They say you are only as good as your last performance. If that is the case, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine/X-Men film franchise will be remembered for its terrific finale, taking audiences on an emotional journey that succeeds because of how cathartically depressing it is.
Logan, named after the titular hero, isn’t your typical superhero film. There are no colourful costumes, no gigantic threats to the world and no overly-dramatic explosive set pieces. Logan is a gritty story about family, the lengths we’d go to protect them, and dealing with illness. It also happens to feature characters who have mutated genes.
Director James Mangold sets the tone in the opening scene when a clearly aged and tired Logan (Jackman) has trouble healing after maiming several criminals. Something is poisoning him, limiting his rejuvenating abilities. It’s quite clear his days of being an X-Men are over. He’s now a limo driver going under the name James Howlett.
That is until an encounter with a girl called Laura (Dafne Keen) who, as we’ve seen in the trailers, is a new mutant with similar skills to Wolverine. Logan, encouraged and accompanied by a dementia ridden Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), must take Laura to a supposed safe haven in order to evade her pursuer Donald Pierce (Narco’s Boyd Holbrook).
This journey exists largely to give the characters a destination to reach. The real brilliance of Logan is the characters. Hugh Jackman is superb in this film, captivating in his performance of an older, sick Logan. He limps or stumbles in most scenes, struggling to keep going and hold his world together. He’s short tempered because he has to look after Xavier, and frustrated by his reduced physical capabilities. It must have been physically exhausting in a different way to his other performances as the Wolverine.
Speaking of Charles Xavier, Patrick Stewart provides a solid performance as the once powerful professor, acting as a father figure to Jackman’s Logan. Their portrayals help to capture the tone of the film, with Jackman and Stewart maintaining a strong chemistry as their characters battle with illness and loss.
Despite having a limited speaking role, newcomer Dafne Keen shines when she’s in the scene. Her often blank facial expression demonstrates to the audience that she’s been through an ordeal even at such a young age. Yet, still being a child, her curiosity and lack of understanding of the world allows scenes that create some temporary respite for the audience.
Given Logan‘s emphasis on characters, it’s disappointing that the film’s villains aren’t given much depth other than being purely evil. It’s interesting seeing Holbrook in a villain role, and he provides a solid performance despite the limited character development.
Logan is, however, a film about its protagonists and giving more time to the villains would have presented some pacing issues.
Logan is not a happy-go-lucky film about superheroes saving the world. As I said earlier, it deals with characters who have been alive for too long, having experienced too many tragedies to have a positive outlook on the world. The characters are the most important aspect of this film, and Mangold’s constant use of close-ups emphasises their suffering and the urgency of the situation as the trio struggle to evade their pursuers. There’s a constant feeling of grief and bleakness, but it’s never overwhelming.
One of the main reasons why Logan is such a great film is because every scene has a purpose. Every scene feels like it adds to the film and an understanding of the characters, rather than being there to fill up a couple of minutes. Just over two hours in length, Logan‘s slower pacing makes it feel longer than it is, but it never drags on longer than it has to.
The wonderfully choreographed action scenes are where we see the differences between the older Logan and younger Laura’s abilities. It takes a lot of effort for Logan to move during fights, and his strikes are more powerful and brutal. Whereas Laura is faster and more agile. She can move herself around faster, leaping on enemies to bring them down.
These action sequences are wonderfully shot, with the brutality of Logan and Laura’s claws depicted in all of their gritty detail. There’s plenty of dismemberment, claws going through brains and arms being sliced through, but it’s all captured in a manner that feels realistic rather than with an over-the-top stylisation common in superhero films. The violence is there in all it’s detail, there is no close up shaky camera here.
In a world where superhero films are trying to be darker and more gritty, Logan has the edge. There’s barely a happy moment in Logan, with the characters, cinematography and directing all creating a sombre, desperate atmosphere that somehow proves to be cathartic. It feels like the perfect end to Jackman and Stewart’s story as Wolverine and Professor X. Not only has James Mangold directed one of the best superhero films since The Dark Knight, he’s also directed a terrific, captivating and emotional story that many viewers will relate to.