There is a lot of pressure to get this film right, especially following what was an emotionally stylish Johnny Cash soundtrack-ed trailer. An overhaul of the much-loved Wolverine character who has blessed box office figures for the last decade from X-men onwards, this stand-alone film will thrill fans of the franchise and newbies alike. Writer/ director James Mangold (Wolverine, Walk the Line) took the helm to drive a film which is essentially the antidote to superhero movies; it’s a western road movie that takes it’s time – who thought we’d be saying that following the Wolverine films?.
Hugh Jackman, always so likeable as the moody, brooding, wise-cracking James Logan, has been through a lot of trauma in the space between installments, and finds himself working incognito as a limo driver. Set in a dystopian near future, he is hiding Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on the Mexican border alongside fellow mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), desperately trying to earn enough to get them the medication that they need in a non-mutant future. A frail Professor X is suffering from a degenerative disease which gives him seizures, paralysing anyone surrounding him. He can still contact other mutants in his thoughts, and he starts communicating with a girl ‘just like you, Logan.’ Logan refuses to believe that any other mutant can exist in a world where they have been so cruelly persecuted until such a girl turns up; Laura (Newcomer Dafne Keen), on the run from the the disturbing cowboy Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his employer, chilling technocrat Zander Rice (Richard E Grant). With the combination of her causal bloodshed and childlike innocence, she shakes up their world with her ferocity and desire to survive. Logan, who has lost all hope in human-kind, is faced with the very real possibility that this child is the link to other mutants struggling for survival. How is it that he has become the last hope for them?
The film becomes a heady thriller of survival as Logan packs Professor X and Laura into his limo for a chase across the Tex-Mex desert. Laura is adamant that she needs to get to Canada, to ‘Eden’, where mutants are safe. Rather touchingly, she points out that Eden was discovered in the X-Men comic book series, which only adds to the crushing sense of foreboding that lingers in the air throughout the second act.
With a limp, dusty clothes, unkempt grey beard and hooded eyes, Logan is older and unmistakably damaged. He drinks, heavily. He doesn’t seem to eat or sleep. He needs to rest, a doctor tells him. ‘There’s something inside that’s poisoning you.’ He means the metal, but it’s a non too subtle comment on the state of his psyche; a reflection on the process of aging and infirmity. We have a physically flawed Wolverine, who no longer seems invincible.
Like a Western, it takes it’s time. Standing separately from the other films in the franchise, it can afford to withdraw from relying on glitzy CGI magic, and epic battle scenes. Everything is gritty. “We wanted to make the audience think about the violence,” explained Jackman at the Berlinale, which premiered the film in Europe. “How the person feels once he inflicts that violence; that there’s an aftermath to that.” And that refers to the R-rated violence throughout the film which literally shows him slashing through people’s heads as he fights for survival. “It’s definitely not a kids film” added Mangold.
Wolverine fans will take delight in the chance to get closer to their favourite character in a film which digs deep, providing a real character study of a desperate man needing a purpose. I enjoyed it because it was a stylish road movie with poignant moments (Logan carrying Professor X to bed, wishing him goodnight) mixed with shockingly violent ones; it kept me on my toes. The closing scene will hopefully live on forever in cinematic history as bold, unapologetic film making. A rare treat from a franchise that has always given us an easy ride.