The title of the film was the first thing that impressed me. Studios like the safety and recall value of brands: this is the foundation of franchise film-making. If you try something once and have money thrown at you, obviously you will try it again. This is why we are flooded with sequels, and this is also in part why the sequels are so unimaginatively titled – why tinker with an established brand name? So you have Superman Returns. Spider-Man 2. Iron Man 3. Even when some thought is put into the title, it’s usually Captain America: The Winter Solider, or Thor: The Dark World – not simply The Winter Soldier or The Dark World. It’s as if movie bosses are nervous that the masses won’t catch on that a movie is a sequel, unless the title literally spells it out. And who knows, maybe they are right. This is why, by Hollywood standards, Logan is such a brave choice for a title. Sure, it is a reference to Mark Millar’s popular Wolverine miniseries Old Man Logan, but this is something only comic book readers would have known. A tip of the hat then, to 20th Century Fox and director James Mangold, for trusting the audience enough not to name this film Wolverine 3 or X-Men: Road to Eden.
This is only the most immediate of many unconventional things about Logan. There was always an air of finality about the project, with both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart stating it would be their last outings as Wolverine and Professor X respectively. There was the news that Jackman had taken a pay cut so that they could make an R-rated movie, which keeps families away and translates to lower box office returns. There were unexpected casting choices – looking at you, Stephen Merchant. Finally, there was that badass trailer (see below), set to Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt. Unlike some other high-profile trailers I could mention, this one said everything about the tone of the film and nothing about the plot, making me want to see it all the more – was it a Western? A dystopian road movie?
Turns out, it’s a bit of both. We meet our hero in 2029. It is post-mutant America, and by that I don’t just mean that Donald Trump’s presidency is over. Mutants have had their day in the sun, and an aging Wolverine (now just going by the name James Howlett) is one of the last of his kind. He lives in the middle of dusty nowhere, caring for a Charles Xavier who is being slowly consumed by dementia. He is assisted in this sad responsibility by the ghostly Caliban (Merchant), who is hypersensitive to sunlight and can’t set a foot outdoors. This forlorn but steady existence is thrown into disarray when a woman named Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and a child called Laura (Dafne Keen) appear on the scene. The first half of this movie is so good that it looked on course to be the best superhero film since The Dark Knight. I think it still ends up being that, but if not for a couple of small missteps in the second half, it might even have been a masterpiece.
In an interview with The New York Times last month, Hugh Jackman recalled how he sold himself on the idea of doing one last film in the Wolverine franchise. “I’d had a few wines. I said, ‘I think I’ve only got one more film, if I do it.’ And I just blurted out something. I went home and went to sleep, and I woke up at 4 in the morning, picked up my phone, and recorded a voice memo.” In that memo, Jackman listed three great movies as potential influences for this final film – Shane (1953), Unforgiven (1992) and The Wrestler (2008).
With Logan, Jackman and Mangold have stayed true to this vision. Like Alan Ladd in Shane, the Wolverine of Logan is a weary gunslinger who just wants to be left alone, but circumstances don’t give him that luxury. Like Unforgiven, this is a movie that doesn’t treat the taking of life lightly, and violence is always around the corner. And just as in The Wrestler, we cringe in fear for our broken-down hero, because each blow he takes could be his last.
Hugh Jackman is a force of nature here. No longer the young and invulnerable beast of old, the Wolverine here is bruised and battered. Unkempt, unshaven, he walks with a limp and needs reading glasses. His attitude towards other people can be described as cantankerous at best, and murderous at worst. Every word he speaks seems wrested from him in agony. Jackman embodies the character with a lifetime of pain and exhaustion. For a brief period in the film, he is called upon to play a younger version of himself. There is some CGI at work here, but Jackman changes his body language effectively enough to make the two personas distinct. It’s an outstanding swansong for an iconic role. Two key supporting performances complete this film. Patrick Stewart brings great tenderness and sensitivity to the role of the deteriorating Professor X. And Dafne Keen is an absolute 10/10 superstar: I’ll leave you to discover the wonders of her role for yourself. Oscar nominations wouldn’t be out of place for all three actors.
Logan may technically fit into the X-Men franchise, but it is effectively a standalone film. You don’t need to have watched any X-movie, or have read a single comic book to appreciate it. This shows us what exciting possibilities the superhero genre holds when freed from the constraints of franchise-building. Marvel Studios has been enormously successful with the “shared universe” model of comic movies, but Logan may have shown us that a more exciting future for the genre may lie in self-contained films. When there are no sequels to set up, you don’t need to bloat your movie with a supporting cast who can later have films of their own. When you don’t need city-crushing, beam-from-the-sky spectacle, you can focus on character and personality. When you don’t have to bright and colourful to appeal to the kiddies, you can take your film to grim, desolate places. And when you don’t need to keep your heroes alive to build a franchise, they suddenly seem to be in real danger to the audience. Superhero flicks keep trying to make us believe their characters are threatened, but let them escape one too many times, and you no longer feel the stakes after a point- it’s a classic case of the boy who cried wolf. This isn’t a spoiler, but Logan lays the blueprint for making the boy cry Wolverine instead.
Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars
You may also want to check Logan Movie Review #1
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