Film Review: Logan
Director: James Mangold
Story: James Mangold
Screenplay by: Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook and Richard E. Grant
This ain't no CGI f*&$athon.
On that front, James Mangold has been as good as his word.
As written on the second page of the Logan script itself; 'Basically, if you're on the make for a hyper-choreographed, gravity defying... CGI f*&$athon, this ain't your movie.'
Logan is not that. Logan is not a frivolous, disposable, quip-action scene-quip-funky soundtrack- quip-action scene-quip film. Not by a long shot.
In Logan, gravity hits with a thud. In Logan, fight scenes are visceral, brutal, clumsy and manically wild. In Logan, pain of all kinds is keenly felt.
Let's talk about what Logan is; Logan is a film about ageing, about pain and loss and regret. Logan is a film about suffering and guilt, about failing and falling and scraping the skin from your fingers just holding on to survival.
Logan is a film about violence, and its cost.
That's right; James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have taken Wolverine, the guy who served as the audiences Point Of View character from X-Men (2000) onwards, the cigar chomping, wisecracking action hero, the mutton chopped berserker rage one man massacre from Marvel comics, and crafted around him a film about the consequences of violence.
It's a bravura move, one that is so wonderfully brave and clever and about damn time.
Wolverine has always been the most popular mutant. Heck, it's between him and Spider-Man for Marvel's most popular character. In the films, Jackman has been immensely likeable and incredibly engaging. It's no accident that he has become a bona fide superstar these last seventeen years, almost entirely on the back of this role.
Yet they give us a Logan so thoroughly beaten down by the weight of time and age, so utterly defeated and without hope, that he is selfish to the point of turning his back on a pleading woman and child whilst preparing to turn his back on the only two people left in his life.
Again, their bravery ought to be applauded.
Jackman sells it all with gusto. If there are any lingering doubts left about the man, should anyone still feel that he's just a well intentioned, nice enough guy with an incredibly thorough exercise regime, then his searing performance in Logan ought lay those to rest. If you've been paying attention, his performances have been consistently strong, especially in The Wolverine and then even more so in Days of Future Past. Without question, however, this is his best work as the character, if not ever, as he consummately savages those doubts with the same fervour as his Adamantium claws savage their many victims throughout the film.
And boy do they ever. When the claws come out, blood is spilled, arteries torn open, limbs severed and skulls pierced. They truly do not hold back.
And yet those claws don't come out as easy as they used to. Puss and pain make the snikts an awful lot slower than we're used to; In Logan, Wolverine is old. Too old. His body is failing, his healing factor barely keeping him together at the many seams scarred into his tissue and his Adamantium skeleton poisoning him slowly to death. After his first unleashing of the claws, puss has to be wiped from slowly closing knuckle wounds.
He's tired, he's shaking, he's alcoholic and he's ready to die.
The Mutants seem to be gone, in mysterious and possibly tragic circumstances. Only Logan himself, now driving a hired limo around an insidiously, sneakily dystopian future that really is more believable than any dystopia ever seen before, and the Albino mutant tracking Caliban (Stephen Merchant in impressively non-comedic form) are left, caring for the nonagenarian, broken Charles Xavier (an immense Sir Patrick Stewart), a man who has lived long enough to see his dream die and feel his incredible mind start to do the same, too.
They live in a ramshackle, abandoned factory, with Charles locked up in a tipped over water tank, heavily medicated whenever Logan earns enough to afford medication passed to him by hospital orderlies.
Beware all ye who enter here if you cannot stomach bleakness.
There's not a lot of joy to be found in the opening, as we establish this dreary backdrop against which the story plays out. Not in the obvious sense, anyway. But there is most assuredly beauty; in the performances, the cinematographer, the framing of shots, the deftness of the characterisation and sophistication of the writing.
The plot really kicks into gear when Laura arrives, a mysterious, seemingly mute girl who Charles insists is a Mutant, a new mutant, much to Logan's annoyance. All he can see is the broken man, the diseased mind, the desperate grasping of a man life has shown no mercy by keeping him amongst the living.
Laura is being pursued by Donald Blake (Boyd Holbrook), another strong character wonderfully performed. He's an excellently smarmy, effortlessly threatening villain, a real treat in a film that spoils us already. At his most reluctant, Logan is forced to go on the run with Luara and Charles in tow, another proto family unit that allows the three main actors, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and debutante Dafne Keen to stretch their muscles and move their audience to both laughter and tears.
Keen gives such a strong performance that you're rather taken aback by it; it's totally instinctual, but my goodness those instincts are razor sharp. She truly exceeds all possible expectations, impressive all the more considering she is sharing the screen almost exclusively with talent as established as Jackman and Stewart.
In case the trailers haven't made it clear yet, Logan is a Western. The reluctant hero, the retired gunslinger, the motley crew of really bad men coming from out of town and, like all good Westerns, the showcase for the American wilderness. We go all the way from El Paso to the Canadian border and the landscape is drop dead gorgeous.
A passing thought- the trailers leading up to this film were clearly the exact type of film Mangold swore Logan resolutely would not be.They were chock full of gravity defying scenes, of computer crafted money shots; trailers for films that are most definitely CGI f*&$athons.
These trailers were all about mindless, adolescent quips followed by special effect money shots and then yet more mindless, intellectually vapid adolescent quips to round them off. They were a million miles away from the film we ended up watching; Logan is stirringly heartfelt, powerfully moving and thoroughly thought provoking. The action scenes are frenetic, sure. The jokes are funny and well measured, certainly. Yet the strength of the film is the thematic, philosophical fulcrum upon which it turns, the intellectualism writ large in every aspect, from carefully considered characterisation to clever scripting via nuanced dialogue and even in the clearly thoughtful crafting of the world of the story itself.
More films like this, please, and less samey, formulaic, seen it all before movies that try and turn Superhero films especially into a genre on their own. There never has been, nor should there ever be, a 'Superhero' genre. Logan is not a member of the meaningless, mindless entertainment club, and it's proud of that fact. The decision by the filmmakers to eschew adherence to a 'Cinematic Universe' is fundamental to that fact and fundamental to the power this story has.
You couldn't tell this story if you were slavishly devoted to a formulaic Cinematic Universe, so thank goodness that Mangold, Jackman and their team were able to steer this film into the wonderful piece of cinema that it is.
Logan may well be the best X-men film of them all. It's hard to think of any more fitting a finale for Hugh Jackman than that.