From the first scene, from the very first word in fact, it is clear that Logan is far from just another comic book movie. It may be the latest X-Men film to the fans but James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have created something distinct and different. We saw hints of what they wanted to achieve in their 2013
Logan is a very different beast. It shrinks its focus to a fine point, it collapses the worldwide grab of its superhero brethren to an almost claustrophobic hold. This film is less about saving the world, and far more about saving yourself. There is regret, the trappings of responsibility and a dark realistic tone. We are a million miles from the yellow spandex and pyrotechnic overkill of previous X-installments. Cleverly, Mangold and Jackman use the distance from the comic book world in fine fashion as a plot point. It feels like Wolverine has been taken off the lead, and the film runs riot with this new found freedom.
We are decades on from the world we’ve walked in before. Much has changed and, for Logan and his kind, not for the better. The world has grown up and fallen down around them. No new mutants are being born and something terrible has happened at the heart of the X-Men, forcing those who are left behind into hiding. For much of the film we ride with newly-escaped mutant Laura, the weary, put-upon Logan and a dying Charles Xavier. This Frankensteined family unit is brought to life with some fine, subtle world-building, and a host of very strong character moments. Emotionally it has a charge and a power not often found in films featuring this much dismemberment.
Newcomer Dafne Keen impresses as Laura (or X-23 to her friends), and her relationship with Logan draws the themes of the film out – that of making a stand, making a difference, even if it’s only for one person. As the chaos around them grows, and their would-be assailants gain ground on them, the three broken individuals fuse together. In reducing the number of mutants on show, and crucially having Professor X and Wolverine shown as almost irrevocably vulnerable, the stakes are real.
Despite the desire to break out and find new ground there are some overfamiliar beats. Richard E. Grant’s evil doctor Zander Rice sings a familiar song, Boyd Holbrook’s morally-blind antagonist (lovingly named Donald) leads the usual bunch of rent-a-muscle thugs, though thankfully without any post-modern quipping. Ironically, it is in the interplay between old friends Logan and Xavier that we find the greatest narrative bounty. This new look at their bond, and the effect they have had on each other’s lives, gains a new clarity in amongst all the pain and suffering. It’s quite an achievement.
The final battle may bring to mind Superman III for a moment however this is quickly forgotten in the final, ultraviolent scene. And we need to talk about the violence. Director James Mangold and his star have talked about their wish to make a proper R-Rated Wolverine film and Logan more than lives up to it. Faces are removed, heads, legs and arms sliced away, necks are punctured, walls are redecorated. The action is dirty, brutal and fueled with rage.
Logan has more in common with Hell or High Water (with a splash of Little Miss Sunshine) than it does with the wave of comic book movies which came before. It is the culmination of Logan’s story, about his search for answers, and for his place in the world. It also draws a line, in more ways than one. Thankfully Mangold and Jackman have the courage of their convictions. This does not repeat the hollow promises of last year’s Captain America Civil War to shake things up. This tears it up, and things are changed forever.
Thus far the focus has been on the shape-shifters, mind-readers and clawfingered anti-heroes who walk in this world alongside us. The time has come to tell human stories. The social and political undertones of the X-Men stories have never been subtle, yet it is in this most human of stories that the difference between us and them disappears.