REVIEW: ‘LOGAN’ IS A NEW BREED OF ANTI-HERO
There has always been an air of the anachronistic about the X-Men movie franchise. While some may argue that it was Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000 that kick-started the golden age of comic book movies, there is a stronger case to that claim from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man two years later. So much so that when X-2 carried on the mutant franchise in 2003 it already felt old-fashioned in the shadow of the Web-Slinger’s mega-hit.
The “behind the times” nature of the franchise has been most evident in the Wolverine spin-offs as X-Men Origins: Wolverine was riddled with the kind of 90’s self-conscious indecision and lack of faith in the source material that marred so many comic book adaptations before the turn of the century. James Mangold steadied the ship somewhat with 2013’s solid The Wolverine but it arrived into a post-Avengers cinematic landscape and looked inconsequential next to the MCU’s faithful and fully realized products.
However, Mangold has returned to complete the Wolverine “trilogy” (as it were) with Logan and it could well turn out to be the most important comic book movie for nearly a decade and mainly because it is decidedly not a comic book movie.
LOGAN’S RUN DOWN
The film opens with a grizzled (more than usual) Logan being rudely awakened by thieves trying to steal the hubcaps from his disheveled limo. A confrontation ensues with Logan being on the receiving end of a shotgun blast that leaves the former X-Man stunned for longer than one would expect. Although his berserker instincts do eventually kick in and he disposes of several of the gang in a few swipes, it is already apparent this is not the invulnerable Wolverine we have seen before on the big screen; Logan is showing us the result of man being Wolverine for countless years and no longer goes by or can lay claim to his X-Men pseudonym.
We soon learn that Logan is set in a post-mutant world some 12 years from now with seemingly only Logan left looking after a dementia-riddled Charles Xavier using what little cash he has to provide vital drugs to suppress Charles’s catastrophically destructive seizures (the good doctor’s brain has been declared a WMD by the government in its current state). Logan has help from the albino mutant tracker Caliban (played superbly by Stephen Merchant in his first major dramatic role) but all other traces of mutant kind are conspicuous by their absence.
That is until Logan is approached by a desperate former nurse, Gabriela, who begs him to escort an 11-year old mute girl known as “Laura” to North Dakota, which he reluctantly accepts thanks to an envelope stuffed with cash. After Gabriela is murdered by a group called the Reavers, headed up by the cyborg Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), Logan takes Laura to Xavier before the Reavers attack again. One narrow escape later, Charles reveals to Logan who Laura (A.K.A. X-23) really is to him and what follows is a violent road trip across the American mid-west where Logan must protect and fight his own genetic legacy, all the while suffering from the effects of a life too long lived and his implants now doing him more harm than good.
A VERY GRAPHIC NOVEL
As stated before, Logan is defiantly not a traditional comic book movie. In fact, it bears almost no resemblance at all to the comic book genre. Firstly, there is the visceral, bloody violence which displays more regard for verisimilitude than spectacle as Logan’s and Laura’s claws pierce and slash just about every body part in unflinching detail. Combine that with the frequent swearing and occasional nudity, and one can easily see how Logan thoroughly earns its ‘R’ rating and why it won’t be featured on any Happy Meal boxes this March.
But it isn’t just the adult content that propels Logan away from the genre. Both in its tone and composition, Logan is a modern western that has more in common with Hell and High Water or No Country for Old Men than it does with The Avengers. James Mangold has eschewed the modern trend of recreating comic book frames on the screen and has instead given his film the feel of genuine American cinema, which results in a refreshing take on a couple of characters we’re used to seeing either in a black leather jumpsuit or gliding around shiny corridors. This is also reflected in the film’s pacing and dialogue which comes forth organically with a handful of set-pieces being more happenstance than major plot points with conversations between the characters providing the driving force of the film.
What is truly remarkable and, in some ways, incredibly brave of 20th Century Fox is how disassociated Logan is from the X-Men franchise itself. We’re never explicitly told why there are no mutants anymore or the fates of fellow X-Men (though the film does hint that Logan played some part in their demise). Indeed, if it wasn’t for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart cashing in over 15 years of on-screen chemistry in their signature roles (to marvelous effect, I might add) and the post-modern appearance of actual X-Men comics (only about 20% true, apparently), then there would be little to link it to its parent franchise and Logan is probably all the better for it… for now.
WHY SO SERIOUS?
When you consider the success and acclaim that greeted Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was nearly a decade ago, it is amazing to think that another comic book movie of equal maturity has taken this long to emerge. Logan is certainly that film and it admirably insists on being its own beast rather than a piece of sycophantic fan service or a compromised crowd pleaser.
As such, ironically, it is probably a good film for people who don’t pay much heed to comic book movies. Unfortunately, it’s also one for those who take the genre far too seriously and will likely be taking to IMDB immediately after watching to ensure it has a higher rating than Citizen Kane. And while it’s always a pleasure to see fans’ adoration vindicated by uncompromised projects like this, such disproportionate acclaim and slavishness never do a film’s reputation any favors in the long run and it might not be long before Logan could become tainted by the dreaded “overrated” label.
And while that label would be undeserved, Logan is definitely not perfect and actually nearly betrays its own convictions by the end of proceedings when it does start to feel like an X-Men movie with a fairly standard showdown between mutants and the Reavers serving as the film’s climax. Likewise, Logan feels very much like the concluding part of a trilogy -and it is, strictly speaking- but the first two films bear so little relation to this, it could leave some feeling that they’re missing something important throughout.
In its entirety, though, Logan is a fascinating and rewarding excursion for the comic book genre that should manage that rare hattrick of impressing audiences and critics alike, while also enrapturing die-hard fans to the point where they will want the film’s negative melded on to their own skeletons. But most of all, it is a fitting send off to one of the greatest character/actor combinations of the last 20 years and if there is one truly regretful aspect of Logan, it is that we may never see Hugh Jackman’s knuckles go ‘snikt’ again.
‘LOGAN’ IS A BOLD, BRUTAL, AND OFTEN BRILLIANT DECONSTRUCTION OF ONE OF THE MOST OMNIPRESENT AND POPULAR CHARACTERS IN 21ST CENTURY CINEMA.