“Logan” is a film that you’ve probably already heard about. In amongst the tsunami of hyperbole the message is clear, Hugh Jackman’s last hurrah as the Wolverine is arguably the best yet. “Logan” synthesises comic book characters into the real world in a way that’s only been reached in what Roger Ebert called the “engrossing tragedy” of the “The Dark Knight.” Despite being the ninth addition to the beloved Jackman Wolverine cinematic canon, feels like a quantum leap in the character. Writer/director James Mangold understands the elemental make-up of the Wolverine and Professor Xavier and uses mutations as dramatic enhancements for this profound tale of redemption.
“Logan” isn’t a slave to any particular comic book story, despite sharing some aesthetic attributes to the comic book ‘Wolverine: Old Man Logan’ (written by Mark Millar) and thematic similarities to ‘Wolverine’ (by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller). “Logan” is a simple tale, one where once heroic figures have now faded into obscurity. In 2029 mutants have all but disappeared. It appears that genetic mutation has been eradicated and those that remain are in hiding. On the U.S/Mexico borderlands Logan (Jackman) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant) are caring for nonagenarian Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose grip on his supremely powerful mind is slipping away. A mysterious woman appears to enlist Logan as an escort for Laura (Dafne Keen), a young special girl on the run from robotically enhanced Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) his soldiers (’Reavers’). Compelled to see the girl to safety, Logan, Charles and Laura get on the road to escape the dogged pursuit of this shady organisation.
The Wolverine character has been expanded and retooled every addition to the franchise, but “Logan” realises everything about the character that other films in the “X-Men” have only glanced past. Writers Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green understand intimacy, the elemental make-up of this perpetual outsider who despite his best efforts to isolate himself, cannot but intervene when he sadists willing to prey on the weak. The powerful ensemble is not threatened by world ending cataclysms (“X-Men: Apocalypse,” “Batman V Superman”), they’re on the run from a small and brutal outfit and battling the inevitable decay of their powers. The stakes are truly life and death; finally.
Of course Jackman’s performance as Logan is stellar; he’s often been the highlight of the Fox mutant franchise. In every frame of the film he’s delivering a commitment to the performance and to character that he’s been waiting for the material to offer. This is a deeply damaged soldier duty bound to loyalty and mantles that he knows no-one else would be suited for. With Charles’ condition, although Caliban is assisting, there’s no-one who can stand next to this unstable atomic reactor of a mind. Jackman is raw, tough, wounded and there’s nothing he holds back in this final iconic performance.
The chemistry between the central trio of characters Logan, Charles (Stewart) and Laura (Keen) propels the film. Stewart and Jackman have been waiting to be able to unleash the fury in their roles, without censorship training wheels. When you hear Charles chastise Logan and drop a convoy of F-Bombs in frustration at Logan’s means of care you feel like the relieving laughs are cathartic for the entire series worth of performances. Stewart’s Charles in “Logan” is a shell of the titan he was and it’s distressing. Stewart relishes an opportunity to lose control of his weaponised mind. Mangold doesn’t allow Charles into our heads in “Logan” and forces Stewart into a performance that casts doubt on whether he’s able to harness any of his remaining power.
Dafne Keen is the absolute stand-out of the film. Spending at least half of the movie without saying a word; she’s got a fury, a terrifying force in a diminutive package that makes her believably emotionally delicate and explosive.
There are some fantastic special effects but they’re crafted to intensify moments of conflict. It’s a film that finally adds emergency room gore and consequence to clashes between our heroes and those who would stand in their way. Wolverine’s lightning fast healing ability has now slowed to a crawl and his body is a mass of grizzled scar tissue. Watching him drag a stuck retractable claw to its full length and tearing up his hand in the process shows the extent of the degradation. The main use of digital effects is visualising Charles using its power as it’s slipping away. In a stop along their journey, Logan is finding a replacement to their bullet hole riddled limousine. As he arrives back at the Casino hotel, he sees Pierce’s ‘Reavers’ have descended and just as he’s calculating what kind of violence that he’s going to have to dish out to cut his way to Laura and Xavier the very air begins to shift and shake. If you’ve seen Bryan Singer’s original X-Men, you’ve witnessed the peak of the Professor’s power. In a flash when Bobby a.k.a Iceman and Pyro get into an altercation that reveals their powers in a crowded museum food court the entire population is suddenly frozen. Now in his 90s, his grip and control on his mind is slipping. When Charles uses his power time slows, the air quakes and most are stuck in a disorientating pulsing seizure. Logan, less impacted due to his power, wades through the vibration, killing frozen foes all the way until he can administer medication. Mangold and Stewart craft a relatable blight that is usually reserved for what we see in characters suffering from dementia.
Holbrook is wonderful, you kind of have the feeling that he’s only going to be able to play second fiddle to Richard E. Grant’s Dr. Rice, but instead he’s a tough and cruel entity played straight edged and sadistic. He’s the literal enhanced right hand of another in a string of exploitative evil scientific geniuses. Holbrook’s apathy and adherence to the orders of his evil superiors doesn’t absolve him from any responsibility, instead he’s the face of all they come to represent. Holbrook has a charm and radiates the thrill of being on the scent of prey; hunting Logan is the biggest trophy that he’s ever had to wrangle.
Merchant’s Caliban plays Jack Lemon to Jackman’s Walter Matthau in this mutant odd couple of their Mexican sanctuary. They have a great rapport that enlivens the gallows humour of this team standing on that figurative ice-flow waiting for it float gracefully out to sea. Merchant dwarfs and nags at Jackman’s Logan and emphasises just how serious we should be about Charles’s condition. It’s a welcome and great little dramatic performance, and if not for his height and distinctive voice, he’s barely recognisable.
The comic book movie genre has leapt forward in quality in the last 17 years. “Logan” reaches the pinnacle of the genre that “The Dark Knight” stands atop. Logan’s healing factor has diminished. The traumas of battles physically and psychologically torment the character. “Logan” has been referred to as a Western throughout the effusive criticism already written. While the other entries into the series have toyed with the concept of this vigilante, living on the frontier of existence, being compelled to fight for Xavier’s cause; it has remained in the subtext. In “Logan” though, Mangold creates a setting and a structure for the Western anti-hero text and subtext to collide.
Mangold and Jackman paired up for two Wolverine tales. They represent the morality, empathy and archetypal echoes of those begrudging rogue cowboys compelled to do good; whatever town they come upon. Comic book movies have desensitised us to consequence. Death is too often a passing fad, easily corrected. “Logan” defies those limitations.
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.