By Preston Wilder
It’s a bad week for icons at the multiplex; the Trainspotting guys are middle-aged failures, and Logan (Hugh Jackman) is even more decrepit. The mutant also known as Wolverine, star of four X-Men films and a couple of spin-offs, is dying from the inside, poisoned (we assume) by the adamantium that’s lodged in his body and produces his razor-sharp claws – though also by his own world-weary death wish. He’s holed up in a dingy hideout south of the border, making ends meet as a limo driver and taking care of an old and weak Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who initially appears to be totally gaga but is merely “pharmaceutically castrated”. The school for mutants is long gone, indeed no new mutants have emerged in years. It’s all a bit sad.
I come to Logan as a non-fan, a person who never read Marvel or DC growing up and is now increasingly annoyed at having to sit through five or six of these infantile superhero things every year (it’s no coincidence that my favourite from last year, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, is the one most comic-book fans hate). Logan, however, is something else, sombre and tormented and ultra-violent without the giggly veneer of the violence in Deadpool, more a case of being too fed up to sugar-coat the violence anymore – though in fact the violence is almost a gimmick, goosing the audience with the spectacle of an 18-rated X-Men movie. Oddly enough, the film this most resembles – underneath the blood-letting and moody pessimism – may be Real Steel, the underrated kiddie action comedy from a few years ago. Once again, here’s a cynical hero whose life gets turned around by a sassy child. Once again, here’s a case of Man vs. Machine. And of course, once again, here’s Hugh Jackman.
Jackman is a strange, in-between sort of actor: he’s not subtle, but sometimes he can bring so much conviction to his outsize emotions that he lifts the whole film to another level (other times, he just seems unsubtle). Logan is a mess, leaking pus and blood, getting by on whisky and barbiturates; he’s filled with self-loathing – “Maybe we were God’s mistake,” he says of his fellow mutants – and chafes at the disapproval of enfeebled father-figure Xavier (dropping the Professor’s air of serene omniscience seems to have liberated Stewart, who revels in half-senile babble and a sprinkling of f-words). The sassy child in question is a mutant named Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen) who has claws just like Wolvie and seems to be mute as well as mutant, or at least she doesn’t talk much; they’re an odd couple, angry dying Logan and the kid – but they’re also lethal, and the action scenes mostly feature thugs being over-confident and (just about) living to regret it. There are spurts of blood and severed heads – the violence is real – but it’s also thrilling to see Wolverine roused back into action. As in Real Steel, Jackman makes such a good snarling cynic that when he wakes up it’s practically operatic.
Also as in Real Steel, his guilt and doubts make him human (albeit “enhanced”) while his opponents are machines – and the main villain is a scientist (Richard E. Grant) who’s at the forefront of the drive to control mutant-kind, breeding mutants in the lab and removing their pesky conscience. “It’s 2029, why are we still talking about mutants?” says an overheard someone, and even an X-Men noob like myself can appreciate the ways in which the franchise reflects its times: previous X-Men films (the first was made in 2000) focused on a ‘deviant’ minority fighting for its rights, like the various real-life campaigns in the West in the 21st century – but Logan is set in a time when the battle has been won yet the war is lost, the authoritarian state having taken over everything. Sound familiar?
Logan isn’t fluffy, but I knew that going in (studio hype has been trumpeting its ‘harder edge’ for months now). More surprisingly, it isn’t flippant, or shallow, or pleased with itself. Logan, like Shane – the hero of the classic 50s Western that’s explicitly referenced – is a killer who no longer has a place in polite society, yet can still do his bit to help the weak before moving on; you can’t live with killing, says Shane sadly, nor can you take it back. Much of the film is a chase movie, and at one point the unlikely trio (Logan, the Prof and the kid) befriend a farmer and his family who invite them to stay the night; “Logan, you still have time,” says Xavier, meaning time to get back to normal life and find something like this ordinary, God-fearing family – but in fact he doesn’t, and Hugh Jackman’s larger-than-death performance shows that he knows it. The song behind the closing credits is ‘The Man Comes Around’, a song about the coming Apocalypse. All in all, I think Logan has earned it.
DIRECTED BY James Mangold
STARRING Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
US 2017 137 mins