6 March 2017

Logan review

Given the mediocre quality of the franchise at large, it's hardly the highest of praise to claim that Logan ranks amongst the best X-Men films to date, but that doesn't make it any less true. Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for a full 17 years now, and despite the less than stellar nature of some of those films I think we can all agree that he's often a highlight of the ones he's been in - what a relief it is then that Logan offers us not just the violent Wolverine solo film that many have been clamouring for since 2000, but also a movie that acts as a worthy, albeit imperfect, farewell to a character/actor combination that we've been watching for the best part of two decades.

Set in a not-so-distant, slightly dystopian future in which mutants are all but extinct, Logan follows our titular character as he attempts to care for an aging Charles Xavier just South of the US/Mexico border. Struggling to afford the medication that stops Xavier suffering from frequent seizures, Logan ends up accepting a contract to help smuggle a nurse and her "daughter" - secretly a mutant herself - across the US border and to a safe place for mutants called Eden, located in North Dakota.

Like the majority of 2013's hugely underrated The Wolverine, Logan is clearly a film with a real vision behind it; unlike The Wolverine, however, Logan seems to be almost entirely free of the studio interference that has hobbled so many recent movies. There is a deliberate disconnect between this film and the rest of the X-Men films that ends up being one of Logan's biggest strengths, allowing it to focus on its own narrative in a way that feels refreshing in a world of continuity obsessed cinematic universes. Logan isn't interested in setting up future films or paying off previous set-up - it's only interested in telling this one particular story, and for that alone it stands out amongst the crowd. I've criticised the X-Men franchise quite heavily over the years for its weak continuity, but it's a small price to pay for the creative freedom that allows Logan to exist in the form that it does.

Because Logan truly is a film for adults, and I don't just mean that it's violent and that he swears a lot (although both of these things are very much true). There is a genuine maturity to Logan in both character and theme that isn't often seen in tentpole film-making, a depth and intelligence, for lack of better words, that makes Logan greater than the sum of its parts. Everything about Logan seems to add to the films exploration of its central character, and that sense of purpose combines with a very deliberate pace, an undercurrent of sadness, and a masterful grasp of tone to create something that feels totally atypical in modern cinema, moody without posturing and thoughtful without pretension. Take note, rival studios - this is how you make a superhero movie for adults, not with surface level "grit" or po-faced "darkness" but with respect for your audience's intellect and real thematic intent.

And yet I can't shake the nagging feeling that Logan only ever brushes up against the greatness that it is quite clearly reaching for throughout. It's not hard to pick up on the ideas that Logan is toying with - survivor's guilt, regret for who you were, the toll that age takes on people - but the way they are presented to us is clunky at best, and I'd argue that it never quite manages to bring them together in a cohesive, satisfying way. Part of this comes in the film succumbing to a number of genre tropes that while thematically appropriate can't help but feel a little tired, but much of it comes from the simple fact that despite being a film built entirely around Hugh Jackman's last appearance as Wolverine, Logan fails to make the weight of that felt. It's clear that Logan is meant to be an emotional film - so why wasn't I more emotionally engaged?

Still, the fact that I can make that criticism of an X-Men film, of all things, is itself something to be celebrated, and ultimately Logan's flaws only exist because of its admirable attempt to be something more than just another popcorn blockbuster. Ultimately, Logan isn't the game-changing, genre-defying masterpiece that some have proclaimed it to be - it's simply a solid, well-made film that doesn't quite achieve the greatness it's striving for, and that's just fine.

4 stars

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