Logan review – Hugh Jackman's Wolverine enters a winter of X-Men discontent

The third and final Wolverine film is a poignant study of ageing and infirmity, as the arthritic mutant holes up in Mexico with a declining Professor Xavier

Superpowers are one thing, but no-one said they were immortal. What happens when superheroes get old? Actually, what happens when, like many non-superheroes, they arrive at late middle-age without a partner, in ill health, and with an ageing parent to look after? Or parent-figure anyway. You find yourself asking these questions watching this surprisingly engaging, but downbeat – and also violent – X-Men movie from the Marvel stable. It is more like a survivalist thriller than a superhero film, and signals its wintry quality with the title itself. It’s like seeing a film entitled Banner or Parker or Kent. With the approach of death, maybe super identity is cast off. Superpowers start to fade along with ordinary powers.

We’re about a decade into the future, and the American landscape looks grim if not decidedly post-apocalyptic: mutants are illegal, though a sinister corporation has been tasked with controlling any new examples and putting them to work in the service of the state. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is working incognito as a limo driver near the Tex-Mex border which does seem to have become a wall. He is ferrying prom night kids and bachelorette parties around town. But he is a semi-functioning alcoholic, with muscle pains, fading eyesight, and a very ageing patriarch beard. When those Wolverine blade-claws of his are unsheathed, as they sometimes are, it causes arthritic pain. He’s actually living in Mexico, in a wrecked water tower with Professor Xavier, played of course with terrific aplomb Patrick Stewart. Xavier is in his 90s and resents people calling him an “octogenarian”; he needs black-market meds to prevent brain seizures which cause telekinetic earthquakes all around him. And Logan has to take Xavier and put him on the lavatory when the need arises. Xavier and Logan are living with a factotum called Caliban, a droll character-part for Stephen Merchant.

A number of people are on Logan’s case: there is the smug, menacing Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his employer, chilling technocrat Zander Rice (Richard E Grant). But then Logan comes into contact with a desperate woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) from whom he learns of the existence of Laura, played by newcomer Dafne Keen, a kid who appears to have sensational and familiar abilities. Could it be that there is in fact a new generation of mutants out there, and that Logan, in time-honoured fashion, is going to have overcome his grumpiness and be a mentor to this kid?

Amusingly, these people have made contact with Logan through an X-Men comic book, and the movie finesses the existence of these in the superhero world as rumourmongering pulp fiction. They infuriate Logan, who says that the world’s bad stuff can’t be tackled by an “asshole in a leotard” and says that comic books are “ice cream for bedwetters”. Harsh. As far as other mythologies go, Laura, Xavier and Logan find themselves holed up in a hotel-room watching the old western classic Shane on TV, which Professor Xavier says he remembers watching as a kid at the Essoldo. Did Stewart improvise that line? Or do screenwriters James Mangold, Michael Green and Scott Frank have a connoisseur knowledge of defunct Brit cinema chains?

But the heart of the movie is the unexpectedly poignant relationship between Xavier and Logan: I’d be tempted to call them the Steptoe and Son of the mutant world, although in fact Logan goes into Basil Fawlty mode at one stage with his own pickup truck, attempting to trash it – perhaps to teach it a lesson. Logan is a forthright, muscular movie which preserves the X-Men’s strange, exotic idealism.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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