AGED IN ADAMANTIUM
Hugh Jackman says goodbye to his X-Man in a welcome, adult spin on the super-hero’s teenage myth making
Much has been made of Logan, star Hugh Jackman’s official farewell to Wolverine, the X-Man who made him a film star almost 20 years ago. But, in fact, what matters is that Logan is the third collaboration between the actor and journeyman director James Mangold, a filmmaker who has traced a curious, idiossyncratic path through his Hollywood choices — a sort of lower-profile Richard Linklater without the coolness. (Sean Fennessey provides an excellent intro to Mangold here.)
Better remembered for his Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, Mangold’s curriculum also includes Girl, Interrupted, Identity, the 3.10 to Yuma remake and the unjustly panned Tom Cruise vehicle Knight and Day. It was also Mangold who rescued the adamantium-clawed Wolverine from solo-film-irrelevance with his Yakuza-flavoured The Wolverine back in 2013, and in Logan he invests the character with a gravitas and a mythical aspect straight out of 1970s revisionist westerns and hard-boiled L. A. noirs. The near-future setting sees an ailing, aged Logan, caring for an equally ailing Professor X, being summoned to help a lab-engineered child mutant escape from the claws of its genetic creators — Logan’s child, in more ways than one (no points for subtlety here), in an era where mutants seem to no longer come about naturally.
Logan buckles often under the weight of its own ambitions — overlong and overstuffed, it carries on beyond the obvious endpoint of its plot, and it tries to leave everything neatly tied so that Marvel won’t feel tempted to bring Logan back for an encore. But, at the same time, its great intelligence lies in looking past the classic comic-book teenage mythmaking, towards an age where the adult world and the pressures of real life come to bear in a completely different way. Usually super-heroes seem never to age; by aging its heroes much beyond what comic-books usually propose, Logan skews more adult than most super-hero adventures, while actually reducing its VFX-displaying mutant manifestations to a bare minimum.
The result is much closer in tone to the wonders of Jeff Nichols’ misunderstood and maligned Midnight Special or to a futuristic dystopian take on Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider, propelled by a welcome attention to its cast: Jackman’s world-weariness (channeling a little bit of Jeff Bridges), his smart odd-couple pairing with Patrick Stewart (grandly understated as the dementia-stricken Professor X) and gutsy newcomer Dafne Keen (as the original angry young girl engineered to become a lethal weapon), and a star-making villain performance from Boyd Holbrook. It’s more solid than spectacular; a more than decent mid-range actioner that calls no special attention to itself — which is so rare these days that it ends up being quite a selling point.