I’ve grown pretty wary of rave reviews about superhero films. From Guardians of the Galaxy to Deadpool, the last few years have been littered with box-office smashes that have healthy critical appeal and strong word-of-mouth buzz, only to suffer the same old failings and predictabilities that have dogged the genre since Marvel Studios first decided to venture into cinema. With Logan, however, this pattern of disappointment has at last been broken, with tremendous, invigorating style.
Taking the characters and context of the now-sprawling X-Men cinematic universe, Logan jumps years down the line to a dusty and dystopic future. Wolverine (now going by ‘Logan’) begins the story driving a Limo for a living, getting in street brawls and falling into general bodily disrepair. He spends his money and time caring for an ageing, ailing Charles Xavier, his former mentor whom he keeps in an empty silo to protect people from his psychic seizures. When a mysterious Mexican woman tries to persuade him to drive Laura, a young, seemingly mute girl across America, the reluctant, fatalistic mutant is drawn into a fast and furious cross-country chase with the girl and Xavier in tow.
Hugh Jackman reprises his role as Wolverine, with Patrick Stewart returning as the Professor X. Both actors have suggested that this is the last time they will return to these roles, which they have both now inhabited for the better part of 2 decades, to popular acclaim. And what a fine way to go out. Jackman is certainly the most layered Wolverine he has been, offering an anger and disillusionment that never wears thin during his considerable time on screen. Stewart is even better, giving Xavier an intensely moving vulnerability. Using a degenerative mental condition as a plot device runs the risk of crass misjudgement, but Stewart throws everything he has into the performance and navigates the emotional implications of the character with disarming success.
‘not just a superior superhero film but a flat-out great film’
The film plays out like a kind of bloody, supernatural neo-western. The action scenes are by-and-large fantastic, and the quieter stretches manage to achieve a poignancy unheard of in superhero fare. Even The Dark Knight, by most accounts the yardstick of an ideal comic book thriller, never really hit home in its emotional moments, hampered as it was by Michael Caine’s phoned-in turn as the tediously didactic cockney butler. In Logan, though, there are moments of genuine, sincere pathos, particularly in the two mutants’ relationship with the young Laura.
The girl herself is cast to perfection: child actress Dafne Keen has a face with innate, sweet innocence and darting, suspicious eyes, simultaneously both good-natured and completely feral. Her action scenes are spectacular and all the more shocking for her age. Mutant or not, seeing such a young girl engage in acts of extreme violence is unnerving and compelling, regardless of whether Kickass did it first. Incidentally, the violence is bloody, grizzly and includes more people getting shot with harpoons than I ever thought I’d see.
Credit is due in many places, but certainly much must go to director James Mangold, who is credited with much of the film’s tone and direction. Mangold also co-wrote the screenplay, which is a very solid piece of work. The film’s major weaknesses are the lack of a great villain (a sufficiently toned-down Richard E. Grant notwithstanding) and the regrettable casting of Stephen Merchant as Caliban, a mutant acting as Xavier’s caregiver. In all likelihood chosen for his looks – Merchant is 6’7” with famously bulging eyes, a feature which is accentuated in his hairless, albino makeup – the former Office creator is unable to fully convince, taking you out of the story every time he comes on screen.
But that is nit-picking, and does little to detract from what is a hugely enjoyable piece of cinema. Thrilling, poignant and ambitious, Logan is not just a superior superhero film but a flat-out great film. Here’s hoping the box office agrees.
Image: 20th Century Fox