One more last stand

logan14Old man Logan is weary and drunk and asleep in his car. He runs a one-car limousine service in New Mexico near the border, and some thugs are trying to steal his tyres. He gets out and shields his car with his body, using his precious faculties of self-healing for something as trivial as a limo. His suit is rumpled and dirty. He is one of the last mutants, and he lives in an abandoned factory in the desert and cares for a demented Professor Xavier who hides in a collapsed water tower nearby. Professor X is on heavy medication that makes him go woozy, but if he doesn’t take his pills, his brain, a weapon of mass destruction, will hurtle out of control eventually, and everyone around him gets paralyzed and can’t breathe. The professor is 90 years old. Logan is something like 220 years old. His wounds don’t heal as fast as they used to, and his scars don’t heal at all anymore. One of his blades doesn’t come out all the way, and he actually has to pull it out to the hilt with his other hand so that he can’t help but to cut himself in the process. Can you believe that? He suspects that the adamantium is slowly poisoning his body. Time is not on their side.

I am pretty sure you know what is going to happen, but all the same, THERE BE SPOILERS. There is a third mutant called Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a light-sensitive albino who can sense the presence of other mutants, the same way the Professor was once able to do with Cerebro on a much wider scale. Caliban helped the powers that be bring down many mutants, and now, he atones for his sins in caring for the Professor and Logan. Logan doesn’t like him, but then Logan dislikes anyone on general principle.

The Logan/Wolverine character is, of course, played by Hugh Jackman, for the tenth and last time. He was the only one of the cast who couldn’t be replaced by his younger self because from 1835 onwards, he always looked more or less the same age, and frankly, what poor fool of an actor would take on his role if Jackman ever decided to leave the franchise? He played him for the first time 17 years ago. Remember that one? There was a woman who could control the wheater, and a man who could tear down buildings with his eyes, but they gave much more screen time to a gruff guy with razor-sharp claws, a weird haircut and an attitude problem. Why? Because he was unpredictable, and because he was feral and sexy, that’s why.

The X-Men movies differ widely in quality. To me, it’s no surprise that the second-best, The Wolverine, from 2013, was directed by James Mangold, as was this one here. On the other end of the scale I must put last year’s X-Men: Apocalypse, an abysmal and brain-dead experiment of picking up established plot-lines and cannibalising them by casting a couple of sub-standard actors in an unexciting story. Logan is not just a great superhero movie, it’s a great movie,  because it doesn’t feel the need to outdo its predecessors. It takes from the embers what it can use, and goes from there. There is pretty little recognizable CGI, there is no world to save, no alien race threatening human extinction. It focuses on the characters and lets them deal with each other. There is Elisabeth Rodrigues in a great supporting role as Gabriela, a Mexican nurse who sees a kid called X-23 instead of a super-soldier, gives her the name Laura and escapes with her from the lab to contact Logan. There is debate about the X-Men comics, of which Logan claims that only a quarter has really happened, and not in the way it’s told, but maybe those stories point to a secret hideout called Eden that may or may not exist.

Logan is an utterly violent movie, but it needs to be. For one, would the Wolverine go gentle into that good night? Can they dope the Professor into blissful oblivion? Not a chance. There must be one more last stand because there is an agency out there that wants to make absolutely sure that every last mutant is dead, or under their control. I don’t know the stories from the comics, although my use of the term ‘old man Logan’ might have fooled you into believing that I do, but this is a movie that can stand on its own. (There is, however, reference to the Westchester incident, and a samurai sword hangs on Wolverine’s wall, referring to other stories.) For all the violence, there is compassion and trust, most of it coming from Professor Charles Xavier, played by Patrick Stewart. He firmly believes that Laura and her belief in Eden are their way to salvation. In the previous movies, Stewart had to take a supporting role, but here, he is given much more screen time, and can tell Logan what he needs to hear. And as for Laura – let me say something dangerous: there is a savage beauty in watching a young pre-teen mutant kill a bunch of Reaver mercenaries with her adamantium claws. She is played by 11-year old Dafne Keen, and she holds her own against Jackman and Stewart. I feared for her, and I think my heart skipped a beat when she took on a mean fighting machine on her own. She is fast and merciless, and she uses Wolverine’s back as a jump-off ramp for attacking thugs. Who she is, and how she has come to be, the movie lets us and Logan figure out for him- and ourselves, but let backstories be backstories: the fact that there is a ten-year old girl who has a soft spot for horses and is at the same time much more ferocious than Logan is breathtaking. Her relationship with Logan is the point of the movie. The film avoids all soppiness, but allows two wild things circle each other until they are ready to get along. Laura may hint to a next generation of mutants, but this movie does not feel like a set-up for the next one like the Avengers movies sometimes do. I really hope Kevin Feige takes lessons from this one.

I could tell you that the relationship between the Alkali agency’s go-getter Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Gabriela remains unclear. And I didn’t really understand Dr Rice’s (Richard E. Grant) speech about wiping out the mutant gene with modified corn syrup. No matter. There is a point where all the last-minute medicine is used up, and the black trucks are approaching. You know what is coming. The movie plays it hard and fast and avoids all sentimental pitfalls. You are left with your claws and your rage and your daughter and a bunch of kids and are faced with an improved, relentlessly destructive version of yourself. Logan is a blood-drenched swan song. It was unavoidable somehow, but it still left me gutted because I didn’t expect it to be so well-done. Now there’s a wound that won’t close so fast.

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