Much has been made of “Logan” being a hard-R superhero movie and it’s certainly in a hurry to prove its adult credentials, opening with a sequence which is almost custom designed to make a certain class of comic fans jizz their pants. There’s even an unnecessary shot of breasts within the first fifteen minutes. For a movie straining to be grown up, it certainly feels like the opening quarter hour was written by a fourteen-year-old fanboy.
Thankfully more mature heads prevail and once the movie stops trying so hard, it succeeds in spectacular fashion. Returning director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman take their inspiration from the “Old Man Logan” comic story and turn it into a melancholy and moving road movie that’s actually more effective when it’s not using its R rating for graphic (and eventually repetitive) violence or excessive swearing.
Although the action is tremendous – and it’s gratifying to finally see a realistic portrayal of what Wolverine’s claws would actually do during a melee – it’s in the film’s quieter moments that you really appreciate the craft and passion Jackman brings to the role. He’s matched by a fantastically vulnerable performance from Patrick Stewart as an ageing and fading Charles Xavier while Stephen Merchant is a revelation as Caliban, bring an unexpected pathos and humanity to his melanin-challenged role.
The X-men continuity of the movie is actually pretty good but it’s peppered through the background in such a subtle manner it’s easy to overlook. The government’s approach to eradicating the mutant menace through genetically engineered crops and foodstuffs makes sense within the fictional world of the X-men but it also uncomfortably evokes the tinfoil hatted conspiracy theorising of the anti-GMO, anti-vaxxer brigade. There’s a subtlety, too, in the various background details which gently place the film in the not too distant future without ever being intrusively sci-fi.
Similarly, the bad guys, while effective, are fairly anodyne because the real purpose here is to let the characters shine and drive the story forward. And as good as franchise veterans Jackman and Stewart are, it would be unfair not to recognise Dafne Keen’s Laura/X-23 contribution, especially given much of her role is without dialogue.
It may at times be a little too nasty, a little too bloodthirsty and a little too keen to show you again and again what it looks like when a skull is shish-kebabed by adamantium claws but it’s all just gratuitous window dressing to a gripping and fascinating character study of a reluctant hero’s last journey.