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D: James Mangold / 137m

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Richard E. Grant, Eriq LaSalle, Elise Neal, Quincy Fouse

It’s 2029, and mutants are pretty thin on the ground, with those that remain hiding from the rest of humanity, hoping to be overlooked. They’re almost extinct thanks to a virus created by the Transigen Project, led by Dr Zander Rice (Grant). More able than most to blend in, Logan aka Wolverine (Jackman), is working as a limo driver while also looking after – secretly – Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart), now in his nineties and suffering from senile dementia. Hidden away in Mexico, Logan is helped in this by another mutant, Caliban (Merchant). Xavier’s psychic abilities are now inherently dangerous; if he has a seizure it triggers a psychic attack that could mean the death of anyone around him. In one of his more lucid moments he talks of a mutant who will need Logan’s help, but Logan doesn’t want to know anything about it.

An encounter with a woman, Gabriela (Rodriguez) and a young girl, Laura (Keen), brings Logan and the mutant Xavier has been talking about together. Laura is a mutant, but with a difference: she was created in a Transigen lab, along with twenty-two other “children”. Bred to be weapons, the creation of a twenty-fourth mutant means Laura and all the other children are expendable. Gabriela has helped Laura and the other children escape, but now they need to rendezvous at a place called Eden in North Dakota. When Transigen come a-calling at Logan’s hideout – in the form of Donald Pierce (Holbrook) and his team of genetically enhanced Reavers – previous events dictate that Logan, Xavier and Laura make a run for it, and against Logan’s better judgment, they head for North Dakota. But Caliban is captured by Pierce and coerced into using his tracking abilities to find Logan and the girl.

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As the trio journey to Eden, Logan learns more about the activities of Transigen and their attempts to create mutants they can control, while Pierce comes close a couple of times to catching them. A chance encounter outside of Oklahoma City with a local family, the Munsons (LaSalle, Neal, Fouse) has unexpected consequences, as well as revealing the identity of X24, Transigen’s latest creation. Logan does eventually get Laura to Eden, which proves to be real and not the comic book-inspired destination that Logan has believed Gabriela made up. There the other children are planning to make a break for the Canadian border, and Laura plans to go with them. But Pierce, now accompanied by Dr Rice, is soon on their heels, and it will need Logan’s alter ego, the Wolverine, to ensure they reach safety instead of being captured and killed.

Fans of Logan/Wolverine have been clamouring to see the character that they’ve read and seen in the comics, brought to life in the same violent, berserker fashion that he’s portrayed on the page. A brief moment towards the end of X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) gave everyone a chance to see what that would look like, but it was just a moment, however well-received. Now, in his third solo outing, Logan’s rage has finally been given its due, and this is the ultra-violent/borderline sadistic outing that the fans have been waiting for. The tone is set right at the start, with a scene that pits Logan against a quartet of gangbangers. Blasted in the chest, he still gets up and proceeds to use his adamantium claws to slice, dice and eviscerate all four of them. But at the same time it’s clear that his healing powers aren’t as effective as they used to be, and though his trademark rage is still there, it appears that the use of his claws is as painful for him as it is for anyone on their receiving end.

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It’s this vulnerable side to Logan’s character, this curtailment of his powers, that makes Logan such an interesting movie to watch. Based very loosely on the comic book series Old Man Logan (2008-09), this version of Logan, older, even more pragmatic, yet weary of life and living, allows the viewer to look beyond the usual superhero movie traits, and into the mind of a character who’s seen and done too much and doesn’t care to keep living that kind of life. He wants to die, a concept that most – if not all – other superhero movies shy away from. But returning director James Mangold, who made The Wolverine (2013), and along with screenwriters Michael Green and Scott Frank, has made a road movie-cum-Western that adds surprisingly complex emotional layers to its basic storyline, and which doesn’t tiptoe around the issues it brings up. This is an unashamedly adult “superhero” movie, dealing with adult themes in an intelligent, adult way, and at no point does it short change the viewer by glossing over the emotional stakes set up within the narrative.

It’s the Wolverine movie that Hugh Jackman has been waiting to make since his first appearance in the role back in 2000. Still aloof, but weighed down by experiences we can only guess at, Logan is battered and scarred, his features weathered by time, and partly hidden beneath a salt and pepper beard that provides texture in terms of his age and weary resignation at being so old. This is a Logan who is continually in pain, the antithesis of the Logan we’re used to seeing, and it’s ironic that the source of his strength and invincibility (until now), his adamantium skeleton and claws, is the very thing that’s now killing him. There’s an inevitable layer of melancholy attached to this, but Mangold and Jackman make sure that Logan’s gruff demeanour is still in place, derailing any sentimentality that might have arisen otherwise. This isn’t as elegiac as its references to Shane (1953) make it sound; instead, it’s about that other staple narrative of the Old West, the passing of an era.

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Jackman excels in what is easily his best performance in the role, and it’s good to see him finally playing Logan as something more than the cigar-chomping, Elvis-sideburned figure we’ve been used to. But if Jackman’s transformation into a much older Logan is disarming, then he’s more than matched by Stewart’s interpretation of Xavier’s mental disintegration. There are moments when Stewart’s bewildered, beseeching features are too painful to watch, and again it’s the irony of seeing a once proud and powerful man undermined by the very gift that made him stand out from the crowd that makes the movie so emotionally complex and rewarding. There are terrific supporting turns from Holbrook (give this man a leading role, for Pete’s sake), Grant, and Merchant, but inevitably it’s Keen who draws the viewer’s attention for her largely mute, refreshingly feral performance as Laura/X23, a character with a close connection to Logan, and someone you really don’t want to mess with when she furrows her brow.

If this really is Jackman’s swansong in the role then he couldn’t have picked a better storyline with which to hang up the claws and walk away from the X-Men franchise. By stripping back the narrative, and focusing on the relationships of the three main characters, Logan transcends its comic book origins to become a movie that is daring, quietly introspective when necessary, aggressively violent in a shocking, sometimes disturbing way, and able to take its basic set up – the road movie – and twist it far enough out of shape that it feels more nuanced and transgressive than on first impression. Mangold shapes the world around Logan with a keen eye for detail, and avoids doling out excessive sentimentality, keeping everything grounded and credible, despite the fantastic nature of the material. It’s an artistic triumph, and one that shows that Marvel superhero movies don’t have to follow the same template all the time, a message that Kevin Feige will hopefully take on board.

Rating: 9/10 – an intense, gritty, superbly realised and mature outing for its title character, Logan is perhaps the first “superhero” movie that wouldn’t feel out of place as a Best Film Oscar nominee (though it’s still unlikely to happen); gripping for long stretches, with the quieter moments proving just as engrossing as the action sequences (which are very well staged indeed, if a little hyper-edited), Mangold and Jackman’s determination to give the Wolverine a proper send-off is apparent from start to end.

 

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