It is a flat guarantee that someone at one point as said that the X-Men film series could be improved with more profanity and buckets of blood. In Logan, the tenth X-Men or X-Men adjacent film since 2000, that wish has been realised. Logan is a comic book movie that flaunts its American R rating to great effect. It’s not to show that comic book movies have “grown up”, but rather to emphasise that this one is old and tired — in a thematically appropriate way.
In 2029, ageing mutant Logan (Hugh Jackman, Eddie the Eagle) is keeping a low profile as a limousine driver in the US and making periodical trips to Mexico to administer medicine to his mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, Ted 2). Logan gets roped into delivering a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to the Canadian border, pursued by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, TV’s Narcos) and the forces of alleged pharmaceutical outfit Transigen. Laura seems somewhat familiar, but that’s impossible — no new mutants have been born for 25 years.
At this point in the canon, there are so many slightly alternate takes on the cinematic X-Men that it can be hard to figure out exactly where you stand. Logan is the first film in which the X-Men are not just characters, but also comic book heroes and action figures in universe. No context or explanation is ever given for this, and it’s hard to jive with the well-established anti-mutant prejudice that has been the spine of the last seventeen years worth of films. Logan is set in a world that is beyond caring about anything. That Logan, Xavier and Laura are thoroughly disenfranchised is no surprise; they have no need for a society that no longer even acknowledges their existence.
Director James Mangold (The Wolverine), who receives sole story credit and shares screenplay credits with Scott Frank (Hoke) and Michael Green (The River), has a clear vision for the film, and it is established early and impressively: Logan’s Mexican lair is distinctive and the most designed part of a film that is otherwise dark and naturalistic. Jackman, though clearly not sick of the role, plays the title character as justifiably world-weary, and Stewart shows a new side of Xavier as the profane old man he never would have once allowed himself to be. Rounding out the ensemble is newcomer Keen, who never allows her performance to dip into maudlin surrogate-daughter sentiment.
Mangold takes full advantage of his American R, to the point that not only is there a lot of swearing and violence, but a pair of bare breasts get a cameo as well. Not only does Logan get to cut as many people as he needs in as bloody a way as he needs, this film eschews the murder-free heroes that are so common in these films. Each action sequence is skilfully choreographed and, late in the piece, Mangold displays an understanding of what makes mutant powers in particular so compelling to see on the screen in the first place.
But Logan can’t maintain its momentum all the way, with a dip in the middle when it becomes more conventional than it needs to be. What should be an emotional peak becomes more underplayed than it should be for a moment that has been coming for literally the entire century, and it takes some time for the film to recover. When it does recover, it delivers catharsis in a powerful way — but one that could have been more effectively spread across the film.
Logan is the first big comic book film in a year in which they’ve been seeded like landmines. It may not have the polish of the three incoming Marvel Cinematic Universe entries, nor the promised incoherence of the DC Extended Universe films, but what it does offer is something else entirely: Logan is a deliberately scuffed up work of comic adaptation art, and Jackman and Stewart could not have chosen to end their X careers on a higher note.
Logan opened in Australian cinemas on March 2, 2017.
Directed by: James Mangold.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant and Dafne Keen.