17 years after he first snikted onto the screen, Hugh Jackman is hanging up the mutton chops in the final chapter of the complicated life of James Howlett aka The Wolverine aka Logan.
Directed by The Wolverine’s James Mangold, we’re a stone’s throw away into the future and mutants are all but wiped out. The once disgruntled anti-hero, Wolverine, is now the embittered, alcoholic limo driver Logan (Hugh Jackman). He spends his nights driving and his days taking care of fellow X-man, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Charles, suffering from a form of dementia, is prone to seizures disable him and those within the vicinity. It’s never fully explained how bad these seizures can get – Mangold chooses to keep these details close to his chest – but Logan keeps the former professor in a fallen water tower for the protection of himself and others. Logan’s only other friend is Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino superhero whose mutants appears are tracking other mutants and grumbling it would seem.
Into their lap falls Laura (Dafne Keen), a 12 mutant on the run from evil surgeon Zander Rice (Richard E Grant) and his Head of Security, Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Laura is a pint sized enigma who, we learn early on, has similar mutant powers wrapped up in a hell of a lot rage. When Laura’s carer is found dead, Logan, with encouragement from Xavier, reluctantly agrees to take the young mutant across the border to safety whilst pursed Rice. In other X-Men movies this would be a cinch, but, in the same way Chuck’s mind is failing him, Logan’s regenerative powers are diminishing; it even hurts him to unleash the claws that made him The Wolverine.
This the archetypal superhero movie stripped of the bombastic nature of its predecessors. The citizens of New York can rest easy knowing that Logan won’t be pushing over buildings to fend off Rice’s cronies. If Logan would have his way, he’d keep his head down for as long as it takes him to raise enough money to take him and Chuck away from it all. But, now there’s Laura. The fire that reignites perhaps not the hero in Logan but, at least, the humanity in him.
It’s the kind of introspection cried out for in the genre. When its fans demand for grown up material, this is presumably where their fingers point. Characters before explosions. Dialogue before showboating. Sadly, for me, although it shoots for a lean and mean plot devoid of the dressings of ‘lesser’ superhero movies, Logan feels like a flabby feral scream into the superhero abyss. Its own self-importance sadly detracts from makes it work; What makes it stands out is also what sinks it.
It is so remarkably po-faced that its constant misery can sometimes feel like a parody. This is particularly clear when it tries to have its cake and eat it with a third act that dispenses with the subtlety and descends into Jackman growling – metaphorically and literally – in a showdown which clangs around noisily until someone says stop.
There is nothing wrong with a comic book movie for adults that wish to shake off the shackles of a family friendly certification. The recent Deadpool manages get the balance just right – anal jokes aside – for example. However, it feels at times that Logan is simply a PG-13 movie template with added swearing, CGI blood and – sigh – even a gratuitous boob shot. Yes, Deadpool has the same issues, but it was an R-rated comic fitting snugly into an adult film. Logan is a flipping square peg trying to squeeze into an f***ing round hole. It’s first series Torchwood.
And it is a shame because Logan does have some strong points. A Logan who refuses to run into battle is a great concept, which had previously been tackled in Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan (which would sadly lay the ground work for the nauseating Wanted comic book series). Let’s be honest, Jackman will always be Wolverine. Even when the character is rebooted 10 years from now, we’ll all shake our heads and agree that no one could replace the bloke from New South Wales. He can play this character in his sleep (Hi Wolverine: Origins) and It’d be petulant of me to say that he doesn’t get to play around with it a bit more here. Logan is a stark contrast to the cage fighter we saw back in 2000; He’s broken, he’s disenfranchised and maybe secretly he really does want something or someone to save him.
And whilst Xavier’s traumatic seizures are admittedly nothing more than Hollywood Alzheimer’s – in that it’s largely forgotten about till it services the plot – watching a great and good man reduced to a faded shadow of himself is heart-breaking. It reminds one of Ian McKellan in Mr Holmes, which saw the aged sleuth having to scribble the names of those he should know on his cuffs. Stewart brings his usual gravitas to a role that could have descended into parody years ago.
Deene as Laura is a staggering force of nature to watch, managing to stalk the screen whilst maintaining a semblance of childlike innocence. And some scenes she shares with Jackman show a spark of humour that managed not to be smothered by Logan’s furrowed brow. Equally, Merchant gives a surprisingly straight(ish) performance to Caliban before, unfortunately, being relegated to position of convenient plot device.
Yes, wade through the nonsense and there is some good to be found. Ultimately though, this just doesn’t feel like a fitting end to a much loved character. Yes, it’s a brave ending but it didn’t eke out as much emotion from me as it probably wants. I do hope that Logan is the final chapter. Not because I’m feeling vindictive but because to follow on from this feels like it will cheapen what Jackman and director have presented. Just because Logan isn’t for me doesn’t mean I want it diluted for others.
In a world where the MCU is becoming less and less brave in their creative decisions, here’s hoping they’ll take a page from this and Try something new in their delivery. But please, stay away from the supposed ‘adult’ tone.