Even in the unpredictable world of mutants and those who hate them he was always the wild card and yet he was also the most reliable, the only member of the X-Men to have appeared in some capacity in every single one of the ten linked films of that series and the character who has headlined three ostensibly solo films, 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 2013’s The Wolverine and now in what has been stated is Hugh Jackman’s final time in the role, Logan.
Having personally witnessed two centuries of war and countless near-disasters Logan has made a token attempt at anonymity by returning to his birth name of James Howlett and is keeping his head down as a chauffeur in Texas, but he has spent too much of that time alone. Without the calming influence of his associates at the Xavier Institute he has returned to what he was, a surly and dangerous individual with a short fuse.
No mutant has been born for twenty five years and most of those whom he knew are dead, his own regenerative powers compromised and his weakening condition exacerbating his temper, nor is Charles Xavier (Green Room‘s Patrick Stewart) doing much better even though he is not yet past his first century, succumbing to a degenerative condition which has stripped him of his mind.
Showing only fragments of the man he once was, Charles is still a vastly powerful telekinetic but permanently confused and prone to outbursts of anger unless heavily medicated, America’s most wanted nonagenarian with a brain classed as a weapon of mass destruction. Helping Logan care for him is Caliban (Hot Fuzz‘s Stephen Merchant), doing his best in difficult circumstances with limited resources, a marriage of little convenience or harmony.
Able to sense other mutants, Caliban does not believe Charles when he says there is another mutant nearby but Logan is approached by arrogant Transigen agent Donald Pierce (Morgan‘s Boyd Holbrook) who questions him about a woman who had asked him for help, two encounters which would have forced him to retreat further from the world even more were in not for the girl in her care, Laura.
Jackman’s third collaboration with James Mangold who directed him in Kate & Leopold and The Wolverine, Logan is a smaller and more personal affair than might be expected of anything associated with the overblown world of the X-Men, a cross country road trip of increasing desperation rather than dropping stadiums on iconic landmarks, and as befits its “end of the line” position it is also relentlessly bloody and grim.
Jackman and Stewart have been playing these parts for seventeen years and while it was on Stewart’s status as an internationally recognisable performer that the franchise was launched, and with it the modern era of comic book movies, it was Jackman who became the breakout star who gave the series its legs so it is only right that this should be their story, although newcomer Dafne Keen is good enough to share scenes with them both on her own terms though not even yet a teenager.
Operating without a framework, without any kind of a safety net which came from the extended family of the X-Men, both the old man and the young girl are largely reliant on Logan though they are not entirely helpless. Devastating and deadly, Laura is more than Wolverine ever was, matching his weaponry and former powers of regeneration but coupled with astonishing agility more akin to Mystique, but in the right situation even Charles still has what he needs.
Of the supporting cast, Merchant is good as the dour albino and although his makeup is noticeably uneven he is given more to do than Tómas Lemarquis in the same role in X-Men: Apocalypse, but while Holbrook is never more than a stock overachieving villain he does better than Richard E Grant’s sinister Zander Rice whose dedication to his vision seems to be the only character note he was given, while Elizabeth Rodriguez’s Gabriela is sadly asked to do little other than set events in catastrophic motion.
A Mexican nurse within the Transigen facility who takes care of the children, her defiance of her supposed masters and rebellion against their goals speaks beyond the screen: “They thought we were too poor and stupid to understand. We were poor, yes, but we were not stupid. This was a business. They were making soldiers.”
It is in the nature of a road trip that it is linear and while there are certainly bends in the course there are insufficient twists to make the journey truly outstanding, the narrative predictable to the point of formulaic, but in this company every second should be enjoyed because barring a miracle it will not come again, and in its best moments – often the quiet ones – Logan is as strong and relevant as anything the X-Men have ever achieved as a team.
“We always thought we were part of god’s plan but maybe we were god’s mistake,” Logan muses bitterly, and the strength of the film lies in the knowledge which drives the film, writers Scott Frank, Mangold and Michael Green and the characters themselves inescapably aware that this is the end, addressing the changes in the world and the disappointments of their lives while affirming their determination to go on through whatever may come, resigned to facing their fate without compromise.
Logan is now on general release and also screening in IMAX