This is not your daddy’s X-Men film. That is the first thing I took away from this gritty, realistic take on the X-Men franchise and Wolverine/Logan in particular. This was being hyped as the last appearances from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart as Wolverine and Professor Xavier, respectively, so you knew that they would go all out and attempt to make this one of their best outings ever. They have succeeded with flying colours.
One thing that makes this film stand out above all the other ones is the lack of any kind of feeling like they’re ‘holding back.’ In previous X-Men films, the violence and action scenes have always been viewed as more ‘fun’ than brutal or specifically violent and that’s because they always had to pull back due to the PG-13 rating. With this one gaining a hard R rating (thanks in part to Deadpool‘s success), the filmmakers were able to achieve a more gritty, hard-boiled look at Logan and his exploits on the road with Professor X and a very strange young girl who is more than meets the eye.
The film opens with Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) dealing with a couple of gang-bangers trying to bust up his ride. Something is different though. Rather than dispatch them like he normally would, Logan struggles to retract his claws – one of them doesn’t even make it all the way out! His regenerative powers are not working as well as they used to and the adamantium inside him is slowly weakening and poisoning his body. He also maintains the life of his old pal Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who must be constantly medicated so that his powers don’t cause any harm after committing a horrific atrocity when he had a powerful seizure some years ago. Logan also lives with a clairvoyant mutant known as Caliban (Stephen Merchant). When a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) arrives in his life, who also has mutant powers and is being pursued by a man named Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and a slew of agents from a company known as Alkali Transigen, Logan, the Professor and Laura must head out on the road while they attempt to figure out their next step.
The performers in the film certainly don’t hurt. You would expect Hugh Jackman to be able to do this role in his sleep by now but here he does something different with the part. Logan is broken-down. He’s not the wisecracking kick-ass Wolverine we’re all used to seeing but rather a shell of his former self and very bitter and even cruel at times. Jackman nails the nuance of this performance and manages to impress with every scene. I am happy for him and his success in these movies but it is still kind of a shame that he has decided to hang up the claws. Patrick Stewart was always pretty grounded as Xavier in the other movies but here he brings that to the table as well as something of a cantankerous feeling. He holds a lot of sadness and guilt in his heart (which we learn why later and it is quite sad) and he manages to convey that in an effortless way. Dafne Keen is an impressive child actor for not having many lines but still managing to tell one all they need to know just from her facial reactions alone. Hopefully, she will be in more quality stuff like this. It was a surprise to see Stephen Merchant but he was a good addition to the film as was Boyd Holbrook as a slimy villain.
I have seen a lot of reviews saying that this is a superhero film for people who may not necessarily be interested in seeing a superhero film. While I do find that statement to be quite accurate, I also think that fans of superhero films will love it as well and mostly because it is an excellent and superbly-made film in general. Director James Mangold, who helmed such wonderful works as Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, Identity and Cop Land, knows how to take an existing character that everyone knows well and do something different with him without compromising the integrity of the character himself. It’s a lot of fun (which is something that isn’t in great supply in this rather grim film) to see Xavier as well in some of his ‘old coot’ moments. The cinematography is a sight to look at as well. We really get the sense that in this world of 2029, there is almost no hope. We get vast open landscapes with desert and dust so often that when we do hit civilization in a few isolated moments it is such a heavy burden that is lifted off our chest.
The film also does something that I wish more ‘futuristic’ movies would do on a regular basis. Rather than showing off incredibly crazy contraptions like flying cars or amazing technological developments, we have subtle nuances that you can almost miss if you’re not paying attention. Sure, the weapons and the technology have changed but it isn’t anything outside the work of realism that this movie attempts to show you. One of the best pieces related to this idea is one man noting that tigers have become extinct. He does it in such an off-hand way though that it takes a while to realize what has been said.
Besides all the grit, drama and realism, there are also some fantastic action sequences much like we got in the previous X-Men movies throughout the years. The first time we see Laura in action is incredibly well-done due to the quiet way in which they introduce the scene. When she rolls a soldier’s head in front of the rest of them, it hits hard and also lets everyone know right away that she will not be holding back even though she is just a child. Other highlights include one of Professor Xavier’s seizures wherein Logan must creatively dispatch of some villains, another scene involving a rural family helping out our heroes (which also lends itself to some terrific dramatic moments and a bit of levity as well) and the crazy balls-out finale which hits you just as hard as every punch, kick, claw, rip and thud lands on the characters themselves.
I am fairly confident that by this point you have guessed that my rating of this film is going to be quite high based on all of the things I’ve just gone over. Unashamedly, it is quite high. I found this movie to be simply put: astounding cinema. This is some of the best dramatic work I’ve ever seen from the talent involved behind and in front of the camera. Don’t miss this one.
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)