Logan is the latest in the series of spin off films dealing with the irascible mutant Wolverine, in the X Men universe. The character has quite the following, but the solo outings have been disappointing. Until now that is. Logan is an uncommonly good comic book adaptation, among the best examples of the nascent genre and one of the year’s best films so far.
For those unfamiliar, Wolverine is a mutant with steel claws and a surly manner, but a good heart. He mostly does good – or at least tries to. Hugh Jackman has played the character since the original X men film in 2000. Jackman is perfect for the role, and a highly underrated dramatic actor. But the success of the series had always been mercurial both critically and commercially. It was thought that to give the character the film both he and the fans deserved the filmmakers and the studio would have to aim for a darker and more violent tone. But crucially, Logan isn’t a bloodbath. It succeeds by taking the character and the implications of having superpowers seriously.
The story is an archetypal one, set in the future. The mutants are all but extinct. Logan nurses an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart) with the help of the albino mutant Caliban (the terrifically cast Stephen Merchant). They hide from the militaristic authorities across the Mexican border, whilst Logan does stints as a limo driver to pay the bills. Jackman has never been better than he is here as Logan, an embittered soul dealing with the perils of immortality and hero worship. Into this world stumbles a young girl named Laura, played by newcomer Dafne Keen. Sometimes child actors can derail a movie – either by being misdirected or by being simply too sweet – but director James Mangold must have thought he had struck gold when he cast Keen; she is note perfect. The child is a mutant like Logan, and has retractable claws like him too. She is being pursued by the authorities, and Wolverine must decide whether to stay underground or to fight to save this young, mysterious fellow mutant.
Science fiction and space opera have always used fantasy as a way of examining the present, especially in regards to politics and race. It may be a bit far-fetched to say that the militaristic, corporatized future with a Mexican underclass portrayed here amounts to a criticism of the American political establishment, but the effect is eerily evocative of our own dystopian times. If that sounds too heavy going for the comic crowd, readers should note that all staples of the genre are here present and correct: superpowers, high octane action scenes, and despicable villains. There’s even a simpering military grunt( Boyd Holbrook) and the joyfully nauseating Richard E Grant as the traditional mad scientist. But the tone of the film is more akin to the intensity of James Cameron’s Terminator sequel or George Miller’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
There are flaws too. Wolverine is given a genetic doppelganger as a nemesis, which I found unnecessary and essentially a throwback to the lesser films in the series. At the beginning, a video recording happens to contain all the character exposition needed to jump start the plot, which seems lazy. However, these are minor quibbles. I enjoyed the last X Men Film Apocalypse despite its public backlash because I felt that it lived up to the spirit of comic books. But perhaps people want to see a film like this, which mines the deeper depths of graphic novels. Logan has been marketed as Jackman’s last stab at the character that brought him to international recognition, although one suspects like Sean Connery with Bond, he may yet learn to Never Say Never Again. If he does however, he can hold his head high, this is the film that Wolverine, and the audience, deserved.