IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 137 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
the year 2029, Logan, who has aged greatly because his healing factor has begun to falter due to adamantium poisoning, spends his days working as a chauffeur and hustling for prescription drugs in Texas. He and Caliban live in an abandoned smelting plant across the border in Mexico, where they care for a senile Charles Xavier, who had inadvertently killed several of his X-Men in a seizure-induced psychic attack one year earlier. Logan is approached by Gabriela, a nurse who asks him to escort her and an 11-year-old girl named Laura to a place in North Dakota called “Eden”. After reluctantly accepting the job, Logan discovers that Gabriela has been murdered, and also that the company she worked for was breeding children with DNA samples from several mutants….
If the following statement means that some readers of this review will cease to take it seriously or even stop reading, then so be it. Despite its huge commercial success and praise, I didn’t warm to Deadpool at all. I wanted to like it, but just found it irritating, smug and unfunny, and not a patch on Kick-Ass or even Super. This year’s ‘R’ rated comic book movie is something else though. If I state that I think it’s not just the best of Wolverine’s solo outings but also the best superhero [though is Wolverine really a super hero?] film of the last few years, you may not believe me if you’re one of the countless folk who loved Deadpool and saw something in it which I didn’t, even though I’ve been one of the many people who’s been hoping for a non ‘PG-13’ Wolverine film for some time – and this is coming from someone who’s gotten bored with all this superhero overkill and who drags himself to the cinema to see the latest Marvel or DC adventure because it’s the big film out that particular week, rather then rushing with enthusiasm to see the latest outing for Batman, Spiderman, etc. Within a few minutes of Logan I not only knew that I was watching a far more thoughtful, even adult-orientated outing than usual, but also wondered if the film was mostly aimed at folk like me who have gotten tired of all this stuff. I can see many younger viewers who love the CGI-drowned spectacle and action these films tend to provide getting a bit impatient with Logan, which has a measured pace for much of its length, has very little [though there is a bit] humour, and does the best it can to hold back on the computer graphics – though I found it all rather refreshing. In any case, I’ll be intrigued to see how well this one does. If it’s a big moneymaker, then that can only bode well for the genre.
James Mangold co-wrote and directed the last Wolverine adventure The Wolverine, and made a fairly good job of that. Now, though, that film just seems like a dry run for this one which is a far better picture in every respect while exploring fascinating ideas like what happens when mutants/ people with super powers age? While this is something that all of us are probably dreading and therefore don’t think about much, our own powers become diminished with age, so it must happen with superheroes too. Just imagine how much of a pain for Superman [okay I know certain comic storylines have him ageless but I’m sure you get the point] it must be to find out that he can’t fly or even leap tall buildings in a single bound? And to find out that he’s no longer useful to the world? And even possibly a danger? What gives Logan considerable weight is that it deals with things that will eventually become applicable to all of us, which also means that it’s quite a downbeat exercise – but downbeat in a compelling way unlike the dreary mess of Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice. And it doesn’t forget to provide action – it’s just that it’s smaller-scale than a lot of the city smashing stuff that we’re used to – but actually more exciting because you really care about the characters.
I believe I mentioned in my review for The Wolverine that Logan’s constant grouchiness gets a bit tiresome, and this grouchiness is magnified ten times in this movie, though it’s not as if it isn’t justifiable. When we first rejoin Logan, he already looks ill and will look increasingly worse as the film goes on. He’s aging, he can’t heal so well, and something inside him also seems to be making him weaker and weaker – which constant booze doesn’t help. Within a couple of minutes, he’s confronting some yobs who are attempting to steal his car and you know that he’s going to suddenly burst into brutal action, but the resulting fight scene is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, while vicious, it cleverly holds back on the gore, making us wait a bit longer until we’re almost climbing the walls wanting to see Wolverine go on a bloody rampage. Secondly, it reduces the ‘shakycam’ and hyperfast editing that made most of the action scenes in The Wolverine hard to actually watch. And thirdly, Logan isn’t anywhere near as efficient as he was and even makes bad mistakes. Then again, his situation may not be bad as Charles Xavier’s, the former X-Men leader not only riddled with dementia but cursed with a deteriorating mind that is so dangerous – and this is shown several times in the film – that he’s been classed as a WMD! As they live out their ‘carer and charge’ relationship, Logan and Xavier seem to spend their time feeling sorry for themselves andpoor Caliban, who’s helping, seems to bare the brunt of their fustration.
Logan eventually finds a purpose when he eventually agrees to take young Laura to her “Eden”, a place which we are asked to wonder several times in the story if it actually exists at all [there’s a sly use of actual X-Men comics – which Logan dismisses as nonsense – here]. Some bad guys turn up, and one of them goes inside to get Laura, but she comes out carrying something which is revealed to be the guy’s head, after which – in a scene which almost bests Hit-Girl slaughtering loads of henchmen to The Banana Splits – she reveals claws in not just her hands but her feet and sets to work on the villains in jaw-droppingly vicious style, often just slashing bloodily at their legs. Logan and Laura then have to flee, and Xavier comes along too, but Donald Pierce is on their trail, and he’s accompanied by a younger Logan clone, though the real bud guy is a Zander Rice, a scientist whose father was once killed by Logan. In a surprisingly upsetting, if not graphic, scene shown as a ‘found footage’ flashback, it’s revealed that not only did he breed children with DNA samples from mutants, but that he set out to exterminate them when they didn’t become the super killers he wanted. And Laura is actually Logan’s daughter as she was bred for his DNA – not that Logan cares – or does he?
Of course some of the story beats are very predictable and you end up just waiting for them to happen, though they’re usually handled in a satisfying fashion and even with some restraint. Even obligatory scenes showing superpowers are quite low key though they still can’t help but jar with the overall feel and tone of the piece, which despite ensuring that the terrain travelled is varied, rarely deviates from its simple road movie structure and does become rather repetitive. Still, the Western feel to much of it is pleasing, certain shots even replicating ones from classic films of that genre [though having Laura and Xavier watch Shane on TV rather overdoes it]. I was also reminded not only of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but also of the largely unsung Hammer classic The Damned in several scenes and that really brought a smile to my face, though there’s a grittiness and an intensity to many sequences that surprised. And the blood certainly flows – perhaps some gorehounds will be disappointed – but I felt like cheering since it’s been so long since Wolverine first appeared on screen and up to now we hadn’t been shown what he can really do. Some of the best moments though are quiet ones, like when our trio stay with a family. Yes, it slows the pacing almost down to a halt, but it’s also nice to see Wolverine interact with other people in a friendly way for the first time in what has probably been decades.
If this is Hugh Jackman’s final bow [so we’ve been told] as the character he’s been playing for 17 years, then the actor has certainly delivered a appropriately powerful performance, contrasting well with Patrick Stewart’s more melancholy acting. Daphne Keen is also very impressive as Laura considering that she’s required not to say anything for the majority of the film. Marco Beltrami’s largely ambient, very restrained, score is adequate, but as is often the case these days the movie seems to be crying out for an actual theme or themes which would have increased the effect of many scenes. Logan still leaves quite a strong lasting impression, and certainly proves that intelligence and depth can still exist in this genre without liimiting the entertainment aspect. For the first time in quite a while, I came out of the cinema feeling quite positive about comic book movies and superheroes – and anyone who knows me well will say that’s quite a feat these days.