06 Mar REVIEW: Logan
James Mangold (Dir); Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green (Scr)
Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook
Logline: Living a secluded life with Professor X below the border, a weathered, world-weary Logan is called back into action when he is charged with the protection of new young mutant on the run.
The year is 2029. And Logan looks like shit.
Having had to battle the poisonous effect of an adamantium-laced skeleton for decades, his mutant healing factor is finally starting to succumb, and on top of that – at the ripe old age of approximately 195 (see X-men Origins: Wolverine for validation) – the years have finally caught up on him.
This is the scene that James Mangold sets up at the beginning of Jackman’s final outing as the titular anti-hero. Logan is sick, tired, and out of shape.
Carving out an existence as a limo driver, he balances his days between bottles: those of the alcoholic persuasion, to deal with his own pain, and those of the pharmaceutical, to deal with a dementia-addled Xavier’s, whom he now cares for in hiding, with the aid of tracker mutant, Caliban (Merchant), and nurtures hopes of purchasing a boat and retreating permanently to the ocean.
Enter child mutant Laura, whose presence spells all manner of disappointment for the ageing Wolverine and his ambitions.
As a departure from the traditional X-cannon, Logan couldn’t have ventured any farther. Gone are the CG set pieces, gone are the quasi-love triangles, gone are Sabretooth and Deadpool Mk.I and the daddy of all deus ex machina: time travel. In their place is an unassuming, stripped back, hardboiled road movie. A drama exploring the relationship between parent and child. A cold-blooded western.
And by golly, it’s gorgeous.
Mangold’s career hasn’t delivered straight wins throughout, the obvious high points in Girl, Interrupted, Identity and Cop Land, but with Logan he has certainly delivered another peak to add to the graph.
The pacing is spot on, the story playing out (in terms of both plot and visuals) like Blood Father meets Universal Soldier, both attractive narratives in their own right, and the decision to tell a small, quiet, brooding and desperate tale as a send-off to a much loved interpretation of a character – and an actor who clearly loves the character as much as audiences do – is a masterstroke. Not only in stripping away all the bells and whistles that oh so often clutter an X-movie to let the narrative speak for itself, but also in replacing said bumf with what every Wolverine fan has wanted to see since he first graced our cinema screens… the viscera.
In case you haven’t heard by now, Logan is violent. Fox have embraced the R-rating that did Deadpool so many favours, and it pays dividends! The opening skirmish sees Logan lop off a hand, then a leg, and top it off by jamming his claws under a third thug’s chin, adamantium glistening between teeth, and from that point on each subsequent fight scene is a contest to top the last in the blood-bath stakes (be prepared for the savagery to reach fever pitch at a moonlit farmhouse in the culmination of Act 2). It’s carnage. Wonderful, wonderful carnage!
Beneath all the excitement, Jackman delivers a powerhouse final turn. Never before has Logan been so vulnerable, so honest, resisting an innate instinct to help those in need to the point of self-implosion and the extent that an eight year-old girl can overpower him both physically and by sheer force of will. Supporting him, Patrick Stewart threatens to steal the plaudits as he reinvents Professor X, shedding all trace of the genteel and sophisticated intellect he once was and replacing him with a cantankerous, hopeful and possibly deluded, old bastard. Dafne Keen charms in her silence, relying on the naiveté of childhood to speak for itself. These three aside, the supporting cast – for the most part – impresses, with particular kudos owed to Merchant as a drained Caliban, at his wits end babysitting not one but two fading heroes, Holbrook, who elevates Pierce from cocky mercenary to resourceful and combat-smart commander, and Eriq La Salle as an oppressed farmer the group meet on the road.
Despite the fusillade of positives, Logan is not without a few bumps in the road. Mangold’s directorial vision isn’t comparable with say a Fincher or Villeneuve – in whose hands Logan would have been elevated further – and so the photography seems only capable but nothing more. Here’s hoping the planned black and white release might help in that department.
Holbrook could have been given more to do and, in an episode of gross miscasting, Richard E. Grant unfortunately hams up every scene he graces, upsetting the cadence and tone of the film – it’s no coincidence the sole moment of exposition is his to deliver – while also drawing fleeting reminders of the various negatives that blighted Jackman’s previous two solo outings.
The third act, although satisfying, could have been more climactic if tighter and less rushed. There is also one surprise inclusion throughout the narrative that would have benefitted from more thought conceptually, but there are no spoilers here, so enough on that.
As a send-off to Jackman, it’s nigh on perfect. The decision to ignore classic comic conventions in favour of grit, grime and guts is one of Hollywood’s classier decisions of the last decade and one can only hope that, in Logan and the Deadpool franchise, we have seen the way paved for a more adult breed of superhero movie.
Given DC’s repeated failures and the growing sense of meh towards Marvel’s output, it seems there might just be a few more miles in the tank yet.
Fantana Score: 8.5