From the very start, Logan is on a mission to prove it is absolutely not a film for children. By opening with a bloodthirsty and f-word strewn encounter with murderous car thieves, director James Mangold seems determined to underline that despite two previous relatively bland and indifferent solo Wolverine outings, this one really is going to stand out as an adult-orientated superhero movie.
But it isn’t only in the graphic violence department that Logan delivers. Thematically this is a starker, stripped back, mature piece of work that introduces us to an older and more haggard Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) coming to terms with his own mortality. Set at least twelve years in the future (the precise year is unclear), Logan earns a living driving a limo near the Mexican border whilst secretly caring for an aged Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose incredible powers have become dangerous due to the ravages of old age. Logan and Charles also live with an albino mutant called Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and together they bicker and complain about each other, painfully aware that their lives are barely hanging on by a thread. Although the precise details are not made clear, the other X-Men have been mysteriously wiped out, forcing Logan and his companions to live off the grid. However, when a young girl mutant called Laura (Dafne Keen) escapes from a nasty experimental government facility and leads her captors to Logan and his companions, they are forced to go on the run, despite Logan’s extreme reluctance to have anything to do with the girl.
Logan is truly remarkable. Radically different from any other superhero movie to date (at least, within the X-Men series and the broader, current glut of Marvel and DC offerings), it feels more like a western, deliberately echoing the likes of Shane (which we see clips of in one scene) with hints of Mad Max. It is a more reflective, melancholy, elegiac piece that gives room for the characters to breathe and develop properly, allowing the excellent performances to shine. Dafne Keen, one of the best child actors I have seen in a while, is particularly brilliant in her near wordless turn. There is also some decent support from Richard E Grant and Boyd Holbrook as villain and sidekick respectively, each thoroughly reprehensible and by necessity the only characters in the film who aren’t developed in three dimensions. In the end however, this is Hugh Jackman’s film, and his tremendous performance elevates what is already a first-rate superhero picture into what might one day be considered a classic of the genre.
Although the blood, gore and f-bombs fly thick and fast, and there is plenty of superhero action when Scott Frank’s superb script calls for it, it is in the quieter moments that Logan really excels. The awkwardness of Logan reluctantly helping Charles use the toilet adds far more reality than one generally expects in a comic book movie; and the fantasy of comic books is cleverly touched upon in the neat-but-not-too-meta scene where Logan explains to Laura that X-Men comics are nonsense, and only very slightly based on what really happened. A sequence where a kindly family shows Logan, Charles and Laura hospitality is genuinely poignant, and the finale had far more redemptive emotional heft than I could possibly have expected. I even confess that I had a tear in my eye.
James Mangold has helmed a few very good, often underrated films in his career (including Copland, Walk the Line and the actually pretty good remake of 3:10 to Yuma) but Logan just might be his masterpiece. Certainly it stands alone and apart from every other superhero movie ever made and deserves to be acclaimed on its own terms as a violent but moving, deeply satisfying experience.