Logan full movie review - The Slashist
Never underestimate a good Johnny Cash song. His course, plaintive "Hurt" as backing track singularly ratcheted the Wolverine 3 trailer from mild superhero curiosity to one of
the year's most anticipated films - grim, bare-bones, and populated not with CGI-bloated posturing, but with genuine human hurt and heart. Then, the title drop: Logan. No numeric epithet, no pandering 'X-Men Origins.' Just Logan. It's impossibly representative; Logan is lean, mean, and, despite the lack of titular superheroic alias, the Wolverine movie we've all been waiting for.
Of all the hats Wolverine has worn through the years, from samurai to spandex, a cowboy hat may be the most natural fit, and returning director James Mangold keenly embraces his film's intrinsic western influences, with more Unforgiven than Uncanny X-Men at play here. Only loosely drawing on Mark Millar's seminal Old Man Logan (no mafia of cannibalistic Hulk incest offspring here, for one), Mangold's 2029-set story is nowhere near as flamboyantly dystopian as Days of Future Past. Dusty, dark and whittled down, Mangold's screenplay obstinately avoids any expositional spoon- feeding, instead trusting the strength of his performers to get the sordid backstory across, with only the faintest teases of narrative breadcrumbs (hint: always listen to the radio). Here, Fox atones for their past X-sins (no more X-cuses?) by de-mythologizing the superhero more than Alan Moore's Watchmen. Instead, our titular ex-X-Man breaks ranks with his comic book past by, in a cunning fourth wall breach, brandishing X-Men comics and knocking aside Wolverine action figures in-text, and scorning them as bullsh*t. His film follows suit, flayed of all but the most rudimentary comic book winks (and even the most fanatical nerds aren't too likely to squeal at the Reavers or Caliban, as enjoyable as Stephen Merchant's crusty, brittle performance is). If you're harbouring hope for intertextual X-nods or cameos, save it for the exquisite Deadpool 2 teaser, bub.
Instead, Mangold crafts a grim, ramshackle road trip movie. He devotes far more time to basking in his characters' perennial aging agony and curmudgeonly family dynamics than the brewing military science conspiracy that prompts Logan's run. Pacing is fairly measured, including a dalliance at a family farm far more successful than Avengers: Age of Ultron's, which allows for plenty of breathing character beats, at the cost of urgency and momentum. It's spiced up considerably by Mangold's gleeful exploitation of his hard-won R-rating, and the comedic novelty of Logan and Professor Xavier spewing F-bombs (F-Men? Okay, I'll stop) has an unexpectedly enjoyable shelf life. Still, Mangold's film largely avoids flagging through its bursts of action combat. We've waited 17 years for an uncensored Wolverine fight scene, and he makes up for lost time here, each hack-and-slash fuelled by bedraggled fury and flamboyant gore, no face or limb safe from perforation. The saying may go 'It's all fun and game until somebody loses an eye,' but countless eyes are lost (or covered, for those who prefer their combat PG-13), and Logan has never felt so free.
Nonetheless, my 'no cannibalistic Hulk incest offspring' jab is not wholly a compliment. There's the persistent tickle of Mangold's film, in its quest for ruthless realism, playing a touch too safe. This isn't to say we need full-blown Mad Max histrionics, but endless sequences of Logan and Laura and stabbing their way through legions of metal-armed mercenaries in lieu of a juicy big bad (Boyd Holbrook and Richard E. Grant both sneer and steal scenery enjoyably, but are disappointingly bland and forgettable) do lose their lustre over time. A third act twist literalizing the 'Wolverine's worst enemy is himself' conceit isn't innovative or memorable enough to cover the slack (apparently undershirt shade provides the film's 'black/white hat' Western moral dichotomy here), and a pseudo-science climax attempting to graft larger scope to the narrative feels rushed and forced. The most cringeworthy, however, is Mangold reworking his film as a cloying love-letter to classic Western Shane, from a clumsily gratuitous mid-film nod, to a fawning climax saturated in schmaltzy cheese. It's an unorthodox, disappointingly disingenuous surge of sentiment in a film so otherwise unpretentiously bleak, and Logan's swan song deserves better.
Still, the importance of a superhero film this character-driven can't be overstated, and the work of the central trio are what really hit home. His 17th year snikting claws, Hugh Jackman has never been more committed to Wolverine's gruff charisma and burly humanity. He's so believable as a man defeated as much in soul as body, Jackman doesn't so much act as embody being dragged, cussing and screaming, over broken glass for two and a quarter hours, without the Oscar-begging bleating of a Leo in The Revenant. This is not a superhero, action star, or wounded western gunslinger. This is real hurt. That said, newcomer Dafne Keen's X- 23 is arguably even more extraordinary. She's so credibly feral she can be hysterical, heartbreaking, or truly chilling with only the slightest twitch of a lupine eyebrow. It's unclear whether she's being groomed as a new franchise headliner, but her exceptionally raw acting earmarks her as an emerging star to watch out for. Still, it's Patrick Stewart's Xavier who ultimately walks away from the show, radiating cavernously credible agony and disappointment at his diminishing mind and the suffering it has caused, all gilded with a gleefully profane sense of humour.
Logan has been heralded as 'the new Dark Knight' in terms of reaffirming the potential of the superhero film, though it's a bit too derivative and tonally confused for the title to hold. What's indisputable is its status as the most blisteringly emotional, mature, and savagely hard-edged genre offering in years. Remember Wolverine's congratulatory comic catchphrase that X-Men Origins embarrassingly beat out of him? It couldn't be truer here: Logan (and Jackman himself) is the best there is at what he does.