dir: James Mangold
Goddamn that was a violent film. And not in a jokey-comedic-comic-book way. This is violent in a gruesome ‘grown-up’ way, in order to disabuse us of any notion that this flick about Wolverine is going to be like any of the other multitude of X-Men or Marvel movies birthed and disgorged upon this unsuspecting but entirely too willing world.
And, with that as their objective, they totally succeeded. This is so grimly violent, with such consequences for the main characters, that there’s no walking away from this with a giggle and a shrug.
The thing is, though, while it might be ‘different’ from other comic book based flicks, it’s pretty much a standard action flick, just with no editing tricks to mask the violence. There might be reviews that make profound statements like “Logan deconstructs the action / superhero film like no other” or that it’s a meditation on mortality or whatever, but I am here to reassure you that this is pretty much like every action flick ever made, just with more people using adamantium claws to kill a shitload of people instead of guns.
Initially I started listing all the flicks that have this exact same premise, both the sublime and the ridiculous, including at least five Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, but then instead I realised it resonates more if you just simplify it this way: the flick is about an older guy who’s an alcoholic who’s had bad shit happen to people he cares about in the past. He reluctantly has to protect some younger person who makes him appreciate life again and he has to represent his new lease on life by killing a bunch of bad guys.
In other words, don’t tell me the names of the action flicks that have this premise: tell me the ones (that aren’t about avenging the killing of your wife/children/dog) that don’t. Logan is practically the premise of every action movie ever made.
Of course the devil is in the details, just as the angels are in the architecture, and it’s not about the premise, it’s about the execution. Logan is a very well made version of this kind of story, with a clarity and brutality to the action that really affects how you feel about these characters that we’ve seen in so many movies in the same roles.
It’s hard to know whether it’s because this is the ninth installment in this deathless franchise, and so the ninth (and most likely last) time we’re going to see these actors playing these characters that it feels more meaningful, or whether the stuff that happens to them is what’s so affecting.
For so many years we’ve seen Wolverine basically get torn, spindled and mutilated, and have the damage virtually disappear within seconds as he kills his enemies. We’ve seen Charles Xavier (Sir Lord Patrick Stewart the Magnificent), wheelchair bound but immensely powerful and even more immensely wise. We’ve also seen James McAvoy play the role but who cares about that bath-taking tooth-brusher.
We’ve never, however, seen Professor X screaming abuse and profanity like a senile old coot at the only people left alive to look after him. And Logan himself not only doesn’t instantly heal due to his healing factor: he’s pretty much like any old jerk in his 60s: covered in scars, aching all over and probably smelling like a cross between a casserole and an ashtray. And that’s what we get here.
There is no team of people around him fulfilling their roles in a “there’s no I in teamwork” way, there’s just him. And, he just wants to die, he really just wants to die. He’s waiting for Xavier to die, probably, and then he’s going to take himself out.
But hark! What’s that? Is there a young girl who needs taking care of? Grumble grumble grumble okay, I’ll take care of her, says crusty curmudgeonly old mutant, one last time.
The circumstances of the girl’s, um, creation are grimmer than almost anything else these flicks have conjured thus far. I mean, sure, most of the flicks deal with themes of genocide, whether it’s humans planning on exterminating all the normals, or vice versa, and Days of Future Past conjured an alternate history where the Sentinels and the normals nearly won, only for a collective sigh of relief to be heard across the land as the timeline was changed through Wolverine’s sterling efforts in the 1970s.
But in this one, not only have the mutants mostly been killed or died off, with no new ones being born, the normal jerks are basically creating them (ie. children) under lab conditions and killing them whenever they get bored with them. Laura (Dafne Keen) is one such child, but, the conceit is, since they used Logan’s DNA to create her, well I guess she’s his daughter.
That’s what everyone keeps telling him. Even, you know, people with powerful science knowledge who would otherwise point out “Uh, well actually…”
So when they first label her as his daughter, he’s all angrily like “NO SHE ISN’T”, and each subsequent time he’s even angrier and shoutier and more entrenched in denial, and everyone else is like “Is too” despite the fact that she clearly isn’t. But the thing is, who cares. The most important thing is that she and Logan bond over their perilous circumstances and their shared love of violently killing people while growling as loud as mutantly possible.
Goddamn do they growl a lot. Every time they sink their claws into someone’s face, or cut off someone’s limbs in an acrobatic fashion, they punctuate each evisceration with more grunting that a women’s tennis final. It’s kinda thrilling and terrifying, as I guess it should be.
I mean, Jackman’s been growling, glowering and grunting like a champ for decades, and even he finds a new higher enraged register in which to do it all over again, only with more volume and rage. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that he’s actually meant to be the hero.
The villains are fairly faceless and unmemorable except for two of them, one of them played so oleaginously by Richard E. Grant , but then we probably don’t want to get to know the victims before they got sliced and diced, did we? After all, they had hopes and dreams too; they might be mercenaries and such willing to murder men, women and children, but they probably have families of their own, kids needing braces, lawns that need mowing, aspirations, all sorts of aspirations.
And now they’ve got nothing, because Wolverine or Little Girl Wolverine stuck their claws through their brains. The extremity of the violence, to me, doesn’t seem to be just for its own sake. And it’s not done to ‘hilarious’ effect like in Deadpool just for a laugh. It’s meant to be wearying, it’s meant to be horrible, because Logan rightly tries to impart to Laura (as far as I know, since it’s thankfully not applicable to my life), each death leaves a mark upon his soul, even if he never knows the people or thinks of them specifically again, even when it was justified, all those deaths have damaged him permanently even when his healing factor was working properly. He is poisoned, yes, but we are meant to think it is from his life of violence, a life that he wants to be done with, a life that should have gone differently.
I don’t know whether it really hangs together that well. That it’s better than the other Wolverine flicks isn’t saying that much, because the bar was set so incredibly low. For anyone who watched all eight episodes of a certain Netflix series set in the 1980s with a powerful girl mutant, much of the way they characterise Laura is pretty much straight out of the Eleven playbook (though both characters are great). There’s an interlude with a normal, decent farming family that goes horribly wrong which didn’t really do that much, considering how it ends, than give us more people for Wolverine, Lil’ Wolverine and some other guy who looks a hell of a lot like a younger Hugh Jackman to kill, but then there was already a whole bunch of people to kill, and we didn’t need more, thanks.
I know that Jackman is basically playing a louder and far angrier version of Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, but considering how vicious he is to the people around him, there isn’t really much to like about him in this one. Maybe it’s a good thing, I don’t know, maybe he’s secretly the villain until he isn’t. Still, when he says to the girl “Bad shit happens to the people I care about”, and she says “Well I should be fine, then”, I have to admit I choked up a bit.
Other than that, it’s a decent send-off for a character that’s been banging around for long enough that they should just let him retire. They won’t, because there’s too much money involved, but at least Hugh Jackman can go off and spend more time with his kids or something.
Logan: An old guy kills a lot of younger people, and we’re cool with that, because ‘millennials’ suck, yeah?
7 times it’s hard to get the image of claws in people’s faces out of my head out of 10
“There's no living with a killing. There's no going back from it. Right or wrong, it's a brand, a brand that sticks. There's no going back.” - Logan