Comic book movies are a dime a dozen these days. This year alone sees the release of two DC movies, three Marvel Studios movies, and a live action manga/anime. But tucked away, right at the beginning of the year for people to miss if they aren’t aware, is the final Hugh Jackman Wolverine film.
It’s over a decade from now, and on the border of Mexico and the US (no wall by the way), Logan scrimps by in life as a limo driver, buying pills for an ailing Professor Xavier and their mutant carer Caliban. Into their life comes a small girl and her fearful guardian, pursued by the ruthless Pierce and his crew of cyberneticly enhanced thugs, and before long things go balls up.
For anyone who enjoyed X2, the best X-Men film, then this is your movie. Yes, we’re oversaturated in the notion of ‘realistic’ superhero movies, and while most are in no way real, this one opts for a different vibe. It’s emotionally true; Hugh Jackman’s aged, haggard face and grey hair shows he’s living only because he has to, not because he wants to.
And this is the heart of why this film works. All in all, most X-Men films are about something true to life. Reflecting the way we treat minorities, for example, Stan Lee has always said Professor X and Magneto were intended to be superhero versions of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Logan, however, deals with the concept of legacy.
Hugh Jackman has never been better, and in re-teaming with The Wolverine’s James Mangold, there is a sense that this is the Wolverine movie they wanted to make. Whilst 2013’s Logan-centric film was decent, it fell apart by the end, perhaps because of the studio. What the two films have in common is carrying the emotional weight of the previous adventures on their shoulders. The Wolverine was about his guilt over Jean Grey, while this is about how he feels he’s failed mutantkind.
Patrick Stewart is great as the ailing 90+ year old Xavier, swearing, confused and having seizures that threaten to kill everyone. This is a side to Xavier and to Stewart that we’ve not really seen before, and Stewart’s performance certainly has more in common with Darcy, the neo-nazi thug in Green Room than previous mutant adventures. And yes, we are genuinely arguing that someone in a tenth comic book outing is worthy of an Oscar nomination.
Aside from Jackman and Stewart, the rest of the cast are newcomers. Dafne Keen is incredible and confident for such a young performer as Laura, she barely speaks and does everything with her eyes, she’s a natural talent who has a promising career ahead of her, if not franchise potential, while villainous roles for Boyd Holbrook and Richard E. Grant are both cackle worthy; but they feel a little underdeveloped, and similarly for Stephen Merchant’s weird albino Caliban.
The action, however, is top notch; gone is the CGI madness, and here is a dirty, gritty fighting style that has blood splatter. It’s not as gloriously violent as Deadpool, which went for a naughty kind of glee, this is more of a harder hitting story, though levity does find it’s way into the film. Mangold manages to balance the superhero genre needs with his desire to basically make a Western.
It’s no coincidence that the film quotes and features Johnny Cash, Unforgiven and Shane, this is a western steeped in the sense that the heroic days are gone, the mythologising (represented by the appearance of X-Men comic books) is a thing of the past and the here and the now is a grim and unwelcoming world.
There are missteps, namely that Grant and Holbrook’s villains don’t really get to show motivation, or get to go really really cruel in a 15 rated movie. There was the chance to get really nasty, and the government theme is sort of already done in previous X-Men films, but both don’t go for the obvious in terms of characterisation. Similarly, the choice to show the Westchester incident, something that haunts both Logan and Xavier, is a false step as it might have given us a late-in-the-movie shock that makes us reevaluate what we’ve seen, and there’s no real explanation for why the adamantium is only now poisoning Logan, other than he sort of wants it to.
The ending is bold, and in a world of sequel baiting it’s nice that this has a finality to it, it feels like the culmination of something, not another trotting out. If this were to be the last ever X-Men film, it’d be welcome since it has that feel. What makes the drama work is that you’ve followed Logan and Xavier through these films, you’ve seen how Xavier made him a better man, and how Logan returned the favour. In fact, taking X-Men: Apocalypse out of it, it’s sort of heartbreaking to realise the last time we saw these two Logan had returned from time travel to find he fixed the future, his friends were alive, his misdeeds were forgotten, that he had fixed everything and that even his regret filled trip to Japan was undone, and the Professor was ready to fill him in on what he missed.
Taken like that, this film hits you where it needs to. Logan is a story of family, and for that it soars. This one might get lost amid the Ragnarok’s and Justice Leagues but when it comes down to it, like his comic book counterpart, Logan is the best at what he does.
Farewell, Wolverine, you will be missed.