Director: James Mangold
Runtime: 137 mutated minutes
Logan is the eponymous film about Marvel’s X-Men franchise’s most popular character, James “Logan” Howlett—more widely known as Wolverine. It is the magnum opus of Hugh Jackman’s 17-year stint playing the character in the public’s eye—debuting in X-Men (2000)—and loosely inspired by the comic book story, Old Man Logan. If you need that explained, you might think that this film is obviously not for you, but I would not be so quick to jump to that conclusion.
It’s a handy tip for a reviewer to avoid clichés wherever possible; however, it’s hard to describe Hugh Jackman’s performance in Logan as anything less than a “tour de force”. Jackman wears the journey of this tired mercenary and one-time hero in his face. His performance goes beyond grizzled toughness, and through world-weariness it betrays love. It covers the entire spectrum from animal through to painfully human. After snapping orders at his ally Caliban (Stephen Merchant) to remove a governmental threat, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), from their shared premises, Pierce returns with back-up, sans Caliban. Logan’s response is to ask about the whereabouts of his friend. It’s not overstated, but through the delivery you detect real concern for his allies—something they take for granted. “Bad things happen to people I care about,” he barks as he implores for consideration from another character. “I will be fine, then,” is their reply. An unseen obstacle for Logan is to learn to harness his love as fuel for his humanity, as opposed to letting instincts solely fuel the animal.
The film charmingly introduces us to Dafne Keen in the opening credits (don’t you miss that?), and I doubt it will be the last you see of her. She portrays Laura—an alleged new mutant in a post-genophage age. The athletic requirements of this role are immense, and her performance is flawless. It is not style without substance, either. By the end of Logan, we are admiring her for her independence, resilience, and initiative. She does not get overpowered by the scope of her role in the slightest.
The third most noteworthy performance belongs to Patrick Stewart, who once again takes up the role of the telepathic Charles Xavier—founder of the X-Men, and now deteriorating genius, who has had to watch the persecution of his fellow mutants, and is labelled a “weapon of mass destruction” by the country he hoped to change. The tone of Logan is set apart from other Marvel films immediately by Xavier’s cursing at Logan. We are no longer dealing with a well-poised man—his mansion has been returned to the earth. He represents hope, and eerily enough the need to evolve beyond the ideas that worked yesteryear. Stewart brings a naivety to Xavier, whose confidence in humanity has often been rewarded by the franchise. He is careless in his pursuit of the past—like Logan, he is tired, and a night spent in a bed becomes the best in his memory.
James Mangold has worked extensively with Hugh Jackman in the past. He not only directed Jackman in The Wolverine (2013), but also in Kate & Leopold (2001). As director and writer, Mangold works with Jackman to synthesise one of the most complete portrayals of a superhero. They both know this character in and out, and the synergy between star and director pulsates through the entire film. Jackman previously explored the themes of aging and the small print attached to a longer-than-average life in The Fountain (2006). I don’t know if Jackman has a genuine fascination with mortality, but his performative history both with and apart from Mangold has prepped him well for Logan.
A lot could be said about the film’s social commentary. Every protagonist beyond Logan and Xavier is of Hispanic or African-American descent. The film even conjures explanations for this. The genophage to eliminate the mutant genes, the exodus and round-up of mutants, and the importance of getting off American soil are canonical factors in Logan. Take that as you will. Comics have often been a medium where artists have been able to speak as loudly and as clearly as they want about a society that is less than perfect, and often rejects good. Logan keeps those elements of comics, and doesn’t mince what it intends to say about the nature of man.
A criticism I had of Deadpool (2016), was that violence does not often have consequence within the world it presents. Deadpool kills a lot of henchmen, but the injuries he (sometimes willingly) inflicts upon himself are played for comedy. How are you supposed to invest in a protagonist that you never believe is in any true danger? Fun film or not, the trivialisation of violence prevents it from saying anything useful about one of the tools it depends the most heavily on. The violence in Logan is more graphic than a lot of previous Marvel films, yes, but it is not glorified. It means life, it means death, and it takes its toll. Logan wears his scars like sins erupting from his soul. He is tired of killing. “I bet you’ve heard this sound before too,” taunts a future victim as he readies his gun. “More times than I’d like,” Logan confesses. He’s ready for his debts to be collected. At one point, during a private moment, he asks Laura what Xavier had said about him. “Not to like you,” is her reply. This is a man who has fallen short of everybody’s expectations. He is tired of failing to protect those he loves. He can barely extend one of his claws, and needs to pull it all the way out of his hand. He is tired.
My favourite scene comes after a confrontation with a villain that has some remarkable similarities to Wolverine himself. After a bloody fight, Logan is left looking into the eyes of a man we have grown to like. The man has a gun pointed at Logan. As confusing as the violence has been, Logan offers no resistance. He stares back—not angry, not pleading. This is his judgement. He is playing Russian roulette with another man’s autonomy. What happens next is his verdict—this is how a good man sees him. Whether that is as Logan or as Wolverine I will leave for you to discover.
Logan is not just a great film by comic book movie standards; it is a great film by all standards. It carves out a unique place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The difference between Logan and its contemporaries is perhaps best signified by there being no Stan Lee cameo in Logan, and no teaser at the end of the credits. That is fitting for the bleak and definitive experience Logan delivers. See this film. (Snikt!)