Around the time 'Deadpool' pulled in big cash at the box office last year, Fox started talking about an R-rated 'Wolverine 3', which arrived with a humorous poster of Hugh Jackman giving the claw middle finger. This was classic cash-grab: see an idea that works, and then aim to replicate it as soon as possible to get in on the trend. I'm not sure what happened in the pipeline along the way, but what we've ended up with is very different, and much better, than what we could have ever hoped for.
|A different kind of superhero movie...|
Taking it's cue from the fantastic (not to mention revolutionary) Mark Millar storyline 'Old Man Logan', the film takes place in the year 2029, finding Wolverine living under his natural name (James Howlett) as an Uber limo driver. Make no mistake, this man is a shell of the one we've seen in previous movies. He's disheveled, he drinks all day, he lives with a permanent limp; his claws cause him immense pain, and his adamantium skeleton is beginning to poison him from the inside. He's close to death, in a world where (for reasons we can't quite be certain of) no new mutants have been born in 15 years, and the majority of X-men have been massacred. Indeed, suffice to say that it ain't a happy setting.
He lives in the desert with a 90 year old Professor X, who's pumped up on drugs in order to avoid evoking painful memories in the past - and to control disastrous seizures that cause anybody in the nearby vicinity to experience total paralysis. After a chance meeting (well, not too chance) with a Mexican woman looking to safeguard a young girl from further harm by carting her to North Dakota, the pair are forced into a high-stakes game of cat and mouse - tracked down by a sinister geneticist (Richard E Grant) and his crazy accomplice (Boyd Holbrook). Indeed, on the cross country trip, there are various diversions - the kindness of strangers, supermarkets, small-time gangsters, casinos et all; but the film is really about the journey.
|A smaller scale, higher potency movie.|
And what an emotional journey it turns out to be. With the added humanity of these characters, there's a lot at stake. A lingering sense of disappointment hangs in the air - Logan has ultimately spent his life filled with regret, and without love. There's a sense of hopelessness and unfeasibility of his dream to buy a 'Sunseeker' yacht and tour the world; and he carries around an adamantium bullet which he has no whims about disclosing is for suicide. Prof X is effectively on his death bed, and there are hints that he may have done something terrible in the past. Indeed, there are moments of humor and hope peppered throughout - but, overall, the tone is decidedly morose. Put it this way: at multiple times in the cinema there was mass tear-shedding.
Of course, the movie is R-rated (15 here in the UK) for a reason - the violence is exceptionally brutal. For too long (10 movies to be precise), the X-Men movies have tread a weird line where the stabbing and slashing from wolverine's claws produces bloodless injury - and James Mangold's vision almost feels like wish fulfillment on this part. What with the characters in this movie being honest, realistic, more relatable people than in past movies - the violence similarly matches. It's not 'Kick-Ass' or 'Kingsman' excess - but rather an accurate portrayal of what happens if you stick three knife-claws into a human being, and then slash their body open. At points this becomes squirm-inducing (specifically in a stunning slow-motion scene during one of Prof X's seizures), but it feels right - and makes the carnage seem less indiscriminate. It also, of course, adds to the 'gritty' Western feel of the movie - furthering the idea that 'Logan' is trying to break out of a cinematic niche.
|A darker and more adult tale.|
Similarly, the production design is absolutely fantastic. Instead of the bright palettes of a Marvel movie, or the darkened hues we've come to expect from DC, we get a sun-drenched, realistic, and rather more beautiful picture more evocative of a John Wayne flick than anything else. Indeed, again, this serves to distance 'Logan' from other superhero franchise fare - by directly including it in the world of movies that exists outside the realm of the summer blockbuster.
On that same point, there's a general lack of CGI throughout the entire affair. The blood and gore seem to be, in general, made up exclusively of practical effects (and thank fuck for that). There are a couple of in-camera effects such as when the abilities of children are showcased, an explosion here and there, and of course the seizure scenes. But there's no big explosive finale - if anything, the climax plays a bit like the climax to the 'Raid' films - focused, violent, and entirely personal. This kind of finish isn't from everyone - somebody I went with complained of a lack of spectacle - but for fans of cinema, rather than marvel blockbuster fare, this is pretty much the peak of the genre.
|'Mad Max' vibes, anyone?|
**MINOR SPOILERS INCLUDED IN THIS PARAGRAPH**
There also seems to be a kick for casting in terms of diversity, which usually isn't a problem (see Disney's new 'Star Wars' saga); but this time takes it a little far. For instance, in a collection of scenes where young mutants are together, of whom all have been raised from birth by the same people in the same facility, there is the amalgamation of practically every shade of skin colour and accent on the whole of planet Earth. And, getting this out the way, why is there an incredibly obese kid? These children have been through an intensive process of training and strict dieting... they should all be in precise peak physical condition. It's so outlandishly weird to have a movie that doesn't give a fuck about showing kids rip apart soldiers with claw hands; but feels the need to remain politically correct. The audience, for your information, did laugh.
|The 'Magnificent Seven', with claws...|
At the end of the day, 'Logan' proves to be more than a great superhero movie: it's a great movie full stop. As a standalone film, it powers through without any need for its predecessors - and provides the perfect endpoint for a series that has been a cinematic mainstay of the last 17 years. It lands alongside the great pillars of 'Watchmen', 'The Dark Knight', and 'Kick - Ass' as a true game changer in content, style, and intelligence. Go see it now - this is the birth of a cultural icon.
|'Logan' gets 4 stars!|