We're living in an age of superhero origin stories, reboots, spin-offs and stand-offs. The superhero craze continues to reinvent and elevate comic books into the realm of film with an ever-burgeoning list of heroes and villains. One success story has been Wolverine, one of the few X-Men characters who has appeared in every media adaptation of the X-Men franchise. From being part of the team to branching out in several stand-alone films, Hugh Jackman has made the character of Wolverine almost like an alter-ego thanks to his considerable range of talents. Having played Wolverine in nine X-Men films, it's getting to that point where like most Bond actors, he doesn't want the role to define him. While Jackman has already developed a strong association with the character, it was time to mix things up.
With a so-so outing in X-Men: Apocalypse, which seemed like the rise and fall of an '80s metal band, it became apparent that the franchise's success hinged largely on Wolverine's screen time. Furthermore, despite the best efforts of Bryan Singer, the X-Men franchise needed to be grounded for some self-reflection. This is what makes Logan refreshing. Director, James Mangold, has reinvented his own Wolverine concept... following up with a gritty, realistic and grisly film in favour of the CGI-heavy Highlander style, The Wolverine.
Signalling his intent to zero in on the character, they've dropped any mention of X-Men and gone with the title, Logan. Set in the near future, we're introduced to a husk of the man as we know him, as Logan's attempts to hide and reduce the legacy of Wolverine are thwarted by the arrival of a young mutant in need of his help. Instead of another claw smash-and-grab, we're taken on a more introspective journey with a cast including: Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Richard E. Grant, Stephen Merchant and introducing Dafne Keen.
It's as if a Mel Gibson star vehicle script was reinvented as a Wolverine film, not shying away from extreme violence but retaining its rogue underdog nature. Much like Blood Father and Get the Gringo, there's a similar energy in terms of characterisation, cold-blooded killing and tongue-in-cheek comedy. We're slowly immersed into this "foreign" world, which seems a lot more like the earth we know than the X-Men universe. Instead of an over-reliance on effects, Mangold allows his talents to act, giving them more face time and creating some touching moments through the rich relational dynamics.
The performances help us bridge the gap into this gritty, real and deconstructed take on Wolverine. Jackman is a versatile and celebrated actor, who doesn't need a moment to get into the head space of Logan, delivering a self-doubting, vulnerable and troubled man. While it is difficult to watch him struggle as a bedraggled Wolverine, he remains strong for those around him. This makes his journey more enjoyable for his undying commitment and veteran skills, much like the Taken action thriller trend. Then, Stewart also relishes the opportunity to add some humanity and ragged texture to a latter day Professor X. Together with young Dafne Keen, it's a strong co-lead unit, deftly delivering punishing action and touching drama.
While we're used to seeing superhero films that overwhelm the senses with CGI and over-the-top superpowers, James Mangold has decided to put the franchise in reverse. He's reinvented the typical Marvel format by creating a gritty on-the-run action drama sci-fi thriller. Borrowing aspects from action franchises like Mad Max, Terminator, Die Hard and Rambo, he's tailored a dusty and realistic on-the-run road movie, which has many similarities to Mercury Rising and even Little Miss Sunshine.
The post-apocalyptic feel and desert car chase showdowns have a Mad Max: Fury Road feel about them. The killing machine entrusted with protecting instead of destroying is reminiscent of the Terminator's trajectory. Having an outgunned, seasoned underdog like Logan at the helm against an army of henchmen has echoes of Die Hard, while Rambo: First Blood comes to mind as we witness heroic armed forces action against the backdrop of nature. Elements from Little Miss Sunshine come into play as key characters follow similar paths and share parallels on this borderline quirky road movie. Logan also serves as a tribute to the classic western, Shane.
Logan has many strong influences as it leans on tough-as-nails old school action of the '80s instead of churning out yet another slick superhero flick. There are several big laughs and a few unintentional ones when you take a step back from the action. While Mangold has pulled off this ambitious take with flair, it didn't need so much explicit violence, which intensifies to the point of saturation.
The seemingly limitless hordes of henchmen give Wolverine enough trouble along with "middle management", but Logan had a conglomerate when it needed a stronger nemesis. Mangold's thoughtful direction and several strong performances make this ambitious take entertaining and refreshingly different with many memorable moments.
The bottom line: Gritty