Logan, for my money, is the best film in the X-Men franchise so far, and by quite some margin. It’s surprisingly difficult to describe despite its relative plot simplicity, as on the one hand it’s a superhero movie (obviously, but also it’s kind of not), but it’s also a dark, melodramatic neo-western road movie with some real standout moments and a solid and consistent atmosphere of dread, weathering and hopelessness.
To begin with, the cast is fantastic and the returning characters are as good as you’ve seen before and often better, whilst the new characters bring a new and refreshing edge to the proceedings – an edge especially noticeable given the film’s focus on aging and memory. Let’s get the obvious out of the way; Hugh Jackman’s version of Wolverine is one of the most adored in comic book movie history, and for good reason. In Logan (and it’s important here that he’s referred to as Logan as opposed to his other names), it is virtually flawless and meshes seamlessly into the story. Take the Wolverine you know and love, start calling him Logan again, kick him through a few decades, give him some traumatic events to deal with, tell him to internalise all his pain, remove the only friends he had who experienced even vaguely similar things to him, let him age like a good whisky, let him drink the whisky, rinse and repeat for a few decades and you get the Logan we see here. He limps about with his massive lumbering frame with the heft of John Wayne and the coolness of Clint Eastwood, still strong but weaker than before. He’s not healing as he used to, which only gives him more pain to reflect on, alongside taking care of the now senile Charles, played to brilliance by Sir Patrick Stewart. Their back and forth is exactly how you imagine it would be; like old friends or even an old married couple, their conversations are often heartbreaking, heartmaking and hilarious in quick succession.
Stephen Merchant’s turn as Caliban is great too – it’s close enough to his other more comedic roles for him to flex these muscles, but much like the other characters in Logan he has some more affecting dramatic layers; the establishment of these interrelationships are executed so well it’s easy to imagine the story before the film’s events. The whole atmosphere of the near-future world in which Logan is set is well realised, and this is to director James Mangold’s credit. There is, however, one cast member who stands out head and shoulders above the rest – the relatively unknown but hopefully soon to be a household name Dafne Keen. Her role as Laura (I’m still unsure if we’re allowed to use her other name yet, as a pretty big giveaway was in one of the trailers but it still might classify as a mild spoiler given its implications) is nothing short of iconic. For these aforementioned reasons there’s little I can say about why this is the case, but make no mistake, this is not the cliché of the child actor dragging the film down – quite the opposite. She’s a determined and oddly inspiring young girl who gives the film a lot of its heart and a lot more of its blood and guts. At the same time, Mangold reminds us constantly that this is just a child doing these things and going through such events, in sharp contrast to the life and battle-battered Logan and Charles, for all their ‘stabby’ similarities.
A lot has also rightly been made about the film’s certificate; it’s been said before that the film’s first line of dialogue is a hard expletive, which evolves into a brutal fight scene setting up the entire tone of the film’s action in one swift move, and there’s a lot to this. The action scenes themselves are well directed; they’re not absurdly quick cut and the heightened violence gives them a real personality in every sense of the word – people are doing these things to other people, and that’s very much the point. This violence lingers well beyond its conveyance on screen, and drags the characters ever-more into the mud and grime of the story.
In fact, an awful lot of the film lingers and ages like a fine wine after the fact, and suitably so given the film’s utilising of memory, beautifully showcased in the almost-fourth-wall-breaking comic books in the film, as well as its cine-literate nature with regard especially but not exclusively to the 1953 western Shane. It could be argued that this simply falls into the standard action movie third act category towards the end, which I would agree with providing the film ended about 20 minutes earlier than it did – its emotional arc and subsequent ending really sold it for me, and redeemed any clichés of the third act. With that said, some of these emotional moments earlier in the film don’t always land, but they do serve as building blocks for later climaxes, so this can be forgiven.
I’m unsure if anyone’s made this comparison before, but aside from the more obvious western and drama films Logan will remind audiences of, I came away with some parallels with Apocalypse Now; significantly different in the narrative framing but thematically and tonally astonishingly similar – and if that doesn’t make you want to see Logan, then I don’t know what will.
By Oliver Rowe
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