Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine opens in familiar fashion: a ripped and raging Logan, adamantium claws protruding from clenched fists with an iconic ‘snikt’, ready to reluctantly dispense some stabby justice to a bunch of human hoodlums. Cut to: the former X-Man getting stomped into the dirt by his aggressors after a few wild swings prove worryingly ineffective.
If that sounds like an unexpected take on the hirsute hero we all know and love, well that’s entirely the point. Logan is a gnarled and bloody middle finger to what director James Mangold notoriously described as the “gravity-defying, city-destroying, CGI fuckathons” that have dominated the superhero genre for the past decade. Swapping meaningless spectacle for visceral action and a surprisingly human story, this is a superhero movie that gleefully defies convention.
Tonally it’s pitched somewhere between The Wrestler and Shane, with an important character even poignantly aping the latter’s “there’s no livin’ in the killin’” speech at one point. There’s certainly not much livin’ where Logan is concerned. We find him in a ravaged near future, a battered and bloodied shadow of his former self, scraping a living as a limo driver before returning to the remote makeshift home he shares with Caliban (Stephen Merchant in non-funny mode), who cares for a frail and infirm Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).
It’s a shock to see Wolverine in such a weakened condition. Bloodshot eyes, greying hair and a body tattooed with the scars of previous battles point to the declining effectiveness of his healing powers and the poisonous effects of the adamantium that is slowly killing him. Jackman, as ever, is on imperious form in his final and most challenging performance, subtly playing the hopeless bitterness of a man who’s forced to confront his violent past and the grim reality of his legacy without losing any of the ferocious intensity that still flickers behind Logan’s bespectacled eyes.
As watchable as Jackman is in this state, though, it’s not too long before he’s dragged back into the fray by the arrival of a mysterious woman who seeks his help with Laura (Dafne Keen), a gifted child as feral as she is tiny who might just be the first mutant born in more than quarter of a century. Circumstances, namely Boyd Holbrook’s Reavers, a team of cybernetically enhanced former soldiers, force Logan to make like a Trump-fearing Clinton voter by fleeing towards the Canadian border with Laura and Xavier in tow.
Transforming Logan into a gritty road movie proves to be a masterstroke, forcing Logan, Xavier and Laura to confront each other and allowing for their dysfunctional family dynamic to play out with an intimacy that’s entirely unexpected in a blockbuster of this scale. Xavier, played with a mix of weary confusion and profound profanity by Stewart, acts as Logan’s conscience, still trying to steer him onto the right path after all these years; meanwhile, Laura, the scowling force of nature that is newcomer Keen, gives him a glimpse of the life he has so often deprived himself as he suddenly becomes responsible for preparing an innocent child for a dangerous world. It’s no surprise the film’s meatiest scenes come when these three fine performers are sharing the screen together.
The action is just as stripped-back and brutal as the drama. If reports of Jackman taking a pay-cut to guarantee the film’s R-Rating are true, this is his reward. Gory fight scenes see characters chopped up with ruthless abandon as Wolverine finally has the opportunity to go full berserker. Baddies are beheaded, shredded to bloody pieces by a tornado of splinters, and, in one memorable scene, stabbed through the chin until the tip of Logan’s claw pops out the top of the victims head, all the while racking up a body count that would make Deadpool blanche.
If this really is to be Jackman’s final outing in the claws and mutton chops, Logan is a high note for the mutant fighter to finish on. Delivering all the hardcore Wolverine action fans could desire without skimping on the nuanced character drama, Logan elevates the superhero genre to new heights and guarantees Jackman’s status as one of the great cinema superheroes.
Runtime: 137 mins; Genre: Superhero; Released: 3 March 2017;
Director: James Mangold; Writers: James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green;
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook