The Marvel Superhero movies are all very much of a type; fun, witty and colourful. Within the world they have created though there is some variance in tone with their TV output. Not the Agents shows (S.H.I.E.L.D and Carter) but the Netflix ones; Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, which are grittier, more violent and, to some extent, show real people with real challenges like having to get jobs, pay bills and navigate ordinary relationships.


The X-Men universe is now demonstrating a similarly refreshing willingness to play things a little bit differently. We already had different properties like Deadpool and Legion but thus far these are no more tied to the X-Men movies than Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl is to Suicide Squad. With the release of Logan though, they have taken the series’ biggest character, disregarded the need to appeal to an all age market and put him in the middle a sweary, downbeat and brutal action drama. It feels a lot like this is where he should have been all along.


The opening scene sets out the movie’s intentions very clearly. The first word spoken is that word that you are only allowed one of in a 12A (there is more than one in this film) and then within seconds Wolverine is taking out a gang of hoods in a car park. We’ve clearly seen this character go berserk with his claws out before but we’ve never seen those claws driven into someone’s head and out the other side. This is the same Wolverine we know but now he is truly out in the wild and not restricted by the confines of playing to a family audience. Make no mistake, this is not one for the kids. People said that Rogue One was the first Star Wars movie made for adults but in terms of taking characters off the toy shelves and placing them in a film for grown ups, it has nothing on this. It’s like putting the Power Rangers in the middle of Kick Ass. Take note Warner Brothers and DC, this is how you make superhero movies darker. It’s about more than washing out all the colour and making everyone frown. 


Beyond the rough tough stuff Logan also has a pretty sombre story. The last time we saw Hugh Jackman’s Logan and Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier together on screen was at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past when history had been fixed and a lovely, rosy future lay ahead of them. Well, it seems the intervening years may not have been as they hoped as by 2029, when this movie is set, everything has turned a bit sour. They aren’t living in a mansion anymore for sure and the mutant family appears to have been significantly reduced, partly it is suggested due to Professor X’s degenerative brain disease. Instead we find Wolverine and Xavier living in poverty trying to hide from their past and the enemies it has brought them. Also it seems that rather than mutants presenting the next stage of human evolution, they have all but died out, the remaining few forced to live as feared and misunderstood second class citizens. This is a depressing progression of the theme of diversity the X-Men films have always had but sadly perhaps it’s one fitting to the current political climate.


What all of this gives us is characters with real angst. Not the comic book angst you normally get in this genre but relatable anguish about ageing and mortality, responsibility and legacy, failure and loss. Hugh Jackman’s performance, while identifiable as the man he has now been playing for seventeen years, is so much more nuanced and moving than anything we’ve seen from this, or any, superhero before. Stewart also plays the character in a manner more akin to his work with the RSC than his time running a school of gifted youngsters or Captaining the Starship Enterprise. He is no longer a man in charge of anything, least of all his faculties, reduced instead to a Lear figure not in perfect mind or like Falstaff losing his final fight against time. Shakespeare’s description of old age in Henry VI, ‘sapless weak unable limbs… in his drooping chair’ could have been written for Professor X as we see him in this film. 


The event that brings these two fallen heroes from their stupor is the arrival of 11 year old Laura, herself a mutant. Every new X-Men movie brings new powered characters but none has been more memorable than this one. I am sure I wasn’t the only one wanting this kid, played by Spanish newcomer Dafne Keen, to get her own movie by the end. It is a film debut comparable to that of Chloë Moretz as Hit Girl in more ways than one. Just as Logan in this film is introduced with a bloody tussle so too is Laura. The sight of her walking out of a shed, leaving most of the body of her attacker behind her, carrying a particular souvenir of her scrap is one that no cinema goer is going to forget in a hurry. She is not defenceless and carries on what has long been an X-Men tradition of having empowered female characters. Her relationship with Logan is reminiscent of the one he had with Rogue in his first appearance which brings a nice symmetry but their journey is very different. Young Keen does not quite steal the show, so good are the performances across the board, but she is everything you want a female in an action film to be and she’s not yet in her teens. She is Ellen Ripley, Imperator Furiosa and Leon’s Mathilda all in one little package.


Elsewhere the narrative is boosted by Stephen Merchant as you have never seen him before and Richard E. Grant as you have wanted to see him for years replacing the dandyism with danger. The thing that derails so many superhero movies; having an overblown villain to fight at the end like Apocalypse or the metal samurai at the end of the Wolverine’s last solo outing, is avoided as it seems Wolverine is his own worst enemy. 


Logan, as the title promises, focuses on the man not the walking weapon and delivers a dialled down but powerful end to this now iconic character’s story. I can not tell you what a breath of fresh air this is after the last X-Men film and if it turns out to be the last in the whole series rather than just the last Wolverine film it would be a fitting ending. It tells a simple but touching tale with good pacing and strong imagery (there is a nice moment with a couple of crossed sticks that says more about ideology, humanism and divine law in five seconds than The DaVinci Code managed in two and a half hours). If you’ve never seen an X-Men film this possibly isn’t the best place to start, not because it will confuse you but because none of the others really compare. 

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