These day’s I rarely get to the cinemas to see the latest release, so I have had an agonising wait before finally getting the chance to see ‘Logan’ but it was worth the wait. The latest instalment in the X-Men franchise is undoubtedly “The very best at what it does” and is not only notable as probably Hugh Jackman’s final appreance as Wolverine but a well written and directed film. It is darker and more complex intrant to the superhero genre which we haven’t seen since “The Dark Knight” and is a clear departure from the feel good uplifting films of the rest of the X-Men movies.
One element responsible for the very noticeable change in tone is the movement away from the lighter side of the science fiction genre which has always been present in the rest of the franchise. Starting with the moment Logan opened his eye’s in the high tech lab under Xavier’s School for the Gifted to the Sentinels he was sent back in time to stop Wolverine’s appearance in the X-men films has always been connected with technology. In contrast “Logan” has a more post – apocalyptic feel similar to ‘Mad Max’ this is partly due to open and desolate landscapes that dominate the film. Sure their are still elements of technological advances like the robotic hands of the Alkali-Transigen Reaves who pursue Logan or the continuation of the Weapon X program. However, even this set in a rudimentary Mexican hospital and the entire process of impregnating young women is decidedly low tech not only for the franchise but for 2029 when the film is set. Perhaps the greatest example of this change is shown by comparing the scene in which Logan sees Laura receiving her adamantium graft, strapped to a simple medical chair and covered in blood, compared to his own operation at alkali lake in the submerged tank.
This more dystopian style of science fiction is than blended with elements of an old fashion western which focuses more on character and relationships than the grander idea of saving the world found in the rest of the X-Men movies, in fact the storyline itself, a journey across the country, has more in common with this genre. It is a link that James Mangold was quick to reinforce with reference to the movie ‘Shane’ which is not only paralleled in Logan and Laura’s own journey but the desire Charles has to see Logan settle with a family. Further, to this mix of genres Mangold introduces an extreme application of gore again reminiscent of something like ‘Mad Max’ with close ups of injuries and gritty fight sequences emphasised at times by the fact that many of the films most graphic sequences are perpetrated by a child. Again this is a departure from the rest of the X-Men franchise as although Wolverine has always amassed a body count his victims have rarely left a trail of blood. As a result the film has a darker and in some ways more realistic feel rather than the more family friendly version of Wolverine we have become more familiar with.
It is this darker tone that allows Mangold to explore more personal themes through his characters rather than the grandeur ideas of discrimination, tolerance, sacrifice and responsibility which have been done to death in the past films. Instead Mangold focuses on Logan’s depression and desire to escape either through the adamantium bullet or the unrealistic dream of escaping to the sea. This is tired in part to Logan’s physical deterioration as a result of adamantium poisoning which makes him reflect on the lives he has taken as his own is seemingly coming to an end and his recognition with the decline of mutants in society he no longer has a place. At the same time Mangold is able to explore similar real world experiences with an elderly Charles Xavier whose declining health has made him a danger to everyone around him. It’s clear for most of the film that he is haunted by the damage his powers have done but still wishes desperately to hang on to his sanity and therefore resists the medicine that keeps them in check, his struggle mirrors the experience of those with dementia. It’s not surprising than that Charles wants to try and make amends by encouraging Logan to take responsibility for Laura and possibly settle down as it is his last chance to make a positive impact on the world. The introduction of Laura and the revelation of her paternity, which lessor films would have made into a grand reveal at the end, forces Logan into a position of responsibility he never quite fulfills. Through out the film we see him offer sage advice and obviously protect Laura from the Reavers with their growing bond leading to his willingness to sacrifice himself to save her at the end but it’s clear that he recognises that it’s impossible for him to be the father that Charles wants him to become. These personal themes make the film far more relatable and powerful than previous X-Men movies and the feel good sense of adventure.
The resulting character driven storyline requires strong performances from both Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman. Since handing over the role of professor Charles Xavier to James McAvoy it seemed the Stewart’s contribution to the X-men Universe maybe finished but his final performance has more depth than before. Instead of the wise, self assured Professor X we have been accustom to from the original trilogy, Stewart gives a compelling vision of man battling against his own mental state. His ability to appear fragile and lost at the start of the film and yet still hold a semblance of the moral authority audiences expect from the character even if it is only apparent when he is pleading with Logan is testament to Stewarts credentials as an actor. Not to be out done Jackman also puts in his best performance as for most of the film Logan’s depression is communicated with an expression as it is not until late in the film that it is properly articulated. His portal of the popular brash and antagonist hero is still present whether it is in the action packed final sequence or through the simple little glimpses like Logan’s decision to grab a cigar after telling Laura not to steal but these glimpses are buried beneath the limp of a man carrying the weight of his past missed life on his shoulders.
Amongst this mix of established and renowned talent Dafne Keen managers to hold her own. Her portrayal of Laura a deadly killing machine filled with rage in the form of a little girl is made more difficult by the fact that she does not talk for a large portion of the film. This means that Keen needs to communicate volumes with every look and piece of body language not an easy feat for a 12 year old actress. She does unbelievably well as it is obvious to the audience the different thoughts and feelings going through her mind. As a result the character appears sympathetic despite her ability to decapitate the men hunting her, this is thanks not only to Keen’s performance but Mangold and Scott Franks work with the script. Since they have been able to give Laura a sense of innocence through the wonder she experiences at the outside world and cleverly balances the references to her childhood suffering in a way that prevents it becoming forced. When Laura does talk it serves to reinforce all the key elements of the film since she speaks in Spanish without subtitles. The English speaking audience like Logan is left to use the context of what she says to derive her meaning but fail to comprehend every word. Not only does this put the audience alongside the main protagonist but it also serves to highlight the fact that despite their growing bond the characters are separated by very different worlds.
So far I have highlighted in depth what makes “Logan” a great film but it is more than that as it is still an X-men movie to the core as Mangold does a wonderful job of paying tribute to the comic book universe in addition to the past films. Some times these are in subtle elements of set design like the Samurai sword hanging in Logan’s room or the throw away line at the start about Liberty Island that takes fans back to the very beginning in 2000 or my personal favourite the Wolverine figurine wearing yellow spandex. More significantly the premise of an aging Logan pays a respectful homage to the ‘Old Man Logan’ series of comics without adapting the story and Mangold even finds a way to use the X-men comics as a plot device which defiantly got this fan boy excited. Even these elements could have easily become a gimmick if the plot and the introduction of Laura ( X – 23) was done poorly but the film manages this well by using the X-men evolution series as a starting point and returning to Wolverine’s own origins as part of the Weapon X program. The film therefore can be seen as a maturing of the franchise aimed at the audience who grew up with cartoons and comic books but are now looking for something a bit darker and complex than the lighter films of the past.
“Logan” won’t be for everyone, for starters it’s not the film to take your kids to see but for diehard fans and movie junkies it is a must see. I’m sure there are many fan boys out there who see “Logan” as a bit bitter sweet moment, it is the stand alone movie we have waited for especially since the train wreak which was X-Men Origins: Wolverine but unfortunately the last.
5.5 Claw marks out of 6