It’s 2029 and mutantkind is a fading dream. No new mutants have been born for decades, and the world has quietly curdled. Logan, working under his birth name James Hewlett, is in El Paso working as a limo driver. He, along with Caliban (Stephen Merchant), is caring for the ailing Professor Xavier. Given that this involves him being drugged constantly to avoid telepathic seizures, Xavier has very different opinions about what “caring” means.
Logan is old, sick, alcoholic and no longer healing quickly. His life is driving idiots around and saving money for the closest thing they have to an escape plan.
Until he gets a call to help Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a young Mexican nurse and her daughter Laura, across the Canadian border. And a man with a robotic hand pays him a visit…
Logan is unlike anything else the X-universe has previously produced. There’s none of the frenetic gag-a-second fourth wall brutality of Deadpool, none of the increasingly unwieldy ensemble of the First Class series and almost nothing of the original trilogy. Instead, this is a drilled-down, tightly plotted character study of Logan and Xavier, and what the two men choose to do when faced with one last chance to do the right thing.
That chance is embodied in Laura, the near-silent child who ends up in their care. While comic fans (and folks who’ve seen the trailers) will have a good idea of just what Laura is capable of, the film does such a good job of concealing her true nature, so that when she does cut loose it’s genuinely shocking. This is helped immensely by an incredible performance from Dafne Keen. This is her debut role, in a massive summer movie, between two of the best actors of their generations. She could so easily have been lost in the mix. Instead, Keen’s supernatural calm, seething intensity and deadpan comic timing mean she steals pretty much every scene she’s in.
Which isn’t to say Jackman and Stewart are slacking. Far from it – they turn in career best work here. Jackman finally gets to play the embittered, tired old man version of Logan he got to toy with in The Wolverine and he’s incredible. It’s a spiky, bitter, unlikable performance for absolutely deliberate reasons and when you find out why he’s like this, it’s heart wrenching. Jackman has always excelled at the physicality of the role but here he takes that to another level. The rating allows for infinitely better, far nastier fight choreography than any previous X-movie and Jackman goes all out. There’s no elegantly tattered hero here, no shaking off of wounds. He’s playing an aged, slowed-down violence machine whose physical honesty makes you wince almost as much as his savagery. Every fight here looks like it HURTS and Jackman sells every single blow. He also excels at showing us the emotional heart of the character. There’s one moment in particular, towards the end, where he shows us everything Logan has bottled up for decades. Survivor’s guilt, loneliness, horror and fatigue come spilling out of him in a moment that’s been movies in the making and feels raw and real.
And speaking of real, this is one of Sir Patrick Stewart’s best and most difficult performances. Xavier, at this point, is a nonagenarian and suffering from the debilitation of his powers and mind. The first time we see Stewart he’s driving his wheelchair around Logan’s shelter, shouting advertising slogans like a radio tuned to every station at once. The urbane, calm, compassionate man of every previous movie is lost under decades of recrimination, illness and loss. His conversations with Logan have that raw, nasty intimacy that only family has and there are moments here that feel very, very real. All three central performances are great but Stewart’s is flat-out courageous and gives the film several of its best moments.
It’s an open secret that this is Jackman and Stewart’s last turns in their roles and there’s a real sense of everything being left on the field. Logan is a film built on everything, good and bad, from the previous movies and much like the two leads it refuses to brush any of those sins under the carpet. Even better, like them it finds ways to turn even the most egregious failures of the past into assets. If you’ve been a fan of these movies then there’s a lot of beats in Logan that will be familiar. But not too familiar as, time and again, the crew find ways to use familiar elements in unexpected ways. The film has plenty more up its sleeves that you haven’t seen in the trailers and there’s a real sense of this being the story Mangold and Jackman have been wanting to make for a while and they make the most of every opportunity.
Logan is the end of an era and it knows it. It’s brutal in emotion and action, clear-eyed in the way it views its characters and their shared past and doesn’t pull a single punch. It’s an extraordinary achievement, an extraordinary final chapter in Jackman and Stewart’s time with the series and an extraordinary film. See it.
Review by Alasdair Stuart