Why do people want to see Wolverine films? It always seemed strange to me that the character has had two solo films completely independent of the rest of the X-Men. The character of Wolverine is invariably a loner, but a loner thrust into the spotlight and forced to work in a team. For me as a young boy watching the X-Men animated show, I was always greatly entertained by the clashing of personalities of Wolverine and Cyclops – a dynamic leader, meticulous and measured – battling wits with a self-sufficient wild card, as skilled as he is fed up. It makes for great motivation when two people who dislike each other put aside their differences to take down future robots or ancient giants or people who are 90% head mass.
That is what Wolverine is to me, however, I am not representative of the population, and the fact that Wolverine is one of the most prolific characters in comic book history shows that the character must appeal to many people for different reasons. Yet it is still strange to me to have such a primarily straightforward antihero take the lead in three films when his character is so reluctant to perform as a hero at all.
Logan is the logical conclusion to the character that Hugh Jackman embodied first over 17 years ago in X-Men (2001). This final instalment takes place in 2029 after James Howlett/ Logan considers himself finally retired and like a thousand action stars before him is thrust back into his old lifestyle for one last job. The job is an escort mission of a young girl who shares his own characteristics, sporting matching adamantium claws and a similar violent blood lust. But the years have caught up to Logan, his face is transformed to an old man, his biceps stay in his sleeves, his beard encases his face. The Wolverine’s healing factors are weakening and he’s lumbered with the responsibility of looking after an ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart this time), who is beginning to suffer from a form of an issue which is causing concentrated releases of the professor’s dangerous powers.
Structurally, the film is a simple point A to B road trip movie, it’s all pretty straight forward and is enhanced by a light seasoning of dystopia. It is the visuals that first stand out about Logan, and may be what has attracted many people to the cinema to see it. Trailers for the film were everywhere and Johnny Cash’s Hurt playing over saturated images of desert landscapes was enough to reignite interest in people who were put off by the previous two solo Wolverine films, the original trailers seemed to point towards Mad Max: Fury Road as an inspiration for Logan but unfortunately this style slowly dissipates over the two hours.
That is not to say that the film is not good looking because it is. It puts more effort into aesthetics rather than flashy CGI or imagined worlds, clearly the director of photography was given free rein to play with the potential of the American landscapes that passed them by on the trail. The film takes its time to let shots breathe and takes a more measured approach to exposition than ham-handed dialogue cues.
However, this is my indulgence and I know that people watch Wolverine to see Wolverine doing what he does best so how does the action fare in Logan?
Pretty well. Pretty damn well. With the film’s new R-rating it has acquisitioned the freedom to explore the disgusting reality of Wolverine’s adamantium claws. In the original X-Men, Wolverine let loose on an army of goons in Xavier’s mansion and it was all very exciting but nevertheless exceedingly clean. There was no blood, no guttural penetration, a cacophony of snikts and tings was all that could be heard – it was all a bit too tame. Logan goes all out on the visceral reality of the weapons, allowing blood to spatter and squirt and throats to gurgle, the final product benefits from it. The action is at an all-time high for the franchise and it used just sparingly enough to still be exciting each time it happens. This is the most real Wolverine has ever been and the movie does not shy away from the dark undercurrent that every person Wolverine has ever killed with his claws has been killed in this brutal manner, it adds to the traumatised characterisation that is so central to his conflict in the film.
Once again, a marvel film has let its viewers down by churning out another run of the mill villain. Here taking the form of Richard E Grant, some guy with modern hair and a super soldier right out of the most unoriginal fan fiction ever made. All are disposable and uninteresting archetypes that offer nothing that hasn’t been seen a dozen times in the last 17 years of comic book movies.
Wolverine on cinema has often had an issue with motivation, he always needs something to force him into the story, whether it is Rogue in X-Men or leadership thrust upon him in X-Men: The Last Stand. Here the job falls to the close to senile Professor Xavier, staying in the backseat of cars whispering into Logan’s ears that he must do the right thing. This comes across as a bit too on the nose at times. However, it is preferable to the effect that the villains have at driving the plot. Logan has a lot of weaknesses, it is overlong and takes itself too serious for a movie that features dozens of claw flailing hurricanranas. The dialogue is trying to serve the long contemplative style but isn’t quite at that level where it can grip on the quality of writing alone but it is hard to hold that against it. Logan is in the minority of superhero films that attempts to incorporate new styles into the sub genre, in an era of predictability and in house style, Logan is an outlier.
It focuses on the character of Logan in a nice way while still allowing for the best Wolverine action ever put on film. The near future is incredibly realised and lived in and performances on all parts do the characters proud. The film is a faithful send off to a prolific character.
Logan uses the extended universe of the X-Men as flavour to enhance the drama of the story instead of abusing aspects to allow for tie-ins, sequels or prequels. Despite it being the ninth Wolverine film, Logan is far and away the most unique, stand alone movie of the bunch.