The title LOGAN is a mission statement. Finally, after six (full) movies filled with claw-popping, re-treads and contradictory flashbacks we are asking who he is. We know he was born James Howlett, served in the military and as a mercenary, was experimented on and turned into a living weapon, but by breaking Wolverine down into his component parts we will finally learn what makes him him.
In the not-too-distant future the man once known as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) finds himself caring for Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is losing grips on reality and his psychic powers, as well as slowly being killed himself by the metal that makes his bones unbreakable. With the X-Men gone, he drifts, gets by and keeps to himself, until a remarkable young girl (Dafne Keen) crosses his path with formidable cybernetically enhanced mercenaries in persuit.
Logan is by quite a way the bloodiest mainstream superhero movie ever made. The opening scene has Wolverine stabbing a bunch of would-be carjackers in the face and hacking off their arms, and the scarlet just keeps spraying from there. It’s also appropriate that such a red-stained film has blood as one of its key plot, and thematic points.
I loved the low-key (as this genre goes) first half of the film. This highly unconventional family on the run, made up of surrogate dad “Chuck”, reluctant but determined care-giver “James” and the silent Laura who has to learn to be a child as well as a weapon. As slick as the action is throughout and as broody as the atmosphere is, everything but the core relationships are expendable. The best scenes are just funny, weird and tender family relationship moments. The introduction of the senile Professor X doing laps of his room and raving a muddle of previously held conversations, news reports and cereal adverts before telling a patronising Logan to f-off the moment he becomes lucid; Logan finally realising what it’s really like to have a daughter when Laura finally starts – and doesn’t stop – talking; the “family” joining another they meet on the road for their first meal in a long time and reminiscing about their old school for those with “special needs”. This is the flesh on the Adamantium skeleton, what connects and really delivers on an emotional level.
As reliably poignant as Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s final outings as their characters are, Dafne Keen is the real breakout. As the enigmatic mini-berserker Laura (known as X-23 and later adopting the Wolverine mantle in the comics) she has to say so much with so little, and if we have to have more X-MEN movies, I’d be far happier that they focussed on her growth than the main ensemble, who for me are done and dusted. Her stoic facial expression as she rides a coin-operated horse outside a convenience store alone is more compelling than any character beat in ORIGINS: WOLVERINE.
The references to previous X-movies are played fast and loose with props scattered around sets and Logan and Charles’ pained and half-remembered recollections of their lost friends which works well and keeps your attention on the these characters and where they find themselves now. I did think that the meta-textual stuff (Logan sneers as he finds a comic that the X-Men adventures were exaggerations or completely made up) could have either been leaned on more heavily as genre satire or cut entirely to give a serviceable and already emotionally supercharged story less baggage.
I had few complaints at all until they brought in something out of nowhere to pose a physical threat to Logan, and once the big bad guy’s grand scheme is revealed it just doesn’t add up. I can’t believe James Mangold thought it would be a good idea to recycle a plot device from Origins, but he does that, and as the finale becomes more superhero-y I began to lose interest.
Hopefully Hollywood will learn a lot from Logan’s belated victory lap, and hopefully they’ll learn the right lesson. The lesson is not, “let’s make everything gritty and bloody because that’s what sells now”. It’s that character is far more important than any spectacle you can put on screen. It should be obvious really, but DC/Warner Bros and even Fox itself forgot that with the last X-movie.