‘Logan’ Review: Wolverine Will Make You Hurt

Hugh Jackman's last X-Men film is brutal in ways that you don't expect.

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Hugh Jackman wants out, and after a couple of years of hemming and hawing, he’s making it official. Logan, his latest X-Men spin-off, in which he stars as the titular fast-healing, adamantium-clawed mutant, will be his last (it’s Jerry Seinfeld’s fault, somehow).

The film’s first trailer was soundtracked by Johnny Cash’s septuagenarian cover of ‘Hurt’, with an added martial beat, and that’s pretty much what this send-off is going for. Logan is all sentimental, bruised, decrepit masculinity — with an extra dose of pulverizing violence.

One Last Ride

Set in a not-so-distant future, the film finds an aged, injured Logan (aka the Wolverine) caring for a senile Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in an America where the X-Men have died out, and mutants are all but extinct. When a mute little girl with very familiar superpowers (Dafne Keen) turns up at their Mexican hideout, the trio take a desperate road-trip to a rumoured mutant sanctuary in the north, while they attempt to outpace the sinister corporate forces that want her back.

Midway through the film, our leads — hiding out in a casino hotel room — watch the end of legendary 1953 western Shane. “Right or wrong, it’s a brand,” says the titular gunfighter, explaining why a known killer like him has no place in rapidly civilising rural Wyoming. “[It’s] a brand that sticks.”

It’s a pretty clear statement about where this particular film is headed. A supernaturally long lifetime of bloody berserking means that the end for Wolverine is less likely to be peaceful than it is to be draped in gore. But it’s also a none-too-subtle double entendre. Hugh Jackman has been stuck with the X-Men ‘brand’ for the past 17 years, and it’s just this that he wants to escape.

About that gore: there’s a certain breed of comic book fan that’s been clamouring — probably since the release of the first X-Men in 2000 — for a film that will capitalise on the Wolverine’s capacity to inflict grievous bodily harm. Serving up a riot of severed heads, lopped limbs, gaping shotgun wounds, and endless amounts of stabbings, the MA-rated Logan seeks to answer that call. If you’re the type of person who’s been waiting a lifetime to see those adamantium claws sink into a man’s brainpan in silky slow motion, this is the film for you.

It never feels entirely necessary — neither do the ‘fucks’ and other assorted swears added to grit up Jackman’s dialogue — but all the brutality does help give the film a tangible emotional charge. Director James Mangold shoots and orchestrates action with an appreciable clarity, and when he synchs up with the pounding drums of Marco Beltrami’s score, the mayhem has a lively intensity.

Jackman’s previous collaboration with Mangold, 2013’s The Wolverine, was perhaps the best entry in the overstuffed X-Men film canon so far. It dropped Wolverine into a comparatively low-stakes conspiracy within a Japanese Yakuza clan. Logan retains that film’s firm grasp on the character, but it suffers slightly from a middle section that winds on a little too long before the destination is reached.

Still, like its predecessor, Logan feels like a real movie, with a genuine sense of purpose, rather than just the latest reshuffling of Marvel’s intellectual property for the current financial year. It helps to have an end in sight.

Hugh Motherfucking Jackman

It wasn’t always this way, but Jackman’s main instinct as an actor now seems to be to project a vein-popping, aneurysm-level intensity. His role in Logan is essentially a series of grunts, gasps, coughs, and bellowing animal yowls. He’s working to project the granite-hard, bestial menace that fans want to see in the character, but it never feels like his strong suit — all those swears sit weirdly in his mouth. It’s hard to buy Jackman as a guy who says ‘motherfucker’. There’s too much of the theatre kid in him.

As it’s progressed since the first X-Men, Jackman’s career has started to feel like some weird variation on a Freaky Friday-style body swap story about a Gene Kelly-type who woke up in the physique of Sylvester Stallone and never found his way back again. The body sculpting required to maintain that Wolverine look is unrelenting, and surely exhausting; and as Jackman got more and more swole, his physical presence started to dominate his otherwise sparkling charisma.

We’re familiar with the ways in which Hollywood makes demands on women’s bodies, but think about the industrial forces that reshaped Jackman like this:

Logan 1

Long gone is the sweet, average-proportioned man who could sell you Farmer’s Bounty margarine. Recent dramatic work, like 2013’s Prisoners has continued in the excessively butch mode of his X-Men work. And though 2012’s Les Miserables was sort of a return to his roots as a song and dance man — he first made his name on stage in Oklahoma and The Boy From Oz — that musical demanded its performers hyperventilate their songs rather than sing them, and he was forced to follow suit.

Logan is an elegiac farewell for its titular character, but it’s also, hopefully, a farewell for this particular phase of Jackman’s career. “Don’t be what they made you”, an exhausted Wolverine advises his traumatised young mutant pal at one point. It’s possible to find an extra-textual twinge of regret in that line. Now we can see how Jackman remakes himself.

Logan is in cinemas now.

James Robert Douglas is a freelance writer and critic in Melbourne. His work has been found in The Big Issue, Meanland, Screen Machine, and the Meanjin blog. He tweets from @jamesrobdouglas.