“Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.”
On February 14th, 2016, 20th Century Fox took a big risk and did something which nobody had dared to do before – they released an R rated superhero movie. Or, more specifically; the released the R rated Deadpool movie; a movie which went on to take $785 million worldwide, proving that Ryan Reynolds does have some good ideas after all. It also revealed that you can make an R rated superhero movie and make money, even by using a fringe character who some in the comic book world view as a joke. A new question arose; what happens if you make an R rated movie with a much-beloved superhero? The answer is here.
You get Logan.
Logan marks the last outing for Hugh Jackman as James Howlett, more commonly known as Logan, and even more commonly known as Wolverine; a character who Jackman has played in 9 films in Fox’s X-Men cinematic universe. For many, Wolverine seemed an odd choice of character to place front and centre of the X-Men films, given his acerbic and downright violent attitude; but Marvel comic fans have recognised his strength of character since his introduction to the Marvel universe in the 1970’s. We’ve had a tumultuous time with Logan throughout his cinematic lifespan. Despite strong performances from Jackman at every turn; X-Men Origins: Wolverine stands as a dark moment in superhero films (alongside the likes of the much-maligned Green Lantern and the last Fantastic Four outing), while his cameo appearances in X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Apocalypse mark high-points for both films (much more so for Apocalypse, admittedly).
Directed by James Mangold (Walk The Line, 3:10 To Yuma); Logan takes influence from a pivotal graphic novel in Wolverine’s comic life called Old Man Logan; set in an alternate universe to the main Marvel comics timeline. The over-riding concept of the story is what writers Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green have ported across, but there is no alternate timeline here. Following on from the events of the main X-Men films post-Days of Future Past ret-conning, we find a broken-down Logan, now going by his given name of James Howlett, doing what he can to raise enough cash to care for a decrepit and bed-ridden Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, Green Room). Helping him is Caliban (Stephen Merchant, The Office); an albino mutant tracker. All we know as the story begins is that Logan and Xavier are the last of the X-Men; and the three of them are the last three mutants on Earth. Or, so they think; until a woman named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriquez, Orange Is The New Black) suddenly brings a young girl called Laura (Dafne Keen, The Refugees) into Logan’s life. The mutated genomes hit the fan from this point; and what follows is a stunning mix of western, road movie, superhero epic and emotional drama; as Logan, Xavier and Laura flee from a team of cybernetically-enhanced bounty hunters from a company called Transigen, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, Gone Girl), commanded by Richard E. Grant’s (Jackie) Dr. Zander Rice.
The unconnected Marvel cinematic universe (or MCU) has laid some important groundwork for the makers of superhero movies by demonstrating that superpowers do not stop you from making genre movies. This is something the Logan team has taken on board, and Mangold’s directorial career comes into play at every turn. This outing is equal parts western, emotional drama, road movie and sci-fi; with just a sufficient dash of comedy to keep the whole thing moving as our three protagonists (for hero is not an appropriate word here) flee across America from their pursuers. As for the R rating; Mangold sets the tone from the off, as Logan defends himself from a band of criminals near the US/Mexican border, making full use of his mutant abilities and adamantium claws in a brutal and unforgiving sequence which is unlike any on-screen depiction of Wolverine to date. That tone continues; with brutal action sequences interspersing the piece, headed up both by the intense Jackman and incredible Keen in equal measure; the latter, in particular, puts in a performance to rival the brutality of Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl in Kick Ass.
While the brutality of the action certainly earned that R rating; that is not how Mangold best uses it for Logan. It is the silence between the noise where the film really speaks; in particular, the relationship between Xavier and Logan. Throughout the X-Men films, Xavier has been a mentor to Wolverine; guiding him emotionally and intellectually along his journey as a leader of the mutant team. In Logan, we see that role both continue and reverse, as Wolverine is forced to care for the aging Professor while he’s still trying to guide his emotional development. The dichotomy in their relationship is fascinating, as Xavier & Logan speak bluntly with each other over how each one is choosing to look after himself, neither heeding the lessons for himself. That blunt conversation is amped up by the R rating; which is frankly worth it alone, in my opinion, for hearing the once reserved and eloquent Xavier swearing repeatedly at Logan. Laura’s importance to the story cannot be under-represented either; and while she may be mute with exception of various rageful screams; her interactions with Xavier and Logan as the story progresses are poignant and powerful, driving the actions of both of these beloved characters on a path that constantly feels less and less hopeful as the film moves on, despite the numerous victories they pick up along the way. The relationship between Laura and Logan in particular is fascinating to watch develop, as every new emotion they feel for each other seems to be accompanied by a healthy serving of resentment; an emotional cocktail which both portray very differently but with equal efficiency.
While Logan, Xavier & Laura are the absolute stars of this film; the other supporting roles are used to great effect here too. Merchant is barely recognisable as Caliban until he speaks; and then the trademark sarcastic wit and delivery comes through. He channels more from Portal 2’s Wheatley here for me than any other of his previous character; but the tone fits the downtrodden nature of his role within the Logan & Xavier relationship perfectly. Holbrook’s Pierce is ruthless and arrogant in his hunting of the mutant fugitives; supported fully by the cold, calculating viciousness from Grant’s Dr. Rice; whose all-too-few appearances are scene-stealers at every moment.
Of the three stand-alone Wolverine films, Logan will go down in history as the film that finally got Wolverine right; and the reason for that is the story. As the plot unfolds and we learn more about the world in 2029; about the histories of Xavier, Logan and Laura and about the actions of Transigen; Wolverine’s story builds to a crescendo of frustration and disappointment. Years of guidance from Xavier and the other X-Men have led to him taking this young, vulnerable mutant on a journey that he does not want to go on and does not believe in. Logan is the film in which Wolverine finally becomes the leader, teacher and guardian that Charles Xavier always believed that he could be; and Wolverine wants absolutely nothing to do with any of it. He wants to be literally anywhere else than he is. And that is the most compelling arc in Jackman’s 17 years as Wolverine.
Make time to see this film; it is a special moment in the life of the comic book movie.