Hugh Jackman

Logan (2017)

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.

Prisoners (2013)

On a gluttonous thanksgiving afternoon, the Dover and Birch families find their worst nightmares fully realised when their youngest children Anna and Joy go missing from their quiet residential street. The children’s older siblings recall the two girls playing on a parked RV, and a man hunt begins for its owner Alex Jones (Paul Dano). Called in to lead the abduction investigation is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a quietly angry man who the families are assured has solved every case he’s ever been assigned to. The investigation comes to a standstill however when Alex is released due to lack of evidence, and Dover patriarch Keller (Hugh Jackman) takes it upon himself to torture the young man for answers.

Keller is a man whose motto is “Pray for the best, prepare for the worst.” He spends the film’s opening training his son to hunt, and professing to a musical taste that consists solely of Bruce Springsteen and the Star Spangled Banner. His Americana bravado cliché is saved, only just, by a bruising performance from Hugh Jackman, who manages to perfectly portray a man conflicted by his unfettered emotion and his alpha male duties to protect and provide. Jake Gyllenhaal too convinces as a man whose emotional balance is unequivocally tied to the finding of these two young girls. Unfortunately, they’re the only two actors given any space to excel, a shame given the film’s enviable cast list. The film devotes precious little time to Terrance Howard and Viola Davis as Franklin and Nancy Birch, a couple who find themselves unwitting co-conspirators in Keller’s controversial problem solving. But no one is more underserved than Maria Bello as Keller’s wife, a woman who after the initial trauma is all but written out of the scenario.

The film also struggles with what direction it wants to take. We get the bizarre, biblical leanings of a psychological thriller like Seven, a reach for the narrative complexity of Zodiac, the bureaucratic  angst of a standard police procedural flick, and a subplot that strives to ask its audience about their moral barometer. As such Prisoners meanders from one theme to another, often neglecting any sense of focus and pace. The film’s 153 minute running is bizarre and unnecessary as the middle section is begging for a trim and tighten. Detective Loki is presented as man of extraordinary skill, and yet the film’s length means that often the audience is a couple of steps ahead before he comes to any realisations.

Despite this, the film effectively presents a brooding and stark atmosphere, thanks mainly to Roger Deakins’ ever reliable cinematography and Johan Johannsson’s creeping score. There’s also enough mystery presented in Prisoners’ first act to propel your curiosity throughout the film, setting the tone for a narrative of interconnected twists and turns. Whilst not quite the lofty stellar thriller its advertising campaign may want you to believe, Prisoners is a solid drama that’s worth a watch.

Real Steel (2011)

Hugh Jackman is Charlie Kenton; an ex-boxer down on his luck. He’s also a dead-beat dad, who ran out on his partner leaving her to raise their only child. Well, joke’s on him… She’s dead now and the law wants him to look after his kid, Max (Dakota Goyo). So, he does what any right-minded person does, he sells Max to his deceased partner’s sister. Joke’s on him again… He’s going to have to look after Max for three months, whilst the sister-in-law, in an act of serious fucked-uppity, goes to Tuscany…

This sounding like a family-orientated picture to you yet? No? Did I mention Jackman trains robots?! That’s right. Robots! Big, burly, 8-foot robots that beat ten shades of shit out of each other. However, because of his desire to constantly prove himself, Charlie finds himself going through them on a daily basis; putting them forward for matches they have no chance of winning. Whilst rooting for parts in a dump, Max and Charlie comes across a G2 model called Atom. Soon, with the help of a boy’s love (and a lot of technological know-how; love will only get you so far), Atom starts making his way into the big leagues.

The plot is a no-brainer. I wrote myself a list of cliches I expected to surface and was happy to be able to tick every single one of them off. Montage – CHECK. Slow-mo punching – CHECK. Father learning a valuable life lesson through his son – CHECK! However, a sub-plot involving Atom’s potential for sentient thinking goes nowhere, and I struggled to work out why so much emphasis was put on it.

Whilst Jackman is always dependable, the sole star of this piece is, unfortunately, Goyo. A child star since year dot, he is an insufferable mess of raised eyebrows and shit-eating grins mistaken for impish charm. They’re our heroes, so who are they up against? Well, there’s also no real antagonist. The one we’re eventually provided, in the form of prize robot fighter Zeus, is only made out to be a baddy by Goyo calling them out and yelling at them like a girl in the third act. Up until then it was just a robot that was a better fighter than anyone else. We’re hardly talking Ivan Drago. However, come Goyo’s little hissy fit, Zeus and his trainers become the worse thing since the Holocaust and the movie asks us to willing boo and hiss in the right places during the final climatic. The fact Zeus’s trainers are the only foreign characters in the whole film makes the whole affair feel a bit jingoistic.

All in all, this should be a contender for this year’s Razzies. However, it’s so gosh-darn charming it’s hard to      be mad at it for too long. The SFX are solid and, backed by a soundtrack including such child-friendly fare as Eminem and Limp Bizkit, the fights are pretty thrilling. There’s no fear of Real Steel causing any ripples at the Oscars, but as a Sunday afternoon film to keep the kiddies quiet, it’s probably the real deal.

And yes, I’m ending my review with that pun.