WARNING! MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS! (IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!)
Wolverine finally uses his claws in Logan. He uses them the way that many fans have dreamed of for years, the kind of ways that the movies, animated TV shows and even the comics were never really allowed to use them. In many ways, his claws have always been a little ornamental, three on each hand, harder than steel, sharper than diamonds and always sheathed before they can ever do any real damage. And when the gruff Canadian superhero does cut loose, like he did in the mansion scene from X-Men 2, it is cleaner than it should be. Claws come out of adversary but no blood. But there is nothing clean about his claws this time, blood and brains come out with them. You can be certain that his knuckle-sandwiches leave stumps, bumps, stains and one hell of a body count.
Following on from the example set by Deadpool last year in terms of what can be done in a superhero movie, Logan dares to push those boundaries even further. Just by the end of the first scene, where some very stupid carjackers try to steal the wheels of the wrong furry loner, you have a decent understanding of why this movie was given a high rating. The language is blue and the violence is red as limbs are hacked off and heads roll. Logan is quite possibly the brutalist and bleakest superhero movie in living memory, so much so, they should have called this one, X-Men: Apocalypse. But it is also one of only a few superhero movies that manages to elevate the genre past spectacle and to something resembling art. It is adult in far many more ways than just one.
Logan takes place in 2029, when almost the entirety of the mutant population are extinct. Logan presents us with a future more hellish than that which was depicted in Days of Future Past. And you could call it a coincidence, (not), that the evil villain of this story is named Donald. When he isn't working as a chauffeur for business bros and squealing party girls, Logan, played by Hugh Jackman who is rocking the claws for the final time, seems content to lay low in a junkyard headquarters in the desert, south of the border where he is looking after a frail Professor X, played once more, (and it would appear, for the final time too,) by Patrick Stewart. Xavier is now well into his 90s, he is experiencing dementia, which in the mind of the world's most powerful telepath, that mental shockwaves temporarily paralyze anyone in the way. (He also seems to have pulled a Scarlet Witch and wiped out the X-Men). And Wolverine isn't doing much better, he is slowly being poisoned by the Adamantium which coats his skeleton. He finally looks and seems to feel his real age with his trusty healing factor fading with each passing day.
Now retired from the superhero business. Logan is happy enough to carry on as he is, he even mentions the Statue of Liberty incident to Xavier in a nice nod to the first X-Men movie from 2000. But as the film progresses, Logan finds himself being an unwilling mentor, protector and parent figure to Laura, played with excellence by Dafne Keen. Laura is a young mutant on the run from some very dangerous people. Of course, Wolverine has found himself in a reluctant parent mode before, most notably with Rogue in the movies but also with Jubilee and Shadowcat in the comics. But Laura is different, she appears to be a child version of himself. Crossing the border to find some mutant haven which may or may not exist, the team of Wolverine, Laura and Professor X try to escape the people who have pursuing the little girl. In these scenes we get some the bloodiest battles to grace the cinema screen since the Blade trilogy, these aren't the kind of fights which don't result in actors throwing CGI effects at one another! In many ways a good word to use when describing Logan, is minimalist.
But Logan is more of its of its own thing, that something which draws inspiration from the movies which came before it. The previous film in this franchise, The Wolverine, drew a lot of inspiration from the 1981 Wolverine comic book miniseries from Chris Claremont and Frank Millar. Here, we find returning director, James Mangold and his co-writers, Scott Frank and Michael Green, borrow from the Old Man Logan comic book series. Mangold does seem to understand Wolverine as one of the most mythic Marvel characters - a ronin who has built in blades, a gunslinger who uses talons instead of pistols, but Mangold also understands that he needs to make him less than indestructible, he needs to make the former Weapon X, vulnerable. And at a time where Marvel and DC are working out their crossover movie events, Mangold most importantly understands that Logan needs to stand on its own, leaving its franchise history almost completely and utterly implied, without relying on call-backs and cameos.
And like Wyatt Earp and Jessie James, Logan has lived long enough to see his experiences become the thing of stories as we see in a comic book that they pick up from a gas-station. That is something which recurs throughout this film, he is confronted with his own legend. Logan seems content to build its cross-country narrative on regret, pitting Wolverine and his pals against his own legacy of bloodshed. This theme, like many others one can find here, remains largely unspoken, conveyed brilliantly through the grisly performance from Hugh Jackman. He seems to carry perfectly the full weight of the character's eight other big screen performances. At this point, it is hard to imagine that his initial casting was met with a large amount of skepticism! In fact, in general, Logan boasts some of the best acting that I have ever seen in a superhero movie, from Stewards wounded and haunted Xavier, to the little characters that the trio meet on their travels. This is really fortunate, as the movie spends more time working as a character study than anything else, for every gruesome showdown we get, we are given a little chat and conversation in the cabin of a truck or a makeshift graveyard in someone's farmland.
For those of you who think that superhero movies have gotten too serious for their own good, you might find a little more to moan about in Logan. It is a movie which is as grimly poker-faced as Deadpool was irreverent. And by the end of the move, the violence has almost become surreal. There is only so many times you can see someone's claws going through someone else's brains before you become numb to the image. But it is important to note that the movie's body count never topples into the kind of nihilism one gets from a Snyder Batman or Superman movie. The core principles of the X-Men are always upheld. You get a sense of hope, family and generational torch-passing which are apparent even in the movie's grisliest moments. And the final scene shines a beacon of light through the darkness.
But what is really special about Logan is that it manages to deliver the visceral goods, all the Wolverine action that fans have been demanding for over a decade while it still manages to be a surprisingly thoughtful and poignant drama and a terrific movie. And while Wolverine does go berserk with those claws, the moments in this movie which cut the deepest are those where he doesn't...