Hugh Jackman debuted the Wolverine character in 2000’s X-Men, which also kicked off the sustained and successful run of Marvel characters on film. Seventeen years later, he is retiring the character in Logan, the third standalone Wolverine film and the 7th time he has played the clawed mutant (besides 2 cameos).
What’s different this time and why is everyone praising the film? Director and screenwriter James Mangold was given a lot more freedom by the studio, which included allowing it go violent/ R-rated, in keeping with the nature of the character (we can thank 2016’s Deadpool as well, which gave Fox the confidence to approve an R-rated comic book film, realizing it wouldn’t affect box office income).
The result is a very satisfying film, filled with plenty of blood-soaked violence and more importantly, with vulnerable characters who we care about. The first hour and a half is so engaging that one doesn’t realize the time going by. We are introduced to aged and decrepit versions of the invincible characters we have known since 2000. Professor X (played by 76-year-old thesp Patrick Stewart) now in his 90’s and is losing his mental faculties, spends most of the day in a drug-induced stupor. Wolverine’s healing ability is fading (he’s over 140 years old, in case anyone’s still counting) and he has been reduced to earning his living as a limo driver (driving an uber cool Chrysler stretch)! With no new mutants born in the past quarter century, the X-Men have died out and have become a sort of urban myth, good enough only to feature in comic books. We also meet an intense, mute child Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen, daughter of British actor Will Kean and Spanish actress Maria Fernandez Ache), who is on the run from a bunch of heavily armed bad guys, led by the cybernetically enhanced Pierce (played with great flair by a charismatic Boyd Holbrook). What we get when they all come together is a road trip/ chase movie, featuring a good mix of action, poignancy and some dry humor.
Wearing its R-rating on its sleeve, Logan allows Wolverine fans to see him in his famous ‘berserker rage’ mode more than once. But he’s not the only one. The scene in the first act in which Laura explodes into action and reveals her capabilities is shocking in its violence and intensity. Even Wolverine is stunned. There is another great ‘armrest gripping moment’ at a casino when we get a glimpse of why Charles Xavier’s mind is classified as a weapon of mass destruction.
At the other end of the spectrum, I really liked how the second act brings our heroes in touch with regular people, in this case a family who invites them to dinner. This reminded me of a similar scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron in which we find that Hawkeye has an entire family hidden away on a ranch. I feel that this sort of interlude helps to humanize the superheroes and brings the audience closer to them.
The third act was the weakest part of the movie for me, simply because it featured the obligatory action showdown between the good guys and the bad guys, with not much else. Perhaps the only unpredictable part of this formulaic sequence was what would happen to Wolverine at the end.
Before watching the movie, I had read all about how it plays out like a Western. Mangold has previously directed an excellent Western called 3:10 to Yuma, a remake of the 1957 classic. Even his 1997 breakout film Cop Land can be seen as a sort of modern-day Western with Stallone’s quiet, unassuming sheriff unexpectedly coming up trumps in a final showdown against the corrupt cops living in his town. True enough, all the visual cues in Logan are straight from a Western – the characters look weather-beaten and a lot of the action takes place in sunburnt, dusty locations. And of course, there is the overt reference to the famous 1953 Western Shane, the purpose being to establish the parallels in the relationship between the gunfighter and the boy in Shane and Wolverine and Laura in Logan. Frankly, I thought that this part of the script was a bit heavy-handed, especially when the girl spouts the entire dialogue from the closing moments of Shane, having watched it just once in a hotel room previously.
I also had my usual issues with that ‘home video’ look of night time scenes because of the use of digital cameras, which tend to capture a lot of information (very useful in low light conditions), but can create a ‘flat’ look devoid of texture. DP John Mathieson has used the Arri Alexa camera which is very popular and usually produce a very film-like effect, especially when combined with Panavision lenses (like you see in Mad Max: Fury Road or Rogue One), but am not sure what low-light combo was used here and why some of the night scenes look so terrible. Given that the film takes so much inspiration from Westerns and from Shane in particular, how cool would it have been to have shot it in real film to mimic the glorious Technicolor of Shane.
Considering that the movie is set in 2029, there isn’t much that appears futuristic about it. The only indications are the driverless trailer trucks on the highway and the reference to tigers being extinct.
Overall, it’s a very powerful movie and a wonderful way to end a trilogy, especially one that started so unpromisingly with the universally panned X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009. The X-Men films spin off into new directions now, with new teams coming up in Josh Boone’s X-Men: The New Mutants and Joe Carnahan’s X-Force. There will also be another entry called X-Men: Supernova in Bryan Singer’s continuing series featuring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence as the younger versions of Prof X, Magneto and Mystique. But it looks like this is the end of the road for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s characters…and they should both feel proud of signing off with a bang.