My oh my, just what do we do with the X-Men franchise? It's been on a rocky road for a while now, ever sine my first engagement in the series, after the reboot that brought Jennifer Lawrence into the fold. Days of Future Past, an all-star medley, was a smashing success, winning round audiences, critics and box office dough; however, sequel Apocalypse, released just last year, received mixed to poor reviews at best, earned significantly less at the box office and fuelled a growing frustration with the franchises' complacency and unwillingness to do something/anything different. It stranded the franchise in a difficult position, particularly when its supposedly small-scale, risk-taking R-rated spin-off Deadpool earned more money domestically and worldwide than a single X-Men instalment has ever done before. Its latest stab, Logan, is the tenth film in the franchise and third chapter of the Wolverine series, is said to be leading star Hugh Jackman's final ever appearance as the craw-growing mutant; so, is this swan song a deserved one for the iconic character?
In a dystopian 2029, a past-his-prime Wolverine (Jackman) is living out a quiet life, avoiding his mutant form where possible. No mutant has been born for twenty-five years and most of society has broken down. Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a nurse, approaches Logan to escort her and 11-year old Laura (Dafne Keen) to 'Eden' in North Dakota. Initially cautious, Logan's possible involvement attracts unwanted attention from the villainous Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who aims to hunt Laura down for the power she possesses. Along with a senile Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), they venture on the journey to Eden but fears grow of their final destination, what lies there, and whether it exists at all. Directed by James Mangold, the superhero film appoints a surprisingly sombre tone for the picture, as noted throughout the film's marketing material, setting this apart from the onslaught of last year's superhero flicks.
As mentioned, what's remarkable about Logan is that only very rarely does it feel like a superhero film - meaning it can be accessed by audiences wanting something other than the standard genre fare, as conventions are almost entirely rejected. From the outset, the narrative and tone is undeniably bleak, conveying a broken Logan coming to the end of his tether, both rejecting and missing his former life as the Wolverine, exploring themes seldom considered in the genre. Mortality and humanity are ambitious placed front and centre of this character-driven instalment, delving in on the broken Logan and the life he has led, with Xavier's appearance emphasising the fragility of time and age. Sparks of humour can be unearthed throughout and help alleviate the sombre tone from becoming totally overwhelming, with the film never forgetting to entertain either - it more than easily earns it 15 certificate over in the UK, rivalling the recent John Wick: Chapter 2 for the amount of rolling heads, blood and gore on display. It's atmospheric, intense and spirited, delivering a taut but rewarding experience that more than makes its mark as the (possible) final adventure of Jackman's Wolverine (and, supposedly, Stewart's Xavier). James Mangold is a terrific choice to helm the project, finding some really stunning shots amongst all the violence, enhanced by beautiful cinematography from John Mathieson.
Hugh Jackman arguably delivers his strongest performance as the Wolverine here, probably down to the fact that he is given a wider range of emotions and content to work with, gripping audience from the first frame until the last; you are almost enthralled in watching this journey play out, despite how dark and brutal it is, mainly because of the heft brought to proceedings by Jackman. Even with each consecutive bloody brawl or throw down, Jackman still manages to impress on a physical level - he is almost 50 after all but keeps up with the pace efficently. Stewart returns as a decrepit Charles Xavier, imprisoned for his own safety as many race after the chance to utilise his mind as a weapon. Each deliver a visceral performance - a feeling and notion that reflects the film in general - with a long-serving chemistry that never falters, compelling us to these characters and proving why they have been as long-lasting as they have. In a relatively dialogue-free, physically-demanding performance, Dafne Keen is a revelation; whether throwing down a severed head, ready to fight and protect herself, or during the more emotional moments of the film, she exceeds expectations. Holbrook is impressive as the domineering head sent to retrieve Laura, even though his character suffers from the typical villain-issues; undeveloped. Richard E. Grant and Elizabeth Rodriguez are solid in less substantial roles, as Logan places a determined focus on its titular character which is fully rewarded by the time the credits wrap it all up.
Perhaps a little on the lengthy side clocking in at 139 minutes, the film suffers occasionally from a monotonous tone; yes, some humour inject a brief lapse and that comedy aspect almost always works, but there's no escaping the fact that this is a very serious, far-reaching piece that doesn't have the wide appeal of a bouncy Marvel flick or even the outrageousness of Deadpool (no matter how underwhelmed I personally was with that Fox release). Also, after rather self-consciously avoiding cliches or conventions of the genre throughout the first two acts, it almost too willingly indulges in them for the grand finale, leaving a weaker third act in the shadows of its more sophisticated first stretches. And, attempting to avoid any spoilers, Logan finds itself wound up in a rather predictable spot; although that doesn't take too much of the power away from the ending, it can't help but feel a little anticipated, leaving the final set piece a little unfocused and less taut in comparison to all that came before it. It also, unfortunately, weakened some of the emotional impact of those final moments.
Logan, the third and final Wolverine chapter supposedly, is a grounded and alternative take on the superhero genre, right when the X-Men universe needed that shot in the arm. Hugh Jackman's titular character is retired on a bittersweet note, tremendously delivered by a committed cast with Jackman excellently leading the way. It's a visceral experience, deeply rooted in character development - but remembers to deliver all the fun of the fair with the typical Wolverine-shmuch, choreographed and executed effectively because of the solid direction from the man helming the project behind the camera. It feels fresh and different, usually breaking away from expectations and excelling because of its R-rated violence and tricks. It's the strongest chapter in the mutant universe since 2014's Days of Future Past and while I can't speak for anything pre-reboot, appears to be the most confident, mature and focused film to date. If this really is the last time Jackman wears the claws, its a worthy swan-song to bow out on.
Summary: Logan is a ruthless and brutal swan-song for Hugh Jackman's Wolverine and he certainly makes the most of it, delivering an impressive performance in a focused, grounded and mature final chapter.
Highlight: Logan's humour really shines, elevating the darker material to more bearable levels.