A violent, gritty and soulful tribute to the character behind so much of this franchise's enduring popularity.
"Joey, there's no living with...with a killing” explains Alan Ladd’s character in the 1953 cowboy epic Shane. "There's no going back from it. Right or wrong, it's a brand, a brand that sticks. There's no going back. Now you run on home to your mother and tell her...tell her everything's alright, and there aren't any more guns in the valley”.
Twice in Logan we hear this same passage, and so sets the theme for the entire film around it. Hugh Jackman’s Logan, aka ‘The Wolverine’, is one of cinema's greatest tortured souls: a near-invincible soldier of fortune forever seeking memories of better days lost to amnesia, whilst drinking to forget the ones even amnesia refuses to ensnare. Time has been no friend to the man unburdened by it, with lovers long since dead and buried, friends gone the same way and no new mutants, we learn, born for the past twenty five years. Even his own body is at last breaking down, like an old turbine with grinding parts and blunt, malfunctioning blades. The immortal man is somehow dying, and he can’t welcome it quickly enough.
If it’s not already obvious, Logan represents something of a seismic shift for Marvel - the billion dollar franchise machine behind what have, until now, been largely family-friendly projects. Ultra- violent and with Scorsese level language abounding, Logan at long last unleashes the true, brutal fury of the eponymous beast whose deeds have, for the past seventeen years, only ever been teased out or implied. Limbs are severed and skulls are skewered with bloody repetition, yet neither the frequency nor the intensity of the violence ever feel gratuitous. This is a dark, gritty and yet soulful production that finally honours the character behind so much of the X-Men franchise’s enduring popularity.
In the lead, Jackman imbues Logan with all the rage, self-loathing and pain befitting a man who’s literally seen it all. With greying hair and a weathered face hidden beneath a wild, bushy beard, Logan limps and heaves his way through every scene with palpable discomfort. Alongside him, Patrick Stewart returns as the wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Xavier, now a prisoner to his own failing (yet terrifyingly powerful) mind, and the implications of this are brilliantly woven into the script. Steven Merchant, too, joins the franchise in a wonderfully soulful turn, whilst the film’s villains are this time embodied by Narcos’ Boyd Holbrook and the ever-reliable Richard E Grant.
Then, finally, there’s newcomer Dafne Keen as Laura, and if you’ve seen the trailer you’ll likely have already guessed at her connection to both this story and its key characters. In the interest of preserving what surprises we can, the less said about Keen the better, except to note that her performance is outstanding and her scenes with Jackman ground the film in a deeply personal way. This is a bold offering from Marvel and an extraordinary conclusion to an otherwise entirely forgettable trilogy. In an age of unending sequels and spinoffs, Logan is a timely reminder that for all of their special effects wizardry and spectacle, superhero films can, and indeed must, begin and end with human-driven stories at their heart.