“Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.” ~ Logan
“Charles Xavier, the world famous mutant octagenarian.” ~ Donald Pierce
“Actually, I’m a nonagenarian.” ~ Charles Xavier
“She is not my daughter, but I love her. You may not love her, but she is your daughter. Please, help her.” ~ Gabriela
“I have nightmares. People hurt me.” ~ Laura
“Beware of the light.” ~ Caliban
“See, you know who I am.” ~ Logan
“I always know who you are, I just sometimes don’t recognize you.” ~ Charles Xavier
The simply titled Logan brings things full circle for two longtime members of the X-Men franchise. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, who have played the characters Wolverine and Charles Xavier off and on since the first Bryan Singer adaptation in 2000, give their final performances in those roles in this film, which mixes together comic book sources with dystopian elements and what ends up feeling very much like a Western. The result is a violent, stark, but tremendously effective film, one that brings out the best in both actors.
It’s the year 2029. We meet the former X-Man Logan (Jackman), who’s scratching out a living driving a limo in Texas. He’s looking older, with grey in his hair and beard, and his healing factor seems to be failing him. Logan is busy drinking himself into oblivion when he’s not driving people around. Every few days he heads south of the border into Mexico, where his mentor Charles Xavier (Stewart) is isolated at a wreck of a place in the middle of nowhere. Professor X is in the care of one of the last mutants, Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino with tracking abilities and a profound aversion to sunlight. Xavier’s ninety now, long past his days of teaching mutants how to use their powers. He’s ravaged by dementia that’s barely controlled by medication, and his occasional seizures can wreck havoc on those around him- a drawback of the world’s most powerful telepathic mind under the effects of age.
A woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), approaches Logan for help for the girl (Dafne Keen) in her custody. She wants him to take them to a place in North Dakota. He also meets Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), an enforcer and cybernetically enhanced field leader for a research facility called Transigen. Pierce leads a group of black ops men called Reavers, and answers to the project head, Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant). He’s looking for Gabriela and the girl, Laura, asking Logan for help, but Logan refuses. Soon, the fate of the girl becomes critical for Logan, Xavier, and Pierce and his associates.
The narrative has several sources. James Mangold, the director, devised the story, collaborating with Scott Frank and Michael Green on the screenplay. Their story weaves together elements of the X-Men comic history while carving its own distinct path. A storyline called Old Man Logan is one element- an arc about an alternate reality future Logan whose healing factor has depleted, and who finds himself undertaking a hazardous journey in a dark future. While the sense of a journey and an older broken down Logan has common traits with that storyline, the film’s narrative is better written (the writer of that particular arc in the comics tends to be rather mediocre), and the future is not so far flung in the movie as it is in the source story. Another element from the X-mythos is Pierce himself, a member of the Hellfire Club in the comics, but inhabiting a different place in the film world. He is, however, partially cybernetic, which fits with his comics counterpart.
There are other nods towards the comics throughout, in contrasting ways. The way Caliban is presented, for instance, has similarities and differences- he looks more, well, disfigured in the comics, but the albino aspect of the character is retained, and in the film, he’s more thoughtful and articulate than the comics version. We also get hints of what might come to be called the New Mutants as the story goes along.
And the story also brings across a vital character, introducing Laura into the mix. Known to the project that created her as X-23, the character has been in the comics for years now, initially as a feral gender reversed clone of Logan. These days she’s taken up the mantle of Wolverine himself, as Logan’s dead (the comics version is the version I tend to refer to as the Drunken Hobbit). The parallels between comics and film in terms of her character tend to run close- we first see her as a sullen, quiet girl with a thousand yard stare who proves to be ferocious in battle.
Mangold already has credentials in the X-Men franchise, having had directed the previous solo film, The Wolverine, which featured Logan in Japan. His director’s style works very well here, as he tells a story that feels very much grounded in reality, one that takes on the tone of a Western. There are the other influences visible here and there- we get the sense of a near future in which things have gone wrong, something that’s common to dystopian themes. And we get some nods towards such a sci- fi future in terms of the technology we see- driverless trucks, vastly oversized farm equipment that seem to drive themselves, a limo that seems a few years ahead of our time, or airborne drones.
And yet Mangold’s film plays very much more like a Western, with clear differences between good and evil, the notion of a broken down former hero rising to the occasion for a good cause, and the interplay of humanity and the land. We get landscapes through the film that wouldn’t be out of place in a John Ford film. The production was done on location around Lousiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico (elements of which fill in for the wild reaches of North Dakota, while also doubling for Texas and Mexico). Mangold makes use of the landscape as the film goes along- particularly in the latter half- but his filming style lends itself well to the physical action. Fights are tightly focused, and yet allow you to keep track of things as a viewer. They’re also violent- this film has earned its R rating, and yet the story requires it. The same applies to chases, in cars or on foot, as the film goes along. The director tightly focuses things, and yet it doesn’t feel claustrophobic or shaky as some action directors would be inclined to try.
The cast are all well chosen in their roles. Richard E. Grant is one of those marvellous character actors you’ve seen in many a film or television project. The British actor sometimes might go for eccentricity in a character, but this time he plays his role as cool and calculating. Rice is amoral but brilliant, a man who has a previous connection to the X-Men films (we learn that Logan killed his father during his cameo in X-Men Apocalypse, which Doctor Rice doesn’t seem that broken up about). He’s in charge of what is basically the near future version of the Weapon X program, cares more for the notion of controlling and making use of a mutant as a weapon than any ethical concern. Rice is a cold blooded character, and Grant gives him a calm, steady presence.
Boyd Holbrook is well cast as Pierce, a long time nemesis to the X-Men in the comics as a member of the Hellfire Club, but making his first appearance in the film world. The actor played Cap Hatfield, one of the Hatfield sons, in the Hatfields & McCoys miniseries from a few years back, which I didn’t know until after I’d seen the movie. His Pierce is different from the comics version, working instead as a chief of security for a rather nefarious organization, though his cybernetic prosthetic arm is a good nod to his comics roots. Pierce is arrogant but capable as a leader of men, a dirtbag from the moment we first meet him (generally speaking, when you meet someone who likes wearing colour tinted sunglasses, odds are he will end up being a complete bloody prick of the first order- I say that with the benefit of personal experience). Holbrook gives the character a relentless and calculating energy that combines to make him a formidable adversary.
Stephen Merchant is very well cast as Caliban, a character I’ve never particularly liked in the comics. We saw the character briefly in X-Men Apocalypse, played by another actor, but this is a fresh take on the character. Caliban has an odd look to him, being an albino, one forced to seriously cover up if he wants to step out during the day. And yet Merchant gives the character a thoughtful, sympathetic quality, giving him heart. We empathize with him, and he can stand up to Logan in early conversations. Where Logan seems content to drink himself into a grave, Caliban is mindful of responsibilities, and Merchant brings that across in his performance.
Dafne Keen is a revelation as Laura, aka X-23, a product of a program meant to weaponize mutant power. Through the first half of the film, she’s largely mute as the eleven year old bundle of ferocious power (with adamantium claws to match). Yet as mute as she is, the character’s expressiveness really works well- that thousand yard stare brings an intimidating quality to it, and Laura seems very aware of the world around her. Keen brings across the sense of a girl who’s not socialized that well, who’s feral at times, through that first half of the film. When she finally starts speaking, a mix of English and Spanish, it almost seems like she won’t shut up. She also plays the character with a sense of curiosity, loyalty... and outright stubbornness (which she comes by honestly). Watching Laura emerge from her proverbial shell, and seeing her change through the narrative of the film, is a great treat, and the actress conveys that. There’s a moment late in the film, in her performance, that will break your heart.
This is the last take for Patrick Stewart in a role he’s become quite well known for (though we might not be done with the younger version of the character as played by James McAvoy). His Charles Xavier is a broken man when we first find him here, his mind under the ravages of age, his telepathic abilities proving to be dangerous under the effects of a seizure. He speaks of voices and we wonder along with Logan if it’s nothing more than the dementia we find him in. When he’s himself, thanks to the medication Logan brings him, he’s filled with regret over an incident hinted at in the film. His X-Men are lost, and Xavier seems to be the reason for it. Stewart gives the role a fragility, looking older than his years, but also gives the character a sense of purpose. Hope has always been a driving force for Charles, and he finds it in a mute girl who’s quite like one of his X-Men. Stewart’s performance is powerful and poignant, a fitting send off for the actor to finish with.
Jackman has also said this would be his final time playing Logan. This is his ninth appearance as the character, counting his cameo appearances in X-Men First Class and X-Men Apocalypse. In one way or another, Jackman has always brought out the best in the character. I can’t stand the comics version of Logan, a short of stature ugly drunkard, but Jackman’s interpretation renders him well. Yes, he’s the best he is at what he does (which is pretty ugly, killing people with reckless abandon), but Jackman has tended to portray him as a broken man in many ways, always bringing new elements to that in different ways as the films have gone along. This has Logan as broken down beyond the emotional- his healing factor is failing him, so wounds don’t heal in the same way they had before. The character’s nearly two hundred years old when you factor in his origins from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, some of which got retconned by the events of X-Men Days Of Future Past, and time is starting to catch up with him. He’s not the fresh faced cranky mutant we met in X-Men back in 2000, but instead looks to be in his late fifties, worn down by life, limping and drinking his way into the grave.
The actor actually gets double duty in the film, playing X-24, a clone of himself, with none of the conscience and all of the viciousness, a stark contrast to the man Logan has become over time, which adds another interesting element to where the actor takes things. Logan is reluctant to put himself back out there on the line in this story, prodded more or less by his former mentor, and his own sense of guilt more or less gets the better of him. Jackman has mixed together a sense of ferociousness throughout his history with the character, combining it with a basic sense of responsibility and empathy- he does have a conscience, even if he spends a considerable amount of his time slashing and impaling gun toting henchmen. Things like that have always made his take on Logan a compelling one, and this final spin at the character is the actor’s best interpretation of the iconic role. Logan is haunted, grouchy, emotionally shattered, wants to withdraw from the world, and yet still rises to do the right thing.
Logan mixes together the world of the comic book adaptation with science fiction dystopia before weaving strong influences of the film western into its narrative. It’s ferocious at times, thoughtful and eloquent at other times, and violent. It gives us formidable villains, calculating and treacherous in their ways, all the more so perhaps because they don’t have powers such as those wielded by Magneto. The film introduces a young actress who makes a pivotal role her own, impressing the audience all the way and ultimately moving us deeply. And it gives two actors one last go at two iconic roles they’ve gotten to know very well indeed, and both actors make the most of it, giving poignant and powerful performances as they go along.