Hugh Jackman reunites with director James Mangold for Logan, the latest Wolverine outing that's ends up being more reminiscent of Hell or High Water, Stranger Things and Taken than it does X-Men. Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook and Patrick Stewart also star.
How many times have you returned home from seeing an X-Men movie and genuinely felt sad that you will never have the abilities of some of the characters you've witnessed? Be honest, it's probably happened more often that not.
Now, ignore the fact that that's really embarrassing and think about why that is... It's because all of the previous X-Men-based films have been solely about showcasing their superhero powers. Regardless of story, that's always been the consistent theme and arguably, audiences went in thinking that's what they wanted.
For as much as Jean Grey's arc and Magneto's tragic past had us mildly invested, the series as a whole never quite went dark enough for us to feel the crushing emotional weight that was hidden beneath the stories. Fortunately, Logan takes a very different approach; there's a reason it's named after his human alter-ego rather than his more comic-book related title after all.
Throughout the entire franchise, Logan – the character – has never been able to shirk off his feelings of guilt, isolation and ongoing reluctance to be a hero. As much as he tries to pretend he's all animal instinct and nothing more, he's probably the most fragile of the bunch deep-down. It's always been those complex qualities that have made him one of Marvel's more interesting figures and Mangold explores those personal themes more than ever here.
Set in 2029, the film sees Logan working as a driver-for-hire and living a humdrum, lonely life on the Mexican border, following the mysterious disappearance of almost all other mutants. In his downtime, he cares for telepath Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is succumbing to the effects of a neurodegenerative disease and causes everyone within a mile-or-so radius to paralyse every time he suffers from a seizure.
The broken pair are simply waiting things out, until the bitter end finally comes around and puts them both out of their misery. After all, there's no point fighting the inevitable, Xavier is 90-years-old and Logan is slowly being poisoned by the adamantium inside of him. His wounds no longer heal and his claws ooze all sorts of bodily fluids whenever he's forced to use them. Basically, it's not looking good.
But their hard yet seemingly-quiet life is threatened when their paths cross with Laura (Dafne Keen), a young mutant who's more like Logan than he would care to admit. Before long, the trio find themselves embroiled in a dangerous cross-country manhunt, as they try to save Laura from the relentless pursuits of a menacing corporation lead by the annoyingly-caricature-like evil scientist Dr Rice (Richard E Grant).
Anyone who's remotely familiar with the X-Men movies will know that Logan frequently refers to Xavier as 'professor' throughout the series. It's always been a way of showcasing Xavier's authority over him. It's also been indicative of him keeping his mentor at arm's length and simultaneously, a way of allowing writers to show that Logan isn't interested in forging close relationships too. He doesn't use the phrase once in Logan.
There's frustrated desperation whenever Logan urges Xavier to take his medication and intimacy every time he calls him 'Charles'; knowing that he no longer has the self-confidence to help them. Finally, these two long-standing characters have their walls completely stripped down and this exploration of their bond and mutual understanding of the darkness that they've seen together is incredibly engaging and Jackman has been better in the role.
Similarly, Xavier – who was always a beacon of hope for his former students, encouraging them to be proud of their powers and use them in the best way possible, is changed. And we're not just talking about his new-found potty mouth... Here, his crippling shame over not being able to save all of his fellow mutants permeates all of his scenes, culminating in a heartbreaking confession that will almost definitely make your eyes water.
Along with fantastic new addition Laura (played by the brilliant Keen), these characters don't just make up a superhuman team, they're more of an unconventional family unit by the second act, and because of that, the stakes feels exponentially upped as the film draws to a close. The entire world doesn't need saving here; it's more about Logan's personal journey and his final attempt at finding peace within himself. (Which is why the movie's final fight scene – or moreover, who Wolverine is forced to go up against - winds up being borderline poetic). What's more is you're not quite sure just what his search is going to cost him along the way.
Mangold isn't only bold when it comes to pushing emotional boundaries too. Wolverine has always been regarded as the most savage of X-Men members and rightly so; collapsing someone to the ground with your mind or giving them a swift kick round the head doesn't exactly look as harrowing on-screen as slashing a torso with a set of knife-like claws. But Wolverine's fight scenes have always been muted given his previous outings' child-friendly certificates.
Now, with a R-rating in tow, Mangold delivers on his promise of ultra-violence. Heads get decapitated and punctured, limbs get sliced off and there's shredded bloody bodies by the bucket-load. Most of the time, the deaths aren't purely in the name of justice either. Sometimes, they're merely the result of unadulterated rage.
To say Logan is the best Wolverine film is to do it a disservice – (the two that have come before it have hardly been ground-breaking) – it's undoubtedly one of the best comic-book films going. Calling it a superhero movie doesn't quite seem fitting either, as it wholeheartedly abandons formulaic traditions, that need to tease a sequel and that cape-filled, cheesy glossiness in favour of something much more universal; a truly affecting and gritty human story.