This is Hugh Jackman’s swansong as Wolverine, after eight films in 17 years of playing the Marvel superhero. And what a great way to go out! He has saved the best till last. Not only is Logan the best film in the Wolverine franchise to date but it is also one of the best comic book/superhero adaptations. Logan is up there with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. And since the success of Deadpool last year, the producers have realised that it is okay to make an R-rated comic book film, full of violence and causal profanity.
The film is set in 2029, a not-too-distant future, one which is still recogniseable. But in this world, there have been no new mutants emerging, and the world has changed for those who are still around. Logan himself is sick and his body weakened, poisoned by the very adamantium that gave him his powers and his claws. He is now an alcoholic limousine driver, working under the alias of James Howlett, plying his trade around the border between Mexico and Texas. He is also caring for Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is clearly ailing and in the grip of dementia. Another irony here as the brain wasting disease is affecting “the most dangerous mind in the world”. Xavier is holed up inside a large iron tank, where he is watched over by the mutant Caliban (an unrecognizable Stephen Merchant). Logan thinks he has left his wolverine days behind him and is leading a quieter life.
But then a mysterious woman named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez, from Orange is the New Black) comes looking for him, asking his help in protecting Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen in her film debut), a ten-year old girl who is being hunted by some very nasty forces. Laura is a mutant, created in the laboratories of bio-engineering company Transigen from Logan’s DNA. Transigen was hoping to create its own genetically superior breed of mutants, but when it became clear that the program was failing, the company began a program of eliminating its creations. Logan finds himself in the position of her reluctant de facto guardian.
Logan, Xavier and Laura are on the run, trying to escape from the mercenaries known as Rievers, who are led by the obsessed Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, from A Walk Among the Tombstones). Logan becomes a combination of road movie and western. It’s not surprising that the film references classic westerns like Unforgiven and Shane and that film’s line about a man having to do what a man’s gotta do to ensure justice and protect the innocent echoes strongly throughout this tale of redemption. The film has been nicely shot by cinematographer John Mathieson who uses the widescreen effectively to capture the dusty, wide-open landscapes that also give the film the look and tone of the classic westerns.
The irony here is that Logan, so long a lone wolf, has to learn about the importance of family, fatherhood, responsibility, sacrifice, and its rich thematic underpinnings give the material a more human touch as well. This element also provides some unexpected emotional beats to the material. But Laura also turns out to have inherited Logan’s powers, and she is even more dangerous and lethal.
Logan is a very visceral and violent film with a high body count. Director James Mangold previously directed Jackman in 2013’s The Wolverine, and here he ups the ante with some brutal but effectively staged action sequences. He handles the action scenes with flair and maintains a cracking pace throughout. There are lashings of humour throughout that nicely punctuate the action and alleviate the darker tone of the material. But Mangold doesn’t tone down to violence to cater for family audiences. There are some brutally ferocious action sequences here, particularly when Logan battles an insanely strong and angry clone that was also created in the Transigen laboratories.
Jackman has a strong physical presence which is well used here and he has lots of charisma to spare. Jackman is allowed to get to the essence of the character here and after eight previous outings he gets to explore the character’s flaws and failings. He also handles the physical stuff convincingly, and again reminds us that he would have made a perfect screen incarnation of Jack Reacher. Jackman and Keen develop a nice chemistry and rapport here. Keen barely speaks until the last third of the film, but she conveys a strong sense of her character
Stewart, who has also announced that he has finished playing Professor Xavier, brings his usual gravitas to the role, but his performance here as the sickly Xavier also allows him to explore the character in more depth and with more nuances than previously permitted. Holbrook brings a nicely menacing air to his performance as Pierce, the bionic-handed leader of the Rievers, and he gives him more substance rather than playing a standard one-dimensional villain. And Richard E Grant makes for a nicely slimy Dr Rice, the scientist in charge of the new mutant program. And unusually for a Marvel adaptation there is no cameo from Stan Lee.
And Mangold and screenwriter Scott Frank deliver a strangely poetic and melancholy end to this violent tale of redemption and justice. A great way to bring the franchise to a fitting conclusion. Fans should be more than satisfied that at last the screen does the character of Wolverine justice.
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook
Release Date: 2 March 2017
Rating: MA 15+
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television