their vulnerabilities, but unfortunately Logan ultimately tries a little too hard to set itself apart from the other films in the X-Men franchise. There are too many references to events in the past that we are unaware of, which serves to undermine these reflective moments. Furthermore, the introduction of X-Men comics into the universe stands apart from the franchise’s previous stance on the mutant team. In previous instalments the X-Men have featured as outcasts and heroes fighting from the shadows. In Logan, however, it appears that the X-Men were lauded as renounced heroes at some point, immortalised in comic books; a version of the team that we’ve never really experienced in the previous films. It’s a relatively small niggle overall, but it’s hard to ignore that Logan so clearly wants to be considered apart from the previous X-Men films and yet goes out of its way to reference a universe that the audience have never witnessed.
Holbrook’s performance, the pacing, and the references to a non-existent X-Men universe aside, Logan still manages to easily be the best X-Men film so far. Hugh Jackman finally gets the opportunity to play Wolverine as he always should have, whilst Patrick Stewart shines, showing a different side to Xavier in a performance that hits home to anyone with elderly relatives past their prime. Dafne Keen is also a star, though the option to have her silent or speaking a different language in most scenes unfortunately hampers her ability to show off her true potential outside of a few key emotional scenes and her incredible action sequences, which are somewhat reminiscent of when Chloe Grace Moretz made her bloody and brutal debut as Hit Girl in 2010’s Kick-Ass.
Overall, Logan is an excellent superhero film like no other. It raises questions that are, at times, deep and meaningful whilst finally unleashing Wolverine in all his deadly glory. There are too many questions left unanswered, driven by an unnecessary and unsuccessful quest to separate this entry from previous X-Men films, but on balance it doesn’t matter. James Mangold has created a meaningful and exciting superhero drama that focuses more on the individual characters than some meaningless global threat.
As a friend of mine said on leaving the cinema, “if we had to sit through two awful solo Wolverine films to get to Logan, then I’m totally OK with that”. In truth, I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Images from http://www.imdb.com