About a third of the way through Logan, the film formerly referred to as The Wolverine 3, Hugh Jackman’s title character is in a car. He’s desperately trying to make his escape, hurtling towards a fence that stands in his way. We’ve seen this lots of times before in the movies: reality be damned as the fence goes flying, and the car effortlessly makes it escape.
But not here.
In Logan, the fence does its job. The car is stopped, and stopped suddenly. Our hero – appreciating the film frequently questions if he’s a hero at all – needs a plan B. It’s a small detail, a little subversion of a cinema cliché. Yet it’s indicative of what director James Mangold has tried to do with his follow-on from The Wolverine.
Thus, what we get here is a comic book movie that eschews being superhero-y. Cityscapes don’t fall, and – particularly given the box set the film is a part of – there’s a notable absence of trailer-hogging special effects. In fact, Logan takes place in a mixture of small towns and windy roads seemingly in the middle of nowhere (kicking off just outside the Mexican border). If you’re looking for a comic book movie where notable landmarks in western cities fall, this ain’t it.
In place of your conventional superhero story, you get broken, crumbling characters, looking to find a safe place to live out their days. You also get an exploration of what happens when heroes get old, when they look back on the life they’d led, and confront someone just embarking on that same path. If Ben Affleck’s take on Batman in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice initially promised us the idea of an ageing Batman, robbed of his youthful abilities, then Logan actually delivers on it.
Right from the start, it’s clear that Jackman’s Wolverine is a fading man. The wise-cracks are gone (Logan is a movie with barely any zingers). His body bears the scars of his life’s scrapes, and his wounds no longer instantly heal. His mentor, too, is in a worst state. Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier is in his 90s, his brain fading, his body not far behind. Logan himself relies on his assorted addictions just to get through life. Charles needs medication to try and scrape together what’s left of his, nursed as best as he can by Stephen Merchant’s Caliban.
Into their world comes a new threat, one with ramifications for the broader X-Men universe, not that Logan the film has too much of an eye on that. There are moments that refer to adventures past, and an underlying assumption that you know the key basics of the character. But the film is far more interested in the danger introduced by young Laura – played superbly by Dafne Keen – also known as X-23.
She’s a new kind of mutant, one who brings fresh moral dilemmas and a whole host of bad guys on her trail. Spoiler-avoidance prevents me going further (spoiler-filled dissections of this film will be lengthy), but let’s say that her introduction gives new things for this series to chew on. Crucially, at no stage did I lose interest in her or the film’s broader story either (there’s no sending Thor off on a random errand, or some kind of equivalent), and there’s a real focus, and a commitment to trying not to cheat the audience. Villains do logical things, violence has an impact, characters make believable choices. The internal logic holds up.
Just to touch on that violence for a minute. There was some speculation ahead of Logan’s release that – whilst Fox had committed to an R rating, or a 15 in the UK – it would be a little on the borderline. Turns out that’s correct, just not the border you may be expecting. I’m assuming Logan will get a 15 from the BBFC, but I’d wager there’s been a weighty conversation about whether an 18 is more appropriate. Those fearing any hint of 12A/PG-13 will have those concerns beaten out of them inside ten minutes. Logan is a savagely violent film, with some genuinely chilling sequences as the film progresses. Sure, there are F-bombs (right from the off), but it’s the tone, and the visceral nature of the violence, that make this very much a grown-up film.
But then it feels real as a consequence. Logan is a damaged man, with the ability to do real damage. In Jackman’s hands here, he’s a conflicted, festering cauldron of anger and rage, and on the occasions the anger is unleashed, the film just about takes a few steps back from chucking blood from the screen onto your seat. Previous X-Men outings have been slightly neutered by their demand to service a wide audience. Logan doesn’t give that impression at all.
There are beautiful moments, too. Mangold’s camera spends most of its time outdoors, soaking up quite staggering locations, and no shortage of them. Performance-wise, the film is on the money too. For both Jackman and Stewart, this is their finest work in these roles, both etched with hurt, and fearful for the future. Richard E Grant is particularly strong too, but it’s Dafne Keen who’s the revelation here. Not even in her teens when the film was shot, hers is one of the best child performances in recent memory. You never doubt her. Elsewhere, Boyd Holbrook is suitably menacing as Donald Pierce, but his character is relatively shortchanged compared to the others. Elizabeth Rodriguez fares better with a short but far more pivotal role.
The narrative itself (Mangold, Michael Green and Scott Frank are credited) is necessarily a little loose – the comic book Old Man Logan is clearly an influence, but it’s also telling that it’s not cited in the opening credits – and it does jar slightly when the film very occasionally slips out of its Western clothes (for it certainly feels like a western for large parts: Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven kept springing to mind for one as I was watching) to service the broader X-Men universe. You do get one of those moments too where necessary exposition plays out on a pre-recorded video. These seem to have become the new Doc Brown explaining things on a board. Yet these are minor blips, that just about stick together, and do help tie the film to the franchise it’s a part of.
Here’s a bonus, too: Logan is that rarest of things: a three act comic book movie where the final third doesn’t let the side down (quite the opposite, in fact). For those still struggling with the last act of The Wolverine in particular, that’ll come as a particular relief. Also, The Wolverine committed to its geography and cultural choices for but two thirds of its running time before retreating to a standard CG punch-up. This one is far more confident and successful, and despite a wobble or two, ultimately hasn’t wavered or lost its nerve by the time the credits roll.
Logan is lots of things. It’s proof that the comic book movie in itself doesn’t need to be a genre (as any comic reader could tell you), something Marvel has started to prove with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Doctor Strange, but has been taken still further here. It also proves that there are places to go and things to see that movies of this ilk haven’t explored, that can comfortably see off grumbles of fatigue. Most of all, though, it’s a rich, absorbing mix of character drama, western and road movie, punctuated by savage, impactful and dramatic action.
Interesting, isn’t it? The more risks Fox takes with the X-Men properties, the richer the rewards seem to be, with this one making the comparably bland and noisy X-Men: Apocalypse look criminally unambitious for one. It might not play as broadly as other X-Men films (some will inevitably miss the slightly more conventional fare), but it leaves the vast majority of them in its dust trails. Logan is a raging success.