Director: James Mangold
Running Time: 137 Minutes
*This review contains spoilers*
*This review contains one instance of expletives in quotation*
It has almost been twenty years since the X-Men were introduce to the silver screen through the eponymous film, X-Men, in 2000. During these years, children have rooted through their houses in search of objects to fashion into visors so that they could become Cyclops, adults have laid in bed waiting for Professor X to reach out to them through Cerebro, and internet searches for Hugh Jackman running topless across beaches has increased exponentially to the point that it is some surprise that he wasn’t booked for the remake of Baywatch (2017).
Despite the appreciation for the students of the Xavier Institute, and the actors that play them, the box office success of the franchise could be described as inconsistent. X-Men: First Class (2011) earned a worldwide total of $353 million, whereas X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) raised expectations by turning over $750 million – the highest grossing X-Men film aside from Deadpool (2016) – before falling once more when X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) raked in a comparatively lower $543 million. For me, one of the reasons for the varied successes of the film franchise has been the result of Marvel’s creative decision to orient a majority of their narratives around the Wolverine, whilst neglecting the rich and dynamic backstories of the multitude of mutants at their disposal in the comic’s canon. Even those mutants that appear alongside ‘Weapon X’ are subject to recasting time and time again – One needs only to think of the amount of times that we have seen the cast change to accommodate new portrayals of Beast, Cyclops, or Mystique.
The Wolverine’s dominance throughout the first seven films left me in some doubt of how the spin-off films, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Wolverine (2013), could offer the viewer something aside from the focus of the existing discography. Unfortunately, this was an attitude that was brought forward when Logan (2017), the third installment of Wolverine films, was released in March and discouraged me from viewing the film until reviews began to emerge singing the praises of Mangold’s direction and the dark tone of the narrative.
Considering the amount of hours on tape that demonstrate the range of costumes available to the X-Men; the fight scenes that convince us that adamantium claws are not to be trifled with, and the discarded cigars and empty bottles that reveal how manly the ‘bubmeister’ is, deciding to form the plot of Logan from the comic series ‘Old Man Logan’ was a refreshing directional change.
Logan is set in the near-distant future; nearly all mutants are gone, aside from a few instances of speciation or inorganic genesis. Logan (Jackman) is turning grey and has become disillusioned with the idea of who he once was, Charles Xavier (Stewart) is an ailing old man living with a degenerative condition, and there are no encouraging X’s carved into the background. Logan, along with Caliban (Merchant), a light sensitive tracker, are responsible for caring for Charles’ degenerative condition and the seismic fallout of the disintegration of the most powerful mind on Earth. For the most part, this is the premise of the film. Hiding on abandoned property in the Mexican border, Logan works as a driver-for-hire to secure Charles the medicine he needs on the black market. It is an odd sight to witness the Wolverine driving around young teens on their prom nights in order to maintain enough of a dose to keep the Professor stable and prevent his seizure-like episodes, whilst living in denial of his own disease.
Despite Caliban and Logan’s attempts to remove themselves from public detection and violence, save an episode of Logan brutally dispatching a gang of Chicano thugs that attempted to execute him, the peace of retirement that they crave continues to evade them. It is revealed that Xavier has been communicating with a mutant, irrespective of Logan’s belief that there are no more mutants remaining. When Logan reluctantly decides to take a job from Gabriela (Rodriguez), a scientist working at Transigen on the Weapon X programme, posing as an impoverished mother, he agrees to drive her to the Mexican border in exchange for enough money to purchase Charles’ treatment for weeks to come. However, Logan quickly discovers that Pierce (Holbrook), leading the Reavers, is following his every move in order to eliminate Laura, a loose end in the weapon project.
Excluding Deadpool, the film is the first of the X-Men series to earn an ‘R’ rating in the United States. For all of the attempts to convince the viewer of the destructive capabilities of Wolverine’s claws, Logan allows us to see them for all their potential. The violence is brutal as claws tear through clothes, pierce flesh, and erupt through bones. For a moment, the viewer may feel a little uncomfortable with the degree of carnage shown on screen, but this is soon replaced with an understanding and respect of the impression that Marvel has tried to convey with the Wolverine throughout its franchise. The stunning realism, such as it is when dealing with Edward Scissorhand’s cousin, takes the viewer’s breath away and the characterisation of the mutants allows you to view them as both painfully humanized and inhumanly dangerous. Even Charles Xavier, a man who has long moved past the point of real barbarity, breaks the audience’s heart; watching a man slowly lose the mind that he once cherished and enter into panicked frenzies whilst shouting ‘Fuck off Logan’ hits the viewer in his nostalgia gland.
The film is really a demonstration of the pain, desolation, and decline of the mutant journey through the film universe. Though it has been reported that there are going to be three new X-Men films in 2018, Logan is placed right at the end of all their journeys as a snapshot into the future of the new world; a world that could not accommodate human and mutant peacefully, and would prefer an engineered Wolverine, X-24 – the primary nemesis of Logan in the latter half of the film – to the real thing. Standing in the dust of New Mexico, caring for a degenerating Charles, the viewer can’t help but see beyond the expert direction of James Mangold in creating a film that marries supreme violence with a longing sense of pain, into a world that is concluded for the mutants that we have known and loved.
If ever there was a message of hope in this film, it would be in the survival of Laura (X-23) and her reunion with the mutants that she lived with at the Transigen laboratory. A host of new mutants, biologically engineered to become human weapons but, ultimately, still children wanting to be free and play and live. It is a bitter pill to swallow accepting the grief of losing James Howlett, but laced with sweetness in knowing that through these children, there could be a future for the mutants.
For those that found Logan a rewarding cinematic experience, the option to watch the film with a monochromatic filter is also possible. Logan: Noir is a re-release of the original film viewed through a black and white filter. On the surface level this might appear as a cheap addition, but viewing the film from a different perspective – one that suits the dark content – can reveal an extra narrative quality to the movie beyond the first watch.