A violent, gritty, soulful tribute to the character behind so much of this franchise's enduring popularity.
"Joey, there's no living with...with a killing" explains Alan Ladd's character in the 1953 cowboy epic Shane. "There's no going back from it. Right or wrong, it's a brand, a brand that sticks. There's no going back. Now you run on home to your mother and tell her...tell her everything's alright, and there aren't any more guns in the valley".
Twice in Logan we hear this same passage, and it sets the theme for the entire film. Hugh Jackman's Logan, aka Wolverine, is one of modern cinema's greatest tortured souls: a near-invincible soldier of fortune forever seeking memories of better days lost to amnesia, whilst drinking to forget the ones even amnesia refuses to ensnare. Time has been no friend to the man unburdened by it, with lovers long since dead and buried, friends gone the same way, and no new mutants, we learn, born for the past twenty five years. Even his own body is at last breaking down, like an old turbine with grinding parts and blunt, malfunctioning blades. The immortal man is somehow dying, and he can't welcome it quickly enough.
If it's not already obvious, Logan represents something of a seismic shift for the X-Men franchise – a billion dollar film series that has, until now, consisted largely of family-friendly crowd-pleasers. Ultra-violent and with Scorsese level foul language, Logan at long last unleashes the true, brutal fury of the eponymous beast whose gruesome deeds have, for the past seventeen years, only ever been teased out or implied. Limbs are severed and skulls are skewered with bloody repetition, yet neither the frequency nor the intensity of the violence ever feels gratuitous. This is a dark, gritty and yet soulful production that finally honours the character behind so much of the X-Men saga's enduring popularity.
In the lead roll, Jackman imbues Logan with all the rage, self-loathing and pain befitting a man who's literally seen it all. With greying hair and a weathered face hidden beneath a wild, bushy beard, the actor limps and heaves his way through every scene with palpable discomfort. Alongside him, Patrick Stewart returns as the wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Xavier, now a prisoner to his own failing (yet terrifyingly powerful) mind, the implications of which are brilliantly woven into the script. Stephen Merchant, too, joins the franchise in a wonderfully soulful turn, whilst the film's villains are this time embodied by Narcos' Boyd Holbrook and the ever-reliable Richard E Grant.
Then, finally, there's newcomer Dafne Keen as a young mutant named Laura, and if you've seen the film's trailer you'll likely have already guessed her connection to both this story and its key characters. In the interest of preserving what surprises we can, the less said about Keen the better, except to note that her performance is outstanding and her scenes with Jackman ground the film in a deeply personal way.
This is a bold offering from director James Mangold and an extraordinary conclusion to an otherwise ho-hum trilogy of Wolverine-centric spinoffs (see also: X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine). In an age of unending sequels and computer-generated chaos, Logan is a timely reminder that for all of their spectacle, the best superhero films can begin and end with human-driven stories.