In 1999, Bryan Singer made a decision that didn’t settle well with fans: he cast an unknown, one Hugh Jackman, as the Wolverine a.k.a Logan in his adaptation of X-Men. Little did the fans or Singer realise how significant a decision this was. Not only was Jackman welcomed with open arms, in response to his performance; he went on to perform the role in every subsequent X-Men film, whether as the starring protagonist, a supporting player or even for a cameo appearance to appease the fans’ desire to see Jackman bring out the claws once more.
So, one could say Jackman has been on quite the winding road in terms of bringing and keeping the character on the big screen. And this road has come to its end in James Mangold’s Logan.
Now, the immediately striking thing is the title. All previous titles have been in reference to either the X-Men or Wolverine himself. Yet this title adopts his human moniker. This is quite telling: Logan isn’t a superhero film in the traditional sense. Gone are the expansive, effects-driven action sequences. Gone are the over-the-top villains and their apocalyptic goals. Instead, we have a stripped-down, human story that focuses on Jackman’s character at the end of his voyage, and the result is one that proves to not only be a fine swansong for Hugh Jackman in the role, but also as a demonstration of the brilliance of ambitious Hollywood filmmaking.
What is the brilliance of this ambitious Hollywood filmmaking? The fact that returning director James Mangold – the man behind 2013’s The Wolverine – embeds a moral code within the trappings of this extraordinary character study. Following Logan, in his care of a dementia-riddled Xavier, struggling to maintain a job as a limo driver, Mangold shows us a hero stripped of his aura of sheen and heroic sensibility. What makes this underlying message all the more powerful is the genre that Mangold evokes quite indiscreetly: The Western, a genre that once flourished with huge success, yet fell back into obscurity. Bringing Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and John Ford’s My Darling Clementine to mind, Logan wishes to explore the anti-hero, as seen in these westerns, trying to attain a greater value to his life, to reintegrate into society in some way. This opportunity comes in the form of Laura, played by Dafne Keen. A young girl, finding her way into Logan’s path for reasons I’ll leave unspoiled, she represents the youthful redemption to Logan, a promise of a more human life, something stripped from him as a result of his mutated immortality.
This analysis introduces a plethora of senses and significances: age, mortality, morality and the reason for being in the world. These seem to be things that you’d expect to find tackled in a Terrence Malick film, with intense, symbolic imagery and grand visual scope. Yet Mangold refuses this method. In keeping with the Western roots, his film presents these themes with superior subtlety, appearing only as a result of the ensuing drama and action that unfolds. Nothing is on-the-nose: everything can be read a certain way. Mangold respects the viewer, and the film fan, providing crowd-pleasing moments that serve the thematic undercurrent of the movie.
Consider, for example, the R rating. Now, fans have clamoured for a violent depiction of Wolverine for some time now: how can a man with metal claws not produce such a ballet of savagery? But, rather than appearing gratuitous, Mangold uses it in much the same way as Eastwood does in Unforgiven: Logan is tired, worn-out, alienated and thus allows his mutant side to take hold and violently dispatch all those around him. But, while these moments are fist-pumping for sure, it’s the human moments that really shine with regards to delicacy with which Mangold handles the film. The director crafts a real beauty in the personal sequences, as we see these extravagant comic-book creations engage in relevant conversation. Jackman, Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen handle these moments with adept intricacy, using expression, body language and even a number of instances of quiet to seethe that raw humanity into the narrative. All these elements, therefore, are offset quite unexpectedly with the action beats, made all the more meaningful as we so often see Logan contesting in shockingly brutal fights, and to be introduced to a deeper side of this inherently ferocious character is a profound sleight of hand in editing and narrative pacing.
This is what makes Mangold’s film so special. Logan doesn’t wish to send off Hugh Jackman with a bang: instead, it wants to allow us to ruminate, to cherish, to cry and to cheer. We embrace the humanity of these characters because we see elements of them within us, rather than other superhero films where nothing relatable can be found. To allow us to reflect on our own lives, through the story of a character and a performance so beloved to us, is a stroke of genius and must be commended.