You only really need to give it a moment’s thought to realise how absurd it is that movies starring Wolverine were ever geared toward kids. The guy is the product of heavily invasive surgical experimentation, his skeleton grafted with an indestructible metal which bursts forth from his knuckles in the form of lethally sharp claws – yet we’re expected to believe that when he goes snikt and swings his fists, the bad guys just fall over? Logan is by far the most violent, gruesome and potty-mouthed X-Men movie made to date – yes, even more so than Deadpool – and it would be easy to write this off as 20th Century Fox cashing in on a newly-rediscovered market for adults-only action which Deadpool proved still exists. However, there’s no denying how natural it all feels. In the first fifteen minutes alone our hero drops the F-bomb at least once a sentence, bloodily hacks limbs off his adversaries, and even enjoys a gratuitous tit shot, yet none of this in any way feels like a betrayal of what went before. Really, it feels like this is what Wolverine movies always should have been like. And not before time if, as has been promised, this will indeed be Hugh Jackman’s last time in his signature role.
It’s 2029, and the world doesn’t look too different to how it does now, right down to prominent anxieties over the border between the US and Mexico. But for Logan (a career-best performance from Jackman), there’s one key difference; there are almost no mutants left beyond himself, his old friend and mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, who also gives one of his best performances, and has recently declared he too will be retiring from the X-movies with this entry), and Caliban (Stephen Merchant, a curious but welcome new addition). For some unknown reason, no new mutants have been born in years, and Logan for one has long since given up what little hope he ever had, putting his old life behind him to scrape a living as a limo driver, which pays just enough to keep him pickled in whiskey and stocked up with the meds which the now 90-year old Charles needs for his ailing mental state. But while he may be attempting to hide his past as Wolverine – having grown out his beard, ditched his signature pointy hair and assumed a fake name – Logan still gets spotted now and then, and a series of events sees him saddled with mysterious, seemingly mute youngster Laura (remarkable pre-teen newcomer Dafne Keen), a mutant whose abilities and nature are astonishingly similar to the Wolverine of old. Though Charles is fading fast, unlike Logan he’s never given up hope of locating surviving mutants, and takes Laura’s arrival as a sign they’re on the right track. But of course, they’re not the only ones on Laura’s trail, as a small army for hire led by ruthless merc Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) are after the girl, under the orders of the shady medical facility that was once her home.
From the start, Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine has sported clear echoes of golden age Clint Eastwood, and the character himself has always been steeped in pop culture lore – elements of ninja and cowboy – so it’s not too surprising that, with the Japanese influence having been addressed in 2013’s The Wolverine, Logan takes him into full-on western mode, albeit with a stretch Chrysler in place of a horse and wagon. Small wonder, then, that so much of the film takes place under harsh sunlight along barren desert roads. Nor are Eastwood westerns the only influence in evidence; given it’s set in a dystopian near-future and centres on a formerly idealistic, now world-weary hero tasked with guarding a unique individual and transporting her to safety in the face of immense danger, the whole set-up is hugely reminiscent of Children of Men; and as the loner protagonist unwittingly develops a bond with a young girl who wants to be just like him, we might also be reminded of Leon/The Professional (but happily without any of that ‘ick’ factor).
Of course, one key thing we might take away from all the aforementioned kindred spirit movies is that none of them are superhero-related, which has led some critics to rather haphazardly declare Logan a work which surpasses the comic book movie genre. This, as others have already noted, is a terrible over-simplification which just goes to show that, while the superhero genre may have conquered Hollywood, it hasn’t wiped out the prevailing ignorance about the comic book medium – and yes, the key word there is medium, not genre. To suggest Logan is somehow ‘more’ than a comic book movie (much as how some critics will suggest that, say, The Witch is ‘more’ than horror) is to fall back on the old assumption that comic books are just kids’ stuff, telling simple stories in a simple fashion with lots of bright colours, eye candy and ‘POW!’ written in huge bubble letters. This, needless to say, is not at all the case, and I could name plenty of comics which are in much the same spirit as Logan. With its neo-western aesthetic, deluge of profanity and graphic violence, and ruminations on morality and honour in a world which seems devoid of both, the film plays out like something Garth Ennis might have written. One potential comic book reference point, long reported to be an influence on the film, is the Wolverine story Old Man Logan, but I can’t comment on that as I haven’t read it (I don’t have an especially high opinion of writer Mark Millar, as I discuss in my old review of Kick-Ass 2).
The X-Men series has been a veritable rollercoaster of highs and lows these past fifteen years, encompassing some of the very best superhero films ever made (X2, Days of Future Past, Deadpool) and some of the very worst (The Last Stand, Origins: Wolverine, and some might say last year’s Apocalypse). Without a doubt Logan belongs at the higher end of the scale, and we can but hope that, hand in hand with last year’s Deadpool, we’re seeing the start of a new era for comic book films, finally acknowledging that – as DC covers told us all the way back in the early 90s – they’re not just for kids. Above and beyond that, we can also hope these films pave the way for a new age in Hollywood action in which the major studios won’t be so afraid to make movies with a mid-range budget and a rating higher than PG-13.