Set in a dusty, sandy Mexican border area in 2029, mutant Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is no longer as invulnerable as he used to be. In a world where few mutants currently exist, Logan works as a limo driver whilst also looking after the now frail and feeble-minded Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is into his 90s and whose psychic abilities are made erratic and dangerous due to increased dementia. Logan is aided somewhat by albino-looking mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Logan is approached to escort a former nurse and an 11 year-old girl (Dafne Keen) to safety, as they’re being hunted by some nasties. The girl, however is no mere girl. She’s a mutant genetically engineered from Logan’s own DNA. Basically, she’s his daughter, and Professor X in a lucid moment guilt trips him into protecting her. The villains are a scientist played by Richard E. Grant, and his henchman played by Boyd Holbrook. Eriq La Salle plays an innocent homesteader caught up in the mayhem.
For those who aren’t already aware, I’m not a fan of the “X-Men” film franchise. In fact, my two favourites in the series are the reviled “The Last Stand” and the rebooted “X-Men: First Class”. Neither of the previous “Wolverine” spin-offs did much for me, either. So the further this 2017 James Mangold (“Walk the Line”, “Identity”, “The Wolverine”) flick could get away from playing like an “X-Men” flick, the better it was going to work for me. Playing rather like a graphic novel or fan-made film that repurposes familiar characters onto a cinephile template of hardened, violent anti-hero references. It’s “Wolverine” meets “Mad Max” with a touch of “Gran Torino” (And a couple of strong connections to the slightly overrated western “Shane”). You’ve definitely never seen an “X-Men” movie this lean, mean, violent, or…realistic. It’s not as grim or dour as say “Death Wish”, as Mangold and his co-writers Scott Frank (“Get Shorty”, “Minority Report”) and Michael Green (the unfairly maligned “Green Lantern”) still want the audience to enjoy themselves. But this ain’t no PG-13, bloodless affair nor is it overstuffed with characters like any of the previous films in the unwieldy franchise.
I was worried Mangold wouldn’t get the balance right and it’d either be just another “X-Men” snoozer or he’d go too far in the other direction and I’d find it off-putting. He gets it right, and if you have a connection to these characters you’ll like this film even more than I did. That’s probably the only reason I didn’t love this film…I have no love for these characters. However, I’m not going to deny the pleasures of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (AKA Logan, and indeed calling the film “Logan” instead of Wolverine was the right move) slicing the fuck out of some gangbangers. Wolverine is, however, somewhat vulnerable this time out. His self-healing ability isn’t as effective as in previous films. Jackman probably had the time of his life making this film, though given the nature of the character he can’t let any of that joy appear on his face. The interesting thing about Jackman’s grizzled performance here is that even though this doesn’t play much like an “X-Men” film at all, it still feels like a logical transition for the character to have made over the years. So if you do think of it as an “X-Men” film, it makes sense. You don’t have to look at it that way, though. Enough effort is made to make this clearly into its own standalone thing, which also helps me since I don’t always enjoy the comic book films that try for ‘realism’ and ‘grit’, but since this is divorced somewhat from the typical comic book film, I was able to just go with it. I also don’t quite think it’s a ‘real world’ comic book film anyway, just that they’ve taken comic book characters out of their world and placed them into a different, grittier cinematic landscape. The fact that’s it’s probably going to be a singular spin-off helps.
Poor Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is in even worse shape in this somewhat repurposed interpretation. The benevolent headmasterly telepathic mutant has not only aged here, but has also become physically frail and feeble-minded. The latter has excruciating effects on those around him as well, as he’s no longer fully in control of his superpowers. Dementia is bad enough for humans, but when you’ve got extraordinary powers? Ouch. It’s a very, very sad interpretation of the character and series fans I have no doubt will be quite affected by his woeful state here. So while I was able to enjoy the film because I’m not a fan of the franchise, at the same time I think to truly love this film you probably do need to have a connection with the characters as they’ve been painted before.
I must admit I wished Logan drove a GTO or a Mustang (Shelby Super Snake like the one Ethan Hawke drives in the underrated “Getaway” perhaps?). He drives a limo in this, and it’s a cute idea that isn’t as helpful to the action as you’d like. A missed opportunity there I think. I also didn’t remotely care for the villainous performances by the typecast Boyd Holbrook (seriously, he needs to branch out) and a disappointingly dull Richard E. Grant. That’s a shame, because villains really are important and I don’t think this franchise has been especially blessed with them over the years. There is one villainous character who works well, but I won’t outright name them except to say if you’ve seen “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” you may be ahead of the game a bit. On the plus side Stephen Merchant gives an interesting performance as another mutant, only recognisable here by his height and accent. Young Dafne Keen certainly makes an impression as basically a mini-Wolverine. Her powers in full-flight are violent fun to watch, and given how young the character is, if we ever saw her in more films one can only imagine just how damn unstoppable she’d be. I also thought it both sad and funny that Logan keeps having to claw the shit out of people just to get Professor X to take his pills. The film has also been really well-shot by cinematographer John Mathieson (“Gladiator”, “Brighton Rock”, “47 Ronin”), with the desert settings giving off a real George Miller (“Mad Max”, “Mad Max: Fury Road”) vibe and the lighting at times recalling Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent “Near Dark”, especially during the film’s “Superman IV” moment (You’ll know it when you see it). This may not be my kind of comic book film (1978’s “Superman” is the template for me and also the greatest film of its kind to date), but on the other hand it might just be my kind of “X-Men” movie.
I liked this film. It’s interesting and it takes characters out of a world I didn’t much care for (which works both for and against the film, weirdly) and places them into a world more personally appealing to me. It’s like non-slash Fan Fiction in a way, and on that level it’s fun, and certainly the most entertaining “X-Men” film to date. I enjoyed its willingness to go darker and more violent than pretty much any other Marvel film before it. Something tells me that those of you more greatly invested in these characters to begin with will love this film to pieces. I enjoyed it. It’s interesting, violent, entertaining, and even a little sad. Like “Watchmen” I wouldn’t want every film to be like this, but this one works. It’s just a shame that the villains are so dull, or else this might’ve been even better.