After a 17 year journey, actor Hugh Jackman hangs up his claws for the last film in the Wolverine trilogy Logan. This was always going to be emotional yet I was unprepared at how much it would be. Not only is this film superb but serves as a fantastic and fitting end to Marvel’s celebrated character.
“Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.” – Logan
Logan does something that is brave for the franchise – it stands on its own two feet.
Forget the disaster train known as X-Men: Apocalypse. Logan is authentically distinct, not necessarily relying on the previous X-Men films to advance the storyline or further alternate the timeline. Does it help to have some knowledge? Of course but you never feel that weight. You can comfortably watch Logan without any pre-conceptions. But if you’re like me and watched every X-Men film, then that history is subtly celebrated and acknowledged in the form of Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).
Stylistically Logan is vastly different from its predecessors. This is a modern-day Western with a post apocalyptic mind. It’s a stripped back, in-depth character study that’s both emotionally engaging and intimate. The violence incredibly brutal and visceral, leaving nothing to the imagination. Taking full advantage of the 15 certificate, this is not a film for young children!
Critics have suggested this is Marvel’s version of The Dark Knight. At first it sounds like a hyped up overreaction but there’s validity to the statement. What director Christopher Nolan achieved with The Dark Knight was to take a fantastical character of Batman and place him in a real world environment. Director James Mangold (The Wolverine) does the exact same thing – takes away the fantastical element that was synonymous with Wolverine and place him in a realistic setting. The biggest accomplishment involves removing the comic book/superhero element, a conscious barrier for storytelling. It allows it a freedom, elevating a story that connects on a deeper level with fans as well as the unfamiliar. In other words, you can take the character seriously. You can imagine a reality not too dissimilar from ours where the extraordinary (be it a man dressed as a bat or a genetic mutant) is possible. This reality is cleverly summed up in the briefest of scenes – Logan reads a colourful X-Men comic belonging to Laura/X-23 (Dafne Keen). The comic is the representation of that alternate and fictional reality which we’re very much use to if you’ve seen any of the X-Men films or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Logan distinguishes itself because he lives in a world so far removed from what the comic illustrates that it immediately disgusts him.
The very concept of a “superhero” no longer exists, essentially outlaws and last of their kind. No matter how many times they save the world, there’s no reward.
Logan quickly establishes this reality with a harsh bleakness. As much as the world has moved on with driverless trucks, powerful and unregulated corporate industries and technological innovation, Logan’s world is one out of desperation. Logan is very much a film that deals with isolation, being forced away from society – coincidental to President Trump’s America with border walls. Through isolation it creates a desolate loneliness where survival is the only option.
Age catches up with us all and Logan, a human mutant with regenerative healing and adamantium skeletal structure is a haggard, weary, beat up and worn down by life. He works as a chauffeur driver, regularly drinks and refuses to get angry unless it’s absolutely, 100% necessary. But this is not violence for violence sakes. There’s always a cost. It doesn’t get any easier pulling out the claws, each injury bearing a physical toll on his body, unable to heal like he’s use to. The painful wounds are like tattoos, a reminder of the battles he faced. Instead of Sentinels or even Colonel Stryker, Logan has one singular mission. With the help of Caliban (Stephen Merchant), Logan assigns himself as caretaker to a 90-year-old Charles Xavier. Due to aging and a debilitating brain disease, Charles has lost the ability to control his telepathic powers and has to be regularly medicated to keep it under control. If not, it can have devastating consequences to those around him.
Logan embraces the idea of legacy. Going back to my previous example of the comic book, Logan is able to reflect on the X-Men’s glory days, the days when mutants were important, almost God-like but suddenly now finding themselves on the verge of extinction. The mutant gene no longer occurs naturally – corporate America, specifically the biotechnology company Alkali-Transigen secretly manufactures it to create the perfect controllable soldier. It’s the opposite of ideals from Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and more in line with what his closest friend and enemy, Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto always predicted. Wrenched in melancholic sadness, Logan is about characters coming to terms with their past and all the ugly consequences that comes along with it. For Charles and Logan, there’s a lot to contend with, their past coming back to haunt them and everyday becomes a painful struggle for characters we care so deeply for.
These two facets of life – characters trying to live out the remaining days of their lives finding eventual peace and the established new world order collide in the shape of Laura/X-23, an escaped government experiment that has more in common with Logan than he imagined.
“This is what life looks like: people love each other. You should take a moment…” – Charles Xavier
If there’s one thing that will take you by surprise is how in-depth Logan is. Some elements are not perfect but the gravity of the situation is repeatedly contrasted. Everything is reflected by the relationships between Charles and Logan, Logan and Laura and Logan and Alkali-Transigen’s newest creation, lead by Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant). These relationships are explored either to showcase a ferel brutality, when you remove the heart and soul from an individual or a character’s humanity as they feel the weight of the world.
For someone who has lived as long as Logan and has seen everything the world can be including the tortured nature of his existence, you can’t blame him for the anger and the bitterness. The world didn’t do him any favours and Logan is forever a character who’s mentally wired for a fight, reacting on a fearful, threatened instinct. When thrown into a situation where he’s forced to care for an 11-year-old girl with similar abilities, the one thing Logan is unprepared for is compassion. It takes him by surprise. As my quotation for this review implies, it’s not too late for Logan to find redemption and love.
Logan’s lack of compassion is deliberate. Like a perfect in-joke, Logan evokes the memories of Westerns like Shane (which is referenced in the film) and even Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven – complex and multi-faceted cowboys who live with their actions and find themselves in a scenario where they have to correct an injustice. He may dismisses the idea that he’s not capable, showing signs of reluctance every step of the way, but it’s evidently clear that Logan does indeed care. He shows an empathetic care to Charles, hustling hospitals for medication or raising enough money to escape the world. When that plan falls through because of Laura, everything changes. Suddenly Logan becomes the nurturer, provider and protector and gives that to a girl who’s unfamiliar with the world, trapped behind government property and only told to do one thing – be a weapon. But what Logan doesn’t realise is that he already possesses that power. At one point, Logan calls Charles “dad”, used to get over an awkward hurdle but in essence that’s what Charles has become in Logan’s life – a father. Going right back to the first X-Men film, Charles helps Logan with his past, a stability to his animalistic mind. Charles is a father who shows the path, to be tolerant and understanding, to slow down and treasure small moments, to correct him when he thinks differently and to challenge Logan’s weary perspective. Even with his condition, Charles still remains hopeful, hopeful for the future for mutants and for Laura even when darkness surrounds them.
So what starts off as this epic Mad Max: Fury Road style chase across a desert wasteland for the mutants led by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and the Reavers, essentially becomes a family road trip, more akin to the videogame The Last of Us, to find a safe place known as Eden.
It’s through watching this film that you start to see the dramatic weight. This is not your typical superhero film. As much as it examines retired superheroes and aging, Logan is very much a generational piece, passing the baton onto the next. It’s a guidance of a hopeful future and to be better than what’s gone on before. That’s the powerful thing about the film. This is very much a grown up Marvel film that’s confident in its execution and because this is Hugh Jackman’s last performance, you feel it more. You connect more. I’m not ashamed to say that I welled up with tears and I wasn’t the only one in the cinema.
This is the Wolverine film you’ve been waiting for, with Mangold saving the best film till last. By having Logan it showcases that films about comic book superheroes can have greater depth when it’s explored. It can break free of formulaic story constructs and present a film with a lot of heart and soul. Logan doesn’t simplify or talk down to the audience just to get them to follow along. The audience naturally craves for substance, allowing us the opportunity to think bigger but reminding us why we love superhero characters. When you look beyond their gift or power, they’re human after all, suffering the same things we do. In the case of Logan it’s about legacy, redemption and love.
Is it too much to ask Jackman and Stewart to be outside contenders for an Oscar nomination? Because Logan is without a shadow of a doubt a contender for film of the year.