No matter how hard you can regenerate, some wounds never heal, at least among film franchise fan communities. Even if one film is bad or doesn’t meet expectations by the time the next film comes around, you can still get hyped, excited and believe it will be better.... except for those odd-niggling sins. Those little details that eat away at your fanboy brain like a zombie worm crawling through your frontal lobe: the “What if?”s and “could have been”s. Some aspects of comic book adaptations are beyond terrible but in the long run, I find them the easiest to forgive because they were so bad, no other outcome seemed possible. It’s the good but not greats that really keep my wounds open. When you see something with the potential for greatness but it never quite reaches it. Hugh Jackman has had a good run as Wolverine over his 8 film appearances. A good run because despite looking and feeling the part of this iconic weapon X, the target audiences (aka the age ratings) and a few, all round struggles of films have put a ceiling on his ability to truly embody Wolverine. How tall can you stand with that much pulling down on you? For all the love, we’ll show the Jack man over time, fans have increasingly longed to see him in a true Wolverine movie. In Logan, they’ll find their waiting is rewarded because not only is it the Wolverine film Hugh Jackman has long deserved, it may just be the best X-Men film to date. Maybe time does heal everything after all?
After 25 years of no mutants being born, their numbers dwindle to near extinction but a beaten down Logan (Hugh Jackman –he’s Wolverine) still cares for an elderly Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart – he’s Piccard...and Xavier). When a strange young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen – The Refugees) needs their help escaping some dark forces, they’ll both be pulled back into the fight.
Straight out the gate, director James Mangold (Walk the Line) takes the most heavily-used X-franchise characters and shows us new and genuinely interesting sides to them. That shouldn’t be possible but clearly it is. Taking inspiration from Mark Miller and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan comics, not only does Logan’s aging physical appearance (his regeneration powers are slowly fading) make him feel more vulnerable and humanized than ever before, but we see him in genuine depression and despair. He’s the ultimate weapon, tired with nothing left to fight for. Then we have Xavier embodying fallen greatness and the unstoppable force of time that’s rendered on of the greatest men to ever lived to the point of being broken and senile. Not only that his the combination of his powers and vastly deteriorating mental state have left him seizures potentially lethal to everyone around him, the man who devoted his life to saving the world is now an unstable weapon of mass destruction. In one heart-wrenching passing, there are implications that a prior seizure incident in Westchester claimed some very personal casualties. Then on top of that, we have Laura/X-23 as fascinating pint-sized feral force of acrobatic evisceration fleeting between childlike curiosity and explosive brutality. Dafne Keen is a massive star to watch out for following this outstanding performance. She could have been merely a plot device but she frequently steals the show. Why does all that matter so much? Logan is in principle a road movie, a journey from A to B. These deep and meaningful characterizations achieve what any road movie should aspire towards.... it makes the journey the secondary to the people taking it. As such, Logan feels like an emotional voyage of a story rather than a collection of set pieces because just being around this main trio is hugely entertaining.
That’s not to say there isn’t action. There is and every way, it’s bloody marvelous. You like severed limbs and heads? You got it! You want claws through the face, throat, squishy bits and more blood than a Slayer weather forecast? You got that too! Logan’s fight sequences are a frenzied visceral experience of, as Jason Mews would put it , “snickty snickty snaw”. It’s not just the blood and violence levels that impress but the scenes are impeccably well-shot with minimal visual effects by X-Men standards, and Marco Beltrami’s scoring really helps many sequences feel raw and edgy. Realism wherever possible is the clear focus, best personified by an early attempt at the action movie cliché driving through a fence escape moment getting a very different outcome. Logan is trying its utmost best not to be a superhero movie and is at its best when succeeding.
While Logan is a spectacular experience, its story does fall victim to some over-explanation and the unnecessary need to inject big nasty villains. The core idea of mutants unexpectedly dying out is a terrific play against our existing knowledge and expectations of the franchise but it should have been kept as the film’s framing. Putting Richard E. Grant (Jackie) as the face behind it all, and the X-23 child weapon experiments does very little for the film. Similarly, throwing in the super creation X-24 for boss fights feels very needless. In his weakened state. the likes of Boyd Holbrook’s (Narcos) tech enhanced solders, the Reavers, present enough of a challenge for Logan, and pitting him against some monster-like creation really takes the film away from its gritty take on reality and back into more comic book state of disbelief. In fact, X-24 is such a shallow, bland character that if it wasn’t for certain visual appeals it would be echoing Weapon XI Deadpool of X-Men Origins. Yet one area some may call a weakness is actually a colossal strength: it’s minimal continuity to the prior films. No effort has been made to join any dots beyond odd passing references and it’s all the better for it because it can concentrate on telling its own story rather than fixing someone else’s (in the UK release. at least there isn’t even a post-credits scene).
If your favorite Wolverine memory is him calling Cyclops a dick, you might not like the minimal wise cracking direction the film has taken. If you like your superhero movies gritty, realistic but still incredibly emotional, this is worth making the trip to see. If this is to be final bow for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, then it’s following their best performances in the franchise and serves as a worthy tribute to their efforts. Some parts will make you long for an anti-crying mutation but it’s an immensely rewarding sadness. It may have taken them 17 years but we finally a worthy Wolverine film.
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