Hugh Jackman’s final Wolverine adventure is a problematic, but admirable, farewell to cinema’s greatest comic-book hero.
Director James Mangold is responsible for the greatest depiction of Wolverine ever put to film. Yes, we’re referring to the 108-second “Logan | Official Trailer 1” released online in late October, a perfect piece of marketing for an imperfect film. With its use of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”, lack of flashy CGI and glimpse at the murky realism of Mangold’s R-rated feature, this trailer is one of the finest in film history. Following it with a complete film of equal quality was going to be difficult.
Don’t get us wrong: Logan is undeniably a strong contender for the best comic-book movie since Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy: dark, cineliterate and built around a sensational performance from Hugh Jackman, in his final appearance as X-Men hero Wolverine. Over 17 years, Jackman’s Logan has appeared in a strange and varied assortment of films: the operatic Bryan Singer adventures, Gavin Hood’s weak cash-in 2009 spin-off, Mangold’s superb Japan-set The Wolverine. Yet every director to date, including to some extent Mangold, has let down Jackman with messy plotting and pointless distractions from what is, without competition, the greatest cinema depiction of a comic-book hero. Logan gives the character room to breath and Jackman room to explore his complex psychology, aided by the equally terrific Patrick Stewart as the ailing (understandably– he did DIE in 2006’s The Last Stand) Charles Xavier. These weary veterans of mutant war now face a generational shift, forced to protect young Laura (Dafne Keen) and her abilities from the same forces that have hunted Xavier’s gifted children for decades.
For what it is, Logan can’t be faulted. It’s smarter and gentler, yet simultaneously more ferocious, than any previous X film. Yet it was sold as something altogether new: an ultra-realistic western merely using the Marvel characters to tell a character-based story. For about one-third of its running time, Mangold’s film is just that; but it inevitably (and avoidably) regresses into a standard, albeit nastier, Wolverine action film. A twist that allows Jackman’s Logan to too-literally face his own demons drives the drama back to less mature territory, and is worryingly reminiscent of X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘s shoddily-constructed finale. The heavy-handedness evidential in this plot decision manifests elsewhere in the script, largely in Jackman and Stewart’s earnest but unmoving exchanges. Additionally, exposition overrelies on found-footage, and the R-rated tokenism of much of the violence and strong language is at times jarring (watching a young girl brutally assault countless adults becomes uncomfortable viewing quite quickly).
In establishing its “new” tone (something that trailer did excellently in under two minutes), the film drags in its first half and is frustratingly rushed towards its end. Being Jackman’s last Wolverine adventure, there were surely a dozen possible ways to wrap up his story in a moving, profound and suitable manner. What Mangold settles for feels, to a lifelong fan of Jackman’s Logan, like a massive missed opportunity. A Johnny Cash song- not “Hurt”- plays over the closing credits, and one is reminded of that trailer’s breathtaking brilliance. Logan is not that trailer. However, that shouldn’t necessarily take away from Mangold’s achievement: his film is living proof that popular franchise heroes can escape the confines of the family-oriented blockbuster. This film could have positive repercussions in Hollywood for years to come.
Damn… For a role Hugh Jackman was only offered at the last minute by Bryan Singer almost two decades ago, Wolverine really has achieved a lot.