“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dyling of the light” Dylan Thomas.
One actor playing one character for seventeen years, appearing in nine films which include three trilogies, all within the comic book genre. For Hollywood, that’s a mighty impressive record. It’s been an extraordinarily rare opportunity to watch a character develop over such a longevity, particularly in a franchise that broke the mould for the superhero genre. To be part of both a collaborative effort in the X-Men films and experience the intensive scrutiny and focus of a spin-off trilogy, is something quite unheard of.
Wolverine as a character has become iconic, overshadowing others by appearing in every single X-Men film, whether as a cameo role as seen in ‘First Class’ and in ‘Apocalypse’, or as a more prominent character. Wolverine established himself as one of the leading figures of the X-Men series and is probably the character people most commonly associate with the series next to Professor X and Magneto and Mystique. It does help that much like his character, Hugh Jackman is not only incredibly charismatic but seems to defy the laws of basic human ageing. The man is 58 but more closely resembles a man in his late 40s, thus enabling him to appear opposite both incarnations of Xavier, though he is given grey streaks in an attempt to show some sign of ageing.
From what I can gather through interviews and articles, Hugh Jackman comes across as a genuinely lovely man, incredibly talented, kind, caring, charismatic and just incredibly likeable. I have no doubt he would have eventually found his route to stardom via a different set of stairs, but Wolverine propelled Jackman’s career into what it is today. To think, Russell Crowe nearly played the character, I shudder at the thought.
Having grown up with the character as portrayed by Jackman I do feel a sense of sadness as we have supposedly come to the end of the road for Wolverine, the curtain closing one last time on a beloved character. For though Wolverine is one of the more violent and dangerous characters, he is also incredibly loving and loyal to those who he feels a connection to, whether out of love, respect or friendship, there is a careful balance to the character that Jackman always expertly navigated and one that plays out beautifully in ‘Logan’.
When ‘Logan’ was first announced, speculation was, of course, rife as to where exactly in the X-Men timeline this story would take place. Quite wisely ‘Logan’ is its own contained story, unattached to the overly complicated later narrative of the X-Men series. With any references made few and far between, and appropriately only connected to those stronger instalments of the series. ‘Logan’ is a contained story, and quite often it is this formula that creates the best films because it removes any sense of safety, and therefore increases the speculation regarding the fate of these characters. So, combined with the new R-rating, nearly anything can happen.
So, rather than playing the final number as the characters’ dance merrily over the hills, ‘Logan’ explores a brutal and unforgiving landscape of political distress, pain, exhaustion and survival. ‘Logan’ is very loosely based on the Mark Millar’s brilliant graphic novel, ‘Old Man Logan’, where the x-men are no more and the world has become a landscape of fallen heroes, with those few remaining forced into subservient roles. The film has incorporated several motives from the comic including the explained absence of the X-Men and the almost barren landscape. So, barring Stephen Merchant’s Caliban, who is unexpectedly brilliant, the story is very much focused on Wolverine, Charles and introduces the fantastic Dafne Keen as Laura, as the group embarks upon a road trip as an exceptionally dysfunctional family.
In this last adventure, Wolverine is hiding out in an abandoned factory on the Mexican border, he is old and broken, held together with alcohol and his new responsibility as the career of Charles Xavier. Charles is losing control of his powers, and as one of the most powerful telepaths in the world, this becomes extremely dangerous at times, managed only by the drugs Logan can provide. The way in which Charles’ deteriorating mental health is conveyed is not only thoroughly interesting but also allows Sir Patrick Stewart to play Charles in a totally new approach. This is the most superb and by far the most interesting version of Xavier we have seen. Stewart shows a side of Xavier that is both parts sad and angry but retains all the values of the character we admired whilst introducing a healthy dose of humour.
As the newcomer Dafne Keen is very well cast as Laura, very much embodying a much rawer Wolverine that we saw at the start of the first X-Men film. Though small in stature as a child, her steely presence and determination provide her with an air of authority to match Wolverine and those moments in which the pair team up are highly entertaining.
The villains of this superhero outing are The Reavers, a group of altered human beings, each one possessing at least one mechanical limb. In the comics, this group included characters who were half-man half-tank, granted not an overly practical alteration but they are a division of the military, thankfully though that particular character didn’t make the cut. Boyd Holbrook who is better known for his role in the Netflix drama ‘Narcos’, leads this group of mechanically altered soldiers tasked with retrieving Laura. Holbrooks is charismatic enough for the role and does play it well, his character is visually interesting and does have moments of a personality, but he is not memorable beyond his basic function.
‘Logan’ is a wonderful send off to two characters, Wolverine and Professor Charles Xavier, as both Jackman and Stewart have announced their retirement from the characters. Though I know McAvoy continues to portray his version of Professor X, these were the characters I grew up with, and so by the power and basic nature of nostalgia Jackman and Stewart will always be my Wolverine and Professor X.
The R-Rating is a certificate that has until relatively recently been rather elusive to Marvel productions. That was of course until ‘Deadpool’ arrived, ‘Deadpool’ being the first of its kind that dared fight for its adult rating to allow swearing, nudity and violence. So think less a PG ‘Avengers’ film and more a ‘Game of Thrones’ style feature in your approach to ‘Logan’. Though of course this should not be applied to every Marvel film. The film deliberately utilises its R-Rating with an opening scene depicting Wolverine confronting a gang stealing the parts from his car, and with a healthy offering of swearing, violence and mutilation, suddenly we’re finally watching the Wolverine film we all dreamed of. In many ways, I’m rather happy that this R-Rating was only applied to Wolverine in his last film, as besides the fact I personally would not have been able to watch them in the cinema, a fond memory I have of a date I once had where we saw ‘X-Men: Origins’, it feels as though something was saved for Hugh Jackman’s last send-off. Something that made the entire experience that much more special.
‘Logan’ is by far the best send-off I could have imaged for such a beloved character, a gripping narrative which is in equal measures entertaining, shocking, sad and beautiful. There is a finality to this film that brings everything to a neat and symbolic conclusion. Unlike his comic book counterpart, I do hope that more times passes before the inevitable reboot occurs. So it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye old friend, unless of course, I see you in ‘Deadpool 2’.
OVERALL **** A fitting end for his character, perhaps they could pass the mantle onto Laura, or is that too close to wishful thinking?
RECOMMENDATION – I imagine if you are going to see the film then you have done so already, if not then you will be pleased to know it’s out on DVD this week. There’s also a black & white version I am curious to watch.