By Caleb Fox
After 17 years, Hugh Jackman has finally decided to hang up his claws for good, and retire from his role as Wolverine. The character, a mainstay in the X-Men film franchise, has become Jackman’s most iconic role, and Logan serves as a truly phenomenal swan song for both the character and the actor.
The film is set in the not so distant future, 2029 to be exact, and follows Wolverine/Logan, now almost 200 years old, as he attempts to care for the deteriorating Charles Xavier, who’s slowly losing control of his incredibly powerful mind. Their lives are interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious young girl named Laura, who’s being hunted by a slew of villainous “Reavers”, and soon Logan finds himself drawn into one final cross-country adventure.
Though technically a comic book genre film, and part of a larger superhero movie world, audiences should leave their expectations outside of the theatre. Logan doesn’t really seem sure where exactly it fits into the X-Men cinematic universe. Its connections to previous films are, for the most part, fleeting. However, the franchise has always played fast and loose with timelines and continuity, often to the benefit of the series as a whole. It is better to have films that all work as strong independent stories than to have individual movies unable to stand on their own – feeling too episodic. In this way, Logan greatly succeeds. It has the necessary links to the overall franchise that fans appreciate, but can be enjoyed independent of them as well.
The film is a real standout in the series, in its attempt to eschew the tropes of the comic genre. There are no colourful costumes, world-ending machinations, or crazy CGI generated set-pieces to be found here. Not that those things are inherently bad, but Logan is a plot driven film with interesting characters and motivations. The script is an insightful look at how these characters have been affected by their powers and experiences, and it features some very clever political undertones, reflecting real-world issues as well (one of the greatest strengths of the X-Men franchise as a whole). Though there are a couple moments of questionable logic that might pull viewers out the film for a second, it tells a fascinating story that should keep audiences engaged.
Director James Mangold places character front and centre, and the movie is carried by the relationships between the three main protagonists. Hugh Jackman is, as always, excellent as Logan, and he believably portrays the titular hero as old and tired without being tiresome. Jackman brings new layers and depth to a character he’s already imbued with so much life, and it’s a perfect performance with which to bid the role farewell. The same goes for Patrick Stewart in his final outing as Charles Xavier, who wonderfully captures the tragedy of the character’s situation. Seeing these heroes in the twilight of their lives, rather than in their prime is both interesting and refreshing. The film’s true standout, however, is young newcomer Dafne Keen as the strong and silent Laura. She has an absorbing presence, commanding the viewer’s attention without even saying a word. Though she is cold and deadly in some instances, she is also a child, full of genuine feeling in other moments. Keen balances both aspects of the character masterfully, allowing her to serve as a new generation of ass-kicking mutant, as well as the film’s emotional crux. Child performances too often feel stilted and unbelievable, or over-reliant on clichéd cuteness, but Keen brings a sobering maturity to the role, and she’s a delight to watch.
The film does unfortunately stumble a bit with its supporting characters. Stephen Merchant plays Caliban, a sort of sidekick for Logan who isn’t given a whole lot to do. There are aspects of the character’s past which are repeatedly mentioned but never explained or explored, and he quickly becomes little more than a plot device. Merchant is good, though not particularly memorable in the role. Similarly, the villains in the movie are also lacking. The seemingly endless army of Reavers are little more than (necessary) cannon fodder – there just to give the heroes bad guys to kill. Boyd Holbrook as their leader is actually entertaining, bringing a hefty amount of charm and quirkiness to the role, though the script pushes him to the sidelines. Instead, Richard E. Grant appears about halfway through the movie as a generic evil scientist type, who’s around for too long to leave the focus on Holbrook’s more interesting performance, but not long enough to be memorable, or add anything to the film. Grant’s character barely registers with the audience; he’s boring and unnecessary. The true strength of the film is really in its main trio of protagonists, and they are so good that the lacklustre supporting characters are more of a minor annoyance than a major flaw.
All of this focus on character doesn’t mean that film lacks in action. It is, after all, still an X-Men film, and its R-rating finally gives fans a chance to see Wolverine in all his bloody, berserker glory. The fight scenes are violent, brutal, fluid, and incredibly well executed. Mangold is able to stage excellent set pieces, and watching Logan and Laura slash and stab their way through hordes of Reavers is visceral and thrilling, never becoming monotonous or repetitive. It’s a standard all action films should strive for.
A fascinating character study, with a moving story and beautiful action, Logan is both another excellent instalment in the X-Men franchise and an appropriate goodbye for Hugh Jackman in an iconic role. At a time when superhero movies are more popular than ever, and risk becoming stale, this film is a fantastic breath of fresh air, and a delight for casual audiences and longtime fans alike.
(Featured image: Logan, 20th Century Fox)