Director: James Mangold
Screenplay: Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Dafne Keen
Runtime: 137 Minutes
Logan is the kind of epitaph that most actors would dream of having for their characters; a dark, introspective picture about growing old, challenged values and hope being mined out of desperate situations. But what it most courageously handles is a confidence in the audience that this is where the line is to be drawn. The X-Men film series has exhausted itself with timelines, sequels and spinoffs to such a degree that it’s alienating, and Logan wants absolutely nothing to do with them – coming out better because of it.
The approach to the film by writer/director James Mangold is one of restraint. His vision of the world is corrosive yet striking in visualisation. He stresses the importance of the frame as much as possible for visual storytelling, with an unconventionally morbid and minimalist score from Marco Beltrami. Which is for the best, since the screenplay is one that is far less focused on plot or dialogue than it is on character; this is a mood piece that holds the moniker of a superhero film, but feels more like a classic western in approach and design, something that the film holds proudly in influence throughout.
Logan (Hugh Jackman) is the aging emblem of a dying world where all the gods and heroes have disappeared. The dystopia of America in a future that is all too close is conspicuously relevant, taking place between the Texas and Mexico border, we see the struggles and ravages of poverty with mislead individuals in a strange land who face open hostility and contempt. Logan says as much about America today as The Dark Knight did concerning the ‘War on Terror’ nearly a decade earlier.
These are the kind of incidental details that fill in the gaps of this frightfully realised and brutal world, and the grace of an R-rating allows the filmmakers to finally make full, gory use out of one of the genres most violent weapons. The prospect of having a character with knives that burst through his knuckles has never felt more horribly physical or viscerally thrilling, the ‘adult’ nature of which extends to its profanity-laden screenplay that exploits every ounce of its potential. The violence here is fast, messy and painful to watch.
The narrative is incidental, being hunted by Boyd Holbrook’s malignant and grimy Donald Pierce, allowing emotion to drive the investment as opposed its relatively uncomplicated template plot. His relationship the young Laura/X-23 (Dafne Keen) represents his bond with humanity as he fights to retain the soul he feels he has lost, or no longer deserves for all of his past endeavours. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is succumbing to mental illness under Logan’s care, doped up on deficient medication the effects of which are as damaging as you could imagine given his mind is now a walking weapon of destruction.
The foundations of these relationships (father/son and father/daughter) act as the most interesting elements, which expectation and loneliness operating as heartbreaking principal themes. It's a road movie punctuated with violence coming from all angles, the extended length of which lends itself to the languorous efforts of its characters, but the dramatic meat of which is left in the backdrop in favour of the sensation of watching these figures come together.
The young Dafne Keen is absolutely astonishing, operating with minimal dialogue and a reliance on a performance composed of hard stares, emotional purity and unmistakable threat at her hidden abilities. She represents both literally and figuratively a vision of a life Logan could never lead. While Patrick Stewart brings to the film something all the more devastating; the lonesome and frail Xavier has lost everything, his vision of a brave new world destroyed by intolerance and fear and a total investment in their journey that, if anything, fills him with more hope than he appears to have felt in a long time.
But this is primarily a character piece for Logan, with Jackman delivering his best ever onscreen performance with pathos and weary poise. The weight of 17 years of back-story and investment endows him with history as one of the most lived in characters in contemporary cinema.
The weaknesses of the film lie in is fundamentals of an unremarkable story featuring otherwise remarkable characters, with a major plot development and character reveal that feels out of tone with the mood of this stripped down and decidedly non-fantastical picture. There’s nothing to break the film though beyond an occasionally slow pace and a decent if unremarkable screenplay.
Even given its issues, Logan feels like a victory for its makers. There are moments that hold their meaning given how long it has taken to get here, with a substantial worldly sense of touching intimacy and crushing sentiment. Fierce, divergent and earnest – this is the deserved farewell to a much-beloved character.