REVIEW: 'Logan' is a violent, focused character study

 Hugh Jackman in his final outing as James Howlett in 'Logan', directed by James Mangold.

Hugh Jackman in his final outing as James Howlett in 'Logan', directed by James Mangold.

Am I crazy in thinking that Logan is good enough to start stirring up some conversation when awards season hits? James Mangold’s long-awaited, much-ballyhooed, R-rated entry in the final chapter of Wolverine’s trilogy still manages to be a surprising delight despite all the hype.

There are R-rated films that are violent in order to grab more eyeballs, and there are R-rated films that are violent because it’s necessary. This one’s definitely in the latter, and like Deadpool it is true to its truest form – as in, there’s so much blood and dismembered body parts it’s impossible to even forget for a second that you’re watching a film about a man who likes to stab a lot and has metal claws in his hands that go snikt!

The year is 2029, and due to some nefarious doings of a mystery science company a mutant has not been born in a quarter-century. An old Logan (Hugh Jackman) spends his days working as a no-nonsense limo driver shuttling back and forth from Texas and Mexico, haunted by a drinking problem and a bad cough. His healing factor has slowed with age, just as the rest of his body has, and remains one of the last of the mutants along with Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Xavier's brain disease continues to progress and causes him to lose control of his immense and deadly power, and now lives in an overturned water tower that slightly resembles Cerebo. They’re joined only by Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant who has the ability to track other mutants and who serves as Xavier’s day-to-day caretaker. Everyone is tired, and life is a drag.

 Dafne Keen as Laura, also known as X-23.

Dafne Keen as Laura, also known as X-23.

The X-Men have long since disbanded, but the Wolverine is still a household name, and a nurse tries to enlist his help in escorting an 11-year-old girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), to a place called “Eden” in North Dakota. Logan initially refuses, but eventually takes the job in exchange for a hefty payout. Along the way, though, he runs into Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a heavy-duty security guard whose job is to keep a mysterious science company’s secrets under wraps. As Logan and Laura go on the run, their symbiotic relationship becomes the heart of the story.  

Logan serves itself very well because of just how few characters it has, a nice change of pace from the previous X-Men films that feel overcrowded and make you wonder which actors are actually playing mutants and which ones accidentally walked onto the wrong set. Every scene seems like a character study, and even the minor characters are as every bit as memorable as the stars. Everything seems to make sense and carry genuine emotion.

It’s such a major improvement over Mangold’s previous effort in The Wolverine, an uneven, big-budget summer film that had a hackneyed love story and a hackneyed villain, a structure studios stubbornly and stupidly drift towards because it’s been proven to make a lot of money. Logan’s advantage was here – a story that manages to be both deeply violent and deeply personal because there were good reasons it had to be. The studios were so unsure of its success Jackman took a pay cut in order to reduce some financial risk, and Mangold filmed the bloody scenes with practical effects because he thought it would look more aggressive and visceral.

 Patrick Stewart returns as Charles Xavier.

Patrick Stewart returns as Charles Xavier.

Mangold’s films always look very good, and the cinematography from John Mathieson, who previously worked on X-Men: First Class and the criminally underrated The Man from U.N.C.L.E.¸ is also astounding, with its dust clouds, washes of orange and limited use of bright colours making it look just like a classic Western. Marco Beltrami’s score is very good, and sounds every bit like a man preparing for his inevitable final stand. The actions scenes are smooth and intelligible, and seeing how Hacksaw Ridge just won an Oscar for its clarity in editing action sequences, is hopefully the start of a hard charge in the opposite direction of hyperactive editing.

We now have definitive proof that R-rated superhero films can be successful whether they’re crude or brutal, but they can’t be crude or brutal just for the sake of it. The X-Men universe has always been known for its social commentary, and hopefully the success of Logan will help realize a new niche for hyper-focused, character study dramas that involve comic book characters living in very real worlds.

Logan gets 4 out of 4 stars.