His time has come. So reads one of the hashtags and taglines used on the Logan marketing trail. The four words couldn’t be more perfect. We’ve fallen in love with Hugh Jackman’s clawed mutant, a role the Sydney-born star has embraced and made his own since Bryan Singer’s X-Men dropped back in 2000. We’ve seen Wolverine grow and evolve in X-Men films of varying quality, as well as two, let’s say not-quite-spectacular solo outings. And here we are, after 17 years, with a solo Logan film that serves as a standout cinematic chapter for the X-Men brand and a truly special farewell for Jackman’s run as the character. Director and co-writer James Mangold, the Cop Land and Walk the Line helmer returning to the character after 2013’s The Wolverine, has well and truly delivered.
First kudos to fly out go to Fox. With both Deadpool and Logan, the studio has demonstrated a willingness to take chances, to lower the budgets and let filmmakers tackle different routes. They’re very different films, but they both take the X-Men universe into decidedly adult territory – in both content and emotional maturity. Having the guts to green light a Wolverine film such as this deserves applause, and to market the film’s release in such a pitch-perfect, non-spoilery manner makes this project on the whole even more impressive. And we haven’t really touched on the final product yet.
It’s the near future, not far away enough to present us with a hugely changed world but enough for us to see an evolution of sorts. The majority of the world’s mutants have either been wiped out or are in hiding. The heroic X-Men team has long been dismantled, the reasons unclear as we kick off. We’re reunited with Logan and Charles Xavier, although these are far from the men we knew; we’re a long way from the School for Gifted Youngsters. They are worn down, broken, barely holding on; Logan isn’t healing at the same rate anymore and Charles’ powerful mind simply isn’t what it once was. For reasons best not revealed here, Logan is placed on a path to Laura (Dafne Keen), a young girl that has more in common with the aged mutant than he realises. One thing leads to another and Logan, Charles and Laura soon find themselves on the road with Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his heavily armed forces on their tail.
There are hints of humour, fun and hope dotted here and there, but make no mistake: Logan can be bleak, even depressing. That being said, this isn’t a film that turns the emotional screws without letting up; Mangold, along with co-writers Scott Frank (Minority Report, The Wolverine) & Michael Green (Smallville, Heroes), keeps the energy going with layered characterisation and a simple, effective plot. It’s a heartfelt, soulful screenplay, although there are a few niggles that arise with the occasional heavy-handed piece of dialogue and slightly misjudged pacing. Nothing too detrimental, mind you.
Part of the buzz for Logan relates to the film’s promise of a more violent, grittier Wolverine pic. Well, let’s put it this way: this one ain’t for the kiddies. An early scene finds the adamantium-infused mutant hacking away at a group of armed men. Blades to the face, hacked limbs, plenty of blood. It’s a taste of what’s to come, and after 17 years of Jackman’s Wolverine working those claws with PG-13 (US classification) restrictions, it’s a progression that feels both natural and earned. The film’s violence will no doubt be of some surprise to those heading to this expecting just another X-Men flick, but let it be known that it fits this world and the overall tone like a glove. The bloodletting – while potent and vicious – is still kept in check, servicing the plot and scattered effectively until the frenzied finale.
Grit befitting this tale and our character is one thing, but it would feel tacked on and cheap without solid direction. Mangold puts in fantastic work, demonstrating confident craftsmanship in scene after scene. Working with Gladiator & X-Men: First Class D.O.P. John Mathieson and editors Michael McCusker (The Wolverine, 13 Hours) & Dirk Westervelt (Run All Night), Mangold structures taut, nail-biting action sequences that prove bigger is not always better. The down and dirty action is clearly structured and wonderfully choreographed; heart-pounding scenes that often culminate in clap-worthy wrap-ups.
As great as the kinetic sequences are, it’s the slower, emotional scenes where Logan’s true mastery comes into play. This is a character-driven drama through and through, and in a very different type of way than that seen in, say, the successful cinematic outings offered up in the MCU. The stakes here are certainly high, but its scale is a good distance away from that familiar threat of world domination or interplanetary chaos. And carefully crafted, very real characters back it all. This is the story of Logan and Charles, of a true friendship, of a father-son type of relationship carried by a compelling sense of history. These two characters will each, in their own ways, break your heart.
Jackman is absolutely brilliant. This is a part he was born to play, as we all know, but it’s the raw emotion he holds here that brings it all home. Logan is utterly spent after all these years, and Jackman commits to it all, exhibiting weariness and exhausted anger in every step. The vulnerability Jackman taps into is matched by Stewart, who delivers a truly devastating turn as a worn-out Xavier and who, somehow, also provides many of the film’s amusing moments. Topping off the lead trio is Dafne Keen – one hell of a find. Keen is perfect as the innocent, troubled and deadly (you won’t be forgetting that scream in a hurry) Laura, carrying a certain magnetic presence that’s rare to see in child actors and giving the character an unsettling level of intensity whenever she’s on screen.
I’m not going to lie: I could be here all day. So much of Logan has played out over and over in my mind since walking out of that cinema; the film’s jaw-dropping developments, the very strong supporting turns from Holbrook and Stephen Merchant, that hotel sequence, that ending, that perfect final moment. If I dare push praise aside for a quick moment, this isn’t a completely and utterly flawless film, but it is oh-so close to a masterpiece. Again, well done to 20th Century Fox for having the guts to back the most mature, most brutal, most emotional X-Men film to date, and hats off to Mangold and his team for crafting it. Assuming this actually remains Jackman’s final picture as Wolverine, what we have here is a bittersweet goodbye he can be absolutely proud of. His time has come.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10