By Nathan Evans
Way back in 2000, director Bryan Singer, working off the back of momentum generated by Stephen Norrington’s 1998 film ‘Blade’, birthed today’s modern comic book movie landscape with the original ‘X-Men’; one of the first comic book adaptations to respect its source material, material that, until that point, had been unfairly maligned as adolescent entertainment. One of the many great decisions Singer made with that film was to cast a then unknown Hugh Jackman to portray the mysterious mutant named Logan AKA Wolverine: a mutant who’d been subjected to inhumane experimentation resulting in indestructible metal being grafted to his skin and deadly claws that earned him his codename. Jackman’s Wolverine handily stole the show in that original film and launched the talented actor to superstardom. Jackman has portrayed Logan over the course of seventeen years, and now, with the ninth film to feature the character, attempts to close out his tenure with ‘3:10 to Yuma’ director James Mangold’s somber send off, ‘Logan’
‘Logan’ is the third installment in the Wolverine spin off series. The film marks Mangold’s second turn at bat with the character following 2013’s entertaining, yet uneven ‘The Wolverine’; which, despite ultimately being subpar, was leagues better than 2009’s first atrocious solo effort: ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’; a film that was somehow even worse than its ugly, unwieldy title.
‘Logan’ takes only the vaguest of inspirations from popular comic book scribe Mark Millar’s limited series ‘Old Man Logan’ and sets the film in the year 2029. A world weary Logan works along the Mexican border as a limousine driver, struggling to scrounge up enough cash to keep his ailing mentor, Professor Charles Xavier, in seizure medication; a necessity as it prevents the powerful telepath from losing control of his gifts and harming those around him. Logan, a man possessing a modicum of notoriety from his days with the X-Men, is approached by a desperate woman seeking his help in delivering a mysterious child to a safe haven called “Eden” a few states over. Against his will and better judgement, Logan ends up responsible for both the girl and Xavier, and is left with no choice but to carry out the job. Making matters worse, the girl is being pursued by a paramilitary force led by a cybernetically enhanced mercenary named Pierce (portrayed by Netflix’s ‘Narcos’ star Boyd Holbrook).
Newcomer Dafne Keen plays the young girl, Laura. From the moment she’s introduced we understand there’s more to the young one than meets the eye, and that understanding is confirmed when the child pops her own set of claws in one of the film’s early action sequences. While the revelation is no doubt thrilling, it opens up a whole new can of worms as to the nature of the girls relationship to our titular character. It’s a mystery that propels much of the film and adds yet another layer to an already hefty narrative.
Part of what adds to the film’s heft is an unnecessary subplot with a family our trio meets on the road and a few unneeded bits of dialogue that struggle to include lore from the previous entries in the film series; entries that at this point don’t make even a shadow of sense when it comes to continuity. After the mishandling of the franchise that was ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’, ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’, and (though a decent film) even ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’, X-Men film fans should be familiar with the incongruences within the franchise. It’s clear from the off that ‘Logan’ is meant to be taken as a stand alone film, and as a stand alone film, its good, not great.
As always Hugh Jackman continues to own the role. At this point he arguably could be considered the grandfather of the current state of comic book filmmaking, and he continues to prove why he holds that title. Even when the films haven’t matched his performances (which has happened more often than not) he has almost always brought good work to the table and this case is no different. He and the film, having jumped twelve years into the future, make us feel every bit of anguish the tortured character has experienced in his all too long existence.
Aiding Jackman’s performance is the film’s intriguing and unique interpretation of the character. When we come across Logan he’s reached a point where his mutant healing factor has begun to slow down, as a result the adamantium that was bonded to his bones all those years ago has begun to slowly poison him. It’s an intriguing take on the iconic character’s powers and one that enables Mangold and Jackman to take the material to places the source material can’t/won’t go.
Jackman isn’t the only character to get a new treatment. Like Logan, Stewart’s Xavier is almost unrecognizable compared to the version of the character introduced in the previous films. He’s a foul mouthed, drug addled nonagenarian whose mind is slowly deteriorating. Xavier’s condition is utilized for everything from some much needed laughs to some of the film’s more heartbreaking moments. While many fans will bristle at the film’s gruff characterization of the beloved founder of the X-Men, no one can deny it’s a fresh idea that allows Mangold to explore other possibilities for Xavier’s particular gifts.
Even with those two great performances, Keen is the breakout of the movie. Her character Laura is silent for most of the film, yet her presence is always felt. She handles the transition from precocious to savage ably, yet never allows us to lose sight of the fact that we’re watching a child. A child with indestructible claws, but a child all the same.
While the film spends plenty of time with the main protagonists, it doesn’t extend the same courtesy to its villains. Boyd Holbrook’s Pierce, despite being introduced as a substantial threat early in the film, is completely sidetracked by the end of it, only to be superseded by a more generic antagonist. It’s a shame because the character has a cool look and Holbrook has great screen presence. I’m not familiar with the actor’s other work, but I look forward to seeing him in more projects in the future.
Unfortunately Pierce isn’t the film’s only misfire. There’s a strange meta flourish the film returns to several times where characters reference a series of comic books that document their previous exploits. Though a nice attempt at a gesture of respect for the source material, it’s an odd choice that doesn’t make sense within the framework of the film’s reality. At no point during any of the previous films have the X-Men operated within the realm of public awareness as a team, so how and why would there be comic books made about them? It’s a move that served to take me out of the film every time it popped up; even more so than the aforementioned tenuous continuity.
Also, the film takes heavy inspiration from the western film genre, but it beats you over the head with it at every turn. There’s even an extended scene in the middle of the film where two of our protagonists sit in a hotel room and watch the western ‘Shane’. Rather than leaving the connections to the classic genre for the audience to parse out, Mangold goes out of his way to show you what he’s doing. It’s indulgent and undermines the narrative, though Marco Beltrami’s fantastic score does much to redeem the situation (No really, the score’s amazing. Easily my favorite of the year so far).
Further redeeming the lackluster aspects of the film is its R rating. The X-Men as a team can and should occupy the realm of PG-13 filmmaking, but Wolverine alone requires a harder edge. Until now FOX studios hasn’t allowed that to happen, but because of the success of last year’s ‘Deadpool’ they’ve finally seen fit to let Logan off the leash. I’m glad to say it’s been well worth the wait. The film gives us plenty of action sequences that allow both Wolverine and X-23 (Laura’s alias) to do what they do best: slice up bad guys in all their gory glory. This aspect alone is worth the price of admission.
Despite faults that would break another film, ‘Logan’ makes you forgive its weaknesses because when it works, it works, and the goodwill Jackman’s accumulated for his portrayal over the years helps matters immensely. It’s a film that’s constantly at a disadvantage, whether it be from its connection to prior, inferior films or its exclusion from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since it isn’t apart of that series, the film never feels like it’s everything it could be. It’s a cover song, a really good one, but I’d much rather have heard it played by the original band. That would’ve been a send off Jackman and the fans really deserve. As it stands, this one does a good enough job.
RATING: 4 OUT OF 5