Amid the nauseating piety or banal teenage angst of the other members of the X-Men, Logan ‘the Wolverine’ has always stuck out. With his brooding, cigar-chomping, anti-heroics, writers and directors have been keen to draw upon these qualities for gravitas and grittiness. Though spawning forgettable spin-offs in Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman’s portrayal has been assuredly watchable due to his rugged charm and sardonic humour (even his brief cameo in X-Men: First Class is memorable). James Mangold’s film not only brings out the fatalistic and violent aspects of the character unflinchingly to the fore but is a fitting elegy to Jackman, Patrick Stewart and their continuity of the franchise. By removing the histrionics, portentousness and even the camaraderie in the former instalments, there is a refreshing sense of bleakness, loss and finality in Logan. If this is to be the end, then I am certainly satisfied.
Set in some indeterminate, brutal future after X-Men: Days of Future Past, Logan is now an a grey-bearded, alcoholic cab driver making ends meet for his ailing friend Charles Xavier on the arid, harsh landscape of the southern US border. It is 2029, mutant-kind are virtually extinct and the X-Men are gone, resigned to the lurid, colourful pages of a comic-book. But Logan and Charles’ exile is brimming with dissatisfaction and illness, as Xavier drifts into dangerous bouts of dementia and Logan finds his scars, both within and without, don’t heal as easily as they used to. When a pleading request to transport a young mutant across the border is undertaken with great reluctance by the two former heroes, both are forced to confront their regrets and mortality. Doggedly pursued by a shady, violent organisation determined to silence a mutant resurgence, Logan is given one final chance at redemption and inner peace.
It is entirely apt for this last instalment that Mangold and the writers adapt Millar, Bendis and Lemire’s Old Man Logan series. For in turn, the graphic novel’s inspiration was found in Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Western Unforgiven. While Logan explicitly references the earlier, now iconic 1953 Western Shane, the parallels between it and Unforgiven are all too timely and obvious: an actor’s swansong, unremitting portrayals of violence and piercing, cynical reflections of their respective genres. For the world of Logan is one where the inclusive idealism of Xavier has evaporated and the optimistic fantasy of comic-book heroes are openly held up and dismissed. With increasing weariness and frustration, Logan denies the legendary status that has grown around him, as Eastwood’s notorious former bandit William Munny did. “I’m a fan” smirks the cyborg bounty-hunter villain (Boyd Holbrook) pursuing Logan, a satirical inversion of sentiments expressed by the Marvel-loving audience. Mangold takes every opportunity to cast a shadow over the previous adventures and as such there is sad, unspoken regret and absence infused into each scene. It is glimpsed in the dilapidated water-tower where Charles rambles mindlessly to himself, reminiscent of his cavernous Cerebro vault. But it is rusted, ramshackle and ultimately as broken as our two protagonists. The safe, nurturing atmosphere of his school and the familial bonds and values that the Professor sought to instil there are all too briefly held onto here. Instead, the dialogue is often snarky and tense between the characters; bitter and occasionally as unrelenting as the desert and hinterlands that they embark through. Only a scene with an intimate family dinner, which provides joyous and reflective reprieve for the trio, offers a slight softening of the edge.
It has been a boon to the franchise for Jackman to be cast in the role and it has certainly paid off here. Putting aside his sweaty, wounded physical performance and his grim humour, Jackman still engrosses by heightening the fragile, selfish aspect of the character. Logan’s submission to the abuse of time, whether through his pronounced antipathy toward others or begrudgingly thrusting on a pair of reading glasses, is suitably distinct from his previous appearances. Alongside the fading (and flattening) of his wolf-style hair and buck-like bravado, Jackman has powerfully closed this character’s emotional arc which began back in 2000 and you can certainly feel the weight of the role’s history in his bruised, scarred face and arthritic hands. Stewart is also convincing as the deteriorated Xavier, with his aura of quiet, wise authority replaced with thin, drooped shoulders, wizened hair and bursts of profanity: “I’m fucking ninety” he spits. It seems totally appropriate when he is affectionately referred to as ‘Chuck’. Stewart has also brought this character to a fitting end, where his former reservedness has given way to remorse and regret though he still holds on to that twinkle of hope for Logan. While there is a new irritation between these two, born by circumstance and frailty (exemplified brilliantly in a scene where Logan assists the infirm Charles unto a gas-station toilet), it feels satisfying to, at last, leave these characters to rest.
Finally, 12-year old Dafne Keen as the traumatised, feline-like young Laura is remarkably good in her role, bringing cold detachment, inquisitiveness and frenzied, brutal energy that matches her computer-generated acrobatics in the fight scenes. Despite her stature and age, she often evokes the muted, tough stance of the Man With No Name in A Fistful of Dollars, standing out hauntingly against the dusty backdrops. She is genuinely scary when she goes into the fray- slicing and dicing her foes with more gusto than Logan himself. This little girl can certainly look after herself and it is an unsettling partnership. Yet this is gifted with some emotional depth as well, as the inevitable surrogate fatherhood never drops into mushy warmth. As the bodies pile up on their road trip, Logan reminds Laura she’ll ’have to learn how to live with’ the murders. ‘They were bad people’ she counters, but with sincere remorse Logan responds ‘All the same’. It is rare and slightly novel, especially in the wanton and unconsidered destruction witnessed in superhero films, for characters to comment upon them with such consideration and pain. Once again, Mangold and the writers’ tentative reliance on Unforgiven bears surprising and revealing fruit here.
Mangold opts out of the grandiosity and world-shattering events of X-Men: Last Stand, Days of Future Past and Apocalypse to foreground realism and a neo-noirish tone in the action and relationships, evoking the grounded seriousness of Bryan Singer’s first two instalments. It allows the film to be more violent and have greater resonance as political analogy. Where X-Men has to a greater or lesser extent alluded to the struggle of difference, discrimination and intolerance in American history, the notions of fragile citizen status and crossing borders out of the US are all too relevant today. Mangold is also unrestrained when choreographing those numerous violent scenes. Channelling Tarantino, the sequences are uncomfortably bloody, with limb-tearing, head-chopping, castration and neck-stabbing depicted in all their gory detail. At times it is quite overpowering and gratuitous, but perhaps credit is due to Mangold for not tempering the source material. Alternatively, the whisky-swilling and bloody brawls are off-set by the appearance of adolescent mutant super-powers, green serum and a slicked-hair, plummy British villain in an unexpected cameo from Richard E. Grant. While attempting to shed the more fantastical elements of its science-fiction and comic book origins, it doesn’t fully dispense with them. It’s racial politics are also problematic, with reductive, stereotypical depiction of Mexicans and the black family of farmers protected, then brutally slaughtered to serve a white saviour narrative for Logan.
“The world is not the same as it was” Logan retorts to Charles. The film rightfully dwells on this undeniable fact and does little to correct the losses associated with it. For the most gratifying aspect of Mangold’s Logan is that marked sense of finality, its lack of elaboration and exposition as it establishes, develops and dispatches its characters. No post-credit sequence, no sense of reprisal or resurrections and only leaving vague, desperate hope, stillness and earned redemption. In bringing Wolverine’s arc to such an appropriate conclusion, I do hope this is the end of Jackman and Stewart’s tenure and this era of the X-Men franchise. Anymore would be overkill.