Editor Chloe Woods reviews James Mangold’s conclusion to Hugh Jackman’s tenure as Wolverine.
If this is to be the final Wolverine film (as we can all pray to the gods of the silver screen), it is a fitting one. James Mangold’s film is the third solo outing for Hugh Jackman’s version of the character, and it is a film focused very much on endings.
We open twelve years into the future, in a world where new mutants have long since ceased to be born. Logan, who straddles the border between the USA and a barely-distinguishable Mexico, is working as a driver to support an ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). He is aided only by sun-fearing Caliban (Stephen Merchant); others of the old generation are never mentioned, and if any survive, it’s clear these three wouldn’t know where. Charles suffers from potentially lethal psychic seizures, Logan’s healing powers are slowly abandoning him, and the world around them too feels like it is dying. Though not as post-apocalyptic as the trailers might have suggested, it is nonetheless a harried and weary world, superhero cyborg tech contrasted with a general aura strongly reminiscent of the Wild West; but rather than a lawless place being slowly claimed for civilisation, it is one being abandoned. Logan, unlike Charles, is quite willing to let it go, and refuses to help the mutant child Laura (Dafne Keen) even after the offer of payment or the revelation she shares his powers. Only when he learns what she’s been through does his resistance begin to crumble. The remainder of the plot focuses on their efforts to reach safety, in the form of a dubious “Eden”.
The film spends its early scenes in near-darkness. The very first is a deliciously brutal fight in which Logan tears apart a gang of attempted car-strippers, and warns us there are few limits to violence in a film which well earns its 15 rating – but it does not set the tone of the film. Once Laura enters the picture, the visual palette broadens considerably, taking in the bold, warm shades of the desert, the bright lights of convenience stores and casinos, and poignant forest greens. The film walks a careful balance between light-hearted road trip and tense action thriller: between frequent fight sequences there are moments of calm, and even of levity and joy.
Hugh Jackman carries the burden of the film as solidly as Jackman ever does; he may have a limited range – gruff or roaring in anger – but it’s well-exploited within the context of the film. Patrick Stewart is the usual delight, sharp-tongued and kind by turns, though his most emotional scene falls flat as the film has struggled to lay the groundwork for it beforehand. (There’s a fairly complex network of foreshadowing and allusion through the movie, and about 70% of it lands.) Boyd Holbrook’s cyborg hunter Donald Pierce, the main antagonist of the film – by which I mean the one with the most screen time – exudes an air of friendly menace; the true villain of the piece is far less compelling, but his appearance is thankfully brief. The real star of the piece is young Dafne Keen as the mute Laura, sullen with Logan, ferocious in battle – she is not spared the film’s violence – but most impressive for her ability to capture the blend of world-weariness and wonder, insouciance and naive joy, only a hurt child could contain.
The film’s structure, as so often, does not entirely do credit to its actors’ talents. Logan starts strong but peters out towards the end. That’s not to say it drags exactly – there’s very little that could obviously have been removed, and some worthy of expansion – only that it falters: the final third feels at once compressed and dragged-out, possibly thanks to an impressive and highly dramatic earlier scene that leaves the immediate aftermath to feel anticlimatic. The decline is not disastrous, and the final fight scene is still more interesting than many in recent superhero movies – though, being a superhero film, it would be hard-pressed to convince us the stakes are as high as they might seem, and indeed the end is somewhat predictable. It is nonetheless effective, particularly for Keen’s pitch-perfect performance in the final scene.
Logan’s themes, meanwhile, unfold beautifully. The film is trying to say something surprisingly simple, and surprising, given both the bloodshed and cruelty it contains: that people are basically good. Not innocent – Laura is not innocent, for all her ignorance. But good. We see this in Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez), Laura’s surrogate mother; in kind strangers on the road; in Logan and Charles themselves, flawed and guilty as they are. Sometimes good people do terrible things, and the burdens they carry for those acts are paralleled by their respective physical and mental breakdowns. Charles yet believes Logan might have a future, because part of his guilt lies in taking the hope of future or family from the other man – and Logan finds its idea of goodness in family, whether born or made. (It is explicit about the theme of family, almost undermining the point.) But both of them are old men fated to finally confront their own shadows – Logan quite literally – and it is Laura to whom the future belongs. In many ways her course is set to echo his; she must already confront the burden of killing, even of killing bad men, and she too has adamantium in her bones. But Logan takes this sense of cyclicity and makes it hopeful. Logan is a hero; Laura will be too.
Logan is a hero, though Logan is another of those films determined not to be a “superhero” movie. There’s been some discussion, as always, around the film’s decision not to place him in a comics-style costume. I’d say it would be almost more poignant if he’d donned it once – but it’s hard to imagine this Logan, of the film itself, in the black and yellow. He has no desire to advertise what he is or set out on deliberate heroics. For all that, it falls squarely in the genre – it is still a movie about a man with super-healing powers and claws in his hands – and its contrast to other recent offerings is fascinating. The major players at the moment in “superhero films” are the DC and Marvel cinematic universes: on one hand painfully grim, on the other filled with shallow comedy and few serious consequences. The X-Men movies have always existed slightly outside this dichotomy, but often slide into nothing more than narratively jumbled action films. (See: X-Men: Apocalypse.) Logan demonstrates a third way, both harsh and warm. The deaths do not feel gratuitous, and the jokes are earned. As I said at the beginning: this is a worthy film to round off Logan’s independent arc. They should never have made three Wolverine films, but I’m glad they made this one.
Logan is out now in the UK. See the trailer below: