There was never any compelling reason for Logan to be a good movie. Sure, a few of the X- Men films are very good and Marvel properties have been striking at new directions lately, what with Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy and so on, but have you actually SEEN that first Wolverine movie? Jesus fuck. It’s a piece of shit and James Mangold’s sequel The Wolverine was nerveless and unnecessary. News that Hugh Jackman and Mangold have been trying to go for a tougher picture in the wake of Deadpool‘s success did not inspire much confidence either. At best, I expected some sort of jockey mimicry of Ryan Reynold’s dude- bro humour. And yet, somewhere along the way, someone (Jackman? Mangold?) decided to ignore franchise implications and attempt to create a masterpiece. The resulting film is not perfect, but it packs quite a punch.
Very loosely inspired by Mark Millar’s Marvel miniseries Old Man Logan, the film drops us in a near future where mutants have been somehow wiped out and Logan is laying low in the Mexican border. Consumed by rage and in constant pain, he is now a shadow of his former self. With the help of Caliban, another mutant (Stephen Merchant, giving a quietly tragic performance that first clues you in about the personal stakes in this one), he takes care of an ailing professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart, in full- on King Lear mode). The old telepath suffers from brain seizures that can incapacitate anyone who happens to be in his radius and needs a constant supply of medication to remain in a safe, semi- vegetative state.
The three mutant survivors are basically trying to get by, when their circumstances change radically. Laura, a little girl whose powers are suspiciously close to Wolverine’s ends up in their path, with a whole score of mercenaries on her trail (led by an oily Boyd Holbrook and a slumming Richard E. Grant, who plays his standard evil scientist role with the steady trustworthiness of a family doctor). Logan has to go on the run to protect her, with bloody consequences.
You can tell from the above synopsis that the plot is nothing new. Logan borrows the structure of Children of Men and follows a road movie scenario that you will have seen before. Plus, it is debatable whether we really need another narrative about a grizzled old white dude returning from retirement to protect the innocent.
But the film works. Boy, does it work. Part of it is the violence. For the first time, the force of Wolverine’s claws is properly unleashed and the effect is brutal. The violence in Logan is relentless and bonecrunching, but it’s not cheap. It makes you realise that most action movies (including most Marvel ones actually) are a cop- off. Logan is frequently a very unpleasant film because it refuses to frame the violence as something inconsequential or cool (exhilarating yes, but not cool).
It’s a rather beautiful film, taking its’ cues from revisionist westerns, Cormac McCarthy, neo noir and Johnny Cash songs and Mangold does wonders with rusty gas stations, bullet- riddled cars, corn fields and dusty sunsets. Compared to the usual sci- fi Marvel spectacle this is low- key stuff, but it resonates.
Which brings us to the acting. Dafne Keen as Laura is spectacular, a concentrated ball of fury but also just a sullen, smart kid. Stewart is fantastic as always and his scenes with Jackman are particularly affecting. Their intense bickering feels way too real for this sort of film and banks on the audience having grown up with these characters. It’s a very effective trick and it hits very close to home. Not many action movies deal with being a carer for an elderly family member and there are plenty of moments where this dynamic is very painful to watch. Meanwhile Jackman looks like he is eaten away by a lifetime of horrific deeds. Hangover, scarred and bloodshot, he bears himself like a man who understands that everything that matters to him will end up as dust. It’s a truly great performance but it’s very challenging for what is supposed to be a superhero movie. Logan is not exactly what you would call “fun”, but there is a steely centre of unflinching decency here and it is much appreciated.
So there you have it. After countless superhero blockbusters that desperately try to be all things to all people in order to maximise revenue, we have here an angry, harrowing, occasionally bitter Marvel property about violent death, life- long suffering and genuine grief. I am pleasantly surprised.
PS: I am not going to say anything to spoil that devastating final shot, but people in the cinema were in tears. Other people, you understand. I was fine.