Fucking Fantasy Land
Warning: This review alludes to the film’s ending and other plot elements.
Logan affects to be a serious comic book movie from the outset. No preamble, no elaborate opening titles – just the kind of credits you expect in an old fashioned drama, “a film by James Mangold”. Yes, this is a film not a movie. By the time it’s five minutes old said Mangold has established the tone and style; dirty, gritty, explicitly violent and profane. But it’s also the epilogue to a series of movies that were nothing of the kind.
As trailed, this is a modern Western set in an uncertain and, it’s suggested, lawless future. “The world isn’t what it was”, the haggard old duffer once known as the Wolverine tells us, and he’s not wrong. It’s a post X-Men universe in which the exploits of Logan and the old gang have been mythologised in, what else, comic books. Mangold puts the same distance between Logan and the summer tentpoles of yore as Clint Eastwood did when positioning Unforgiven in relation to Leone’s Spaghetti Western trilogy. But with Eastwood’s last hurrah the links were nods and winks. Here the canonicity’s explicit. And that makes the incongruity between the old and new that much more problematic.
God knows it’s hard enough to follow the X-Men series since the reboot threw out much of it. Consequently, Logan’s franchise baggage initially works against it. In a standalone drama about an aged killer looking for redemption, the story’s fundamentals; the protagonist’s dotage for example; could be taken for granted. But Logan’s a character who isn’t supposed to age and is apparently invulnerable. His body can recover from any injury. Here, that gift is failing and it isn’t clear why. The once rich and powerful Charles Xavier, now a wizened and half-senile Patrick Stewart, is destitute, having been declared a WMD in a post-mutant world, and reliant on his former X-Man to supervise trips to the toilet – something you wouldn’t have banked on seeing when you saw Bryan Singer’s original movie back in 2000.
Traditional Westerns supply the minimum of expository information as standard of course; they’re about the landscape, character dynamics and moral ambiguity – all present here. But treating the previous movies as a footnote only throws up urgent questions about what the fuck happened between the stable new future of Days of Future Past (2023) and the 2029 of Logan which niggle throughout the running time. How is the end of that movie compatible with Mangold’s when no new mutant has been born for 25 years? Is this yet another timeline? An R-rated universe perhaps? Did Xavier’s illness cause him to accidentally kill the rest of the ensemble? He looked fine when we last saw him in the future and Logan’s set up looks lived in by the time we saddle up.
There’s detail in the third act, but no answers that satisfactorily answer the above questions. Mysteries that are secondary to the character focused story that Mangold is committed to, are therefore too prominent in the mind of the audience.
Stripped of these continuity questions, Logan would have been free to enjoy its character moments unimpeded by comic book movie minutiae. The imposition of a sub-plot, involving a Wolverine Clone, X24, further over eggs the pudding. It’s a threat that smacks of studio interference; a lack of trust in the target audience; a suspicion underlined by poor hair continuity – yes, hair continuity, in key scenes, suggesting a separate block of filming retrospectively inserted. Reshoots or touch ups? History will decide.
Relieved of some of that excess; histrionics that could have been substituted for quiet character moments, Logan might have been brave as well as bold. As it is, Mangold’s film is a touching road movie with flashes of brutality. It’s not an original – you’ve seen its like many times, but perhaps never in a universe of superheroes.
Jackman’s berserker dismisses the panel-ripped adventures of yesteryear as “ice cream for bedwetters”, comic book in hand, referring to a pre-Deadpool age of family friendly fantasy knockabout. Censuring his charge and fellow mutant Laura for believing in such escapism, he explains that “in the real world people die”, foreshadowing his own fate.
That focus pull to a more adult world perhaps signals the film’s raison d’etre – not just to give a meaningful coda to Jackman and Stewart’s marathon franchise stint, but to usher in a new era of grounded comic book movies where the stakes are personal rather than apocalyptic. Mangold’s film feels like its acknowledging that the big-budget, four quadrant blowout featuring characters with special powers is, like Old Man Logan, running out of road and in need of a new lease of life. On this rich and emotionally satisfying evidence, lower budget, intimate and psychological takes on the incredible just might be the way forward.