“…There’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong. It’s a brand. A brand sticks”
17 years ago, the world was introduced to Bryan Singer’s X-Men Universe and with it came the arrival of Wolverine portrayed by Australia’s own Hugh Jackman. It was his breakout Hollywood role and his career has since gone on a stratospheric trajectory. However unlike Jackman’s upwardly rising filmography, the X-Men movies and also the Wolverine spin-off films have had their fair share of hits and misses. Some of them, such as X-Men: Days of Future Past have managed to successfully combine genres, whilst others like X-Men Origins: Wolverine haven’t been looked on quite as favourably. So when director James Mangold (The Wolverine, Walk The Line) announced that he would take Jackman’s Wolverine for one final hurrah, fans were hoping this would be a swan song worthy of sending off the character.
Based loosely on the Old Man Logan comics, the film is a neo-Western with dystopian moments, set in 2029 when there have been no new mutant births in a quarter century. Logan aka Wolverine aka James Hewitt is a hard drinking limo driver, trying to forget his past and all his long dead friends. Scrounging what money he can, he and fellow mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) are caring for the ailing Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart) and doing their best to hide from the world. But when the young Laura aka X-23 (Dafne Keen) ends up on their doorstep, she is the target of X-Men adversary Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) leading the para-military cyborg Reavers at the orders of Dr Rice (Richard E Grant) intent on tracking her down and destroying her.
Mangold along with screenwriters Scott Frank (A Walk Among The Tombstones) and Michael Green (American Gods tv series) have crafted a superhero film that takes a purposeful step away from superheroism and is more a look at a broken man in his twilight years in the final fight of his life. There are nods to classic Westerns such as Unforgiven and explicit references to Shane, the latter of which and the quote used above, plays a particularly poignant scene that closes the film. It is also far less polished stylistically compared to previous X-Men films so feels more gritty in tone and thanks to its American ‘R’ (Australian MA15+) rating is also more brutally violent. So there is no shortage of snik-snik slicing and dicing not just from Logan but also the pint sized Laura, who happens to be more alike with Logan than he cares to admit.
Even with the carnage, there’s no cinematic type boss fight, it’s just our core trio trying desperately to outrun their predators. The swirly dusty car chases as they escape El Paso and make their way on an exhausting road trip to try and flee into the Canadian wilderness is a metaphoric and literal journey through the American heartland and a flight from extinction. Set as a parallel to the four-colour vintage X-Men comics Laura has squirrelled away in her backpack Logan gruffly replies that most of what’s in their pages was exaggerated and not real. And it feels like a fairly definitive nod to Logan’s own Canadian ancestry that they are going back to where it all began.
Continuing that Western-theme, it’s no coincidence that Johnny Cash singing “Hurt” is the titular theme song either, with Mangold having worked on Walk The Line. But even orchestrally, Marco Beltrami’s soundtracking on the film manages to encapsulate that Americana feel but also the occasional nail biting moments of horror that we also see onscreen.
Without a doubt, Logan will be heralded as one of Jackman’s finest performances. He hits every rough-shot beat, with weary eyes and a weathered soul, with his scruffy grey-flecked beard and having to wear reading glasses. This is the most human we’ve ever seen the character. Filled with that ever present rage, not at the world, not at those who made him into a weapon, but at himself for failing all those around him. This film also gives the character the most beautiful of redemptive arcs. When we were first introduced to Logan he was self-serving and focused on finding answers to his own story. Here we see him realise that he still has time to do something good and self-less for somebody else.
Sir Patrick Stewart also gets to fulfil that true mentor figure as Xavier, the man with the greatest living mind that is now falling apart. Here we see the Professor barely holding onto his sanity, heavily medicated to prevent seizures that literally paralyze every living being in a 100 mile radius. Yet even through all of this he still manages to provide Logan with the guidance and direction he needs to continue on. It’s also wonderful that they don’t shy away from having a brilliant thespian actor like Stewart drop a few cuss words in. And it’s the angsty odd couple bicker/banter between Logan and Charles that we would and should come to expect from a pair who have had to put up with each other for so long.
Joining our two more seasoned actors is the young Dafne Keen who with minimal dialogue and her steely gaze embodies the most vicious badass 11 year old. To convey what she needs to, without having much to say is a tough gig but she manages to hold her own alongside Jackman and Stewart. And in one all too brief warm and fuzzy moment where the three of them are happily sharing a meal this unlikeliest of family units seems to work. It would be a disappointment and a missed opportunity for them to not consider utilising her and her character in future films.
Jackman has reportedly been quoted as saying that Logan is a “love letter to Wolverine fans” and in many respects this is very accurate. Of all the characters in the X-Men, he has been a favourite because of his complex personality and backstory and for years fans have waited for a film to finally match those expectations. There is no denying that it would be almost impossible to see anybody else as the gruff character. Mangold and Jackman have achieved a violent, purposeful but also emotionally gut-wrenching portrayal of a character who in the act of saving somebody else, finally manages to save himself.
Review Score: FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 137 minutes
Logan is out in Australian cinemas from 2 March 2017 through 20th Century Fox Australia