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Breaking bones, beheading thieves and howling with rage from the very first scene, it’s clear from the start of Logan that Marvel’s claw-wielding mutant Wolverine has returned with an explosive force (and more than a hint of madness). Having directed 2013’s The Wolverine, James Mangold returns as director for third instalment in the Wolverine spin-off franchise. Visually, tonally and thematically divorced from X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), the difference between Logan and Hugh Jackman’s first solo X-Men outing is by no means negative. X-Men Origins was a severe critical failure and a poor addition to the franchise; Logan is one of the best X-Men films to date.

Set in 2029, it opens with an ageing, past-his-prime James ‘Logan’ Howlett (Hugh Jackman) living with the 90-year old Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in an abandoned smelting plant just across the Mexican border, an industrial hell-hole situated in a desert-like wasteland. Mutants are on the brink of extinction with no recent births. By day, Logan spends his time caring for Xavier, drinking heavily and snapping at Caliban, his albino housemate (played by Stephen Merchant in a bizarre but characteristically comedic role). By night, Logan earns a living by working as an irritable limousine driver in Texas. Xavier is suffering from a debilitating neurological disease, causing him to have seizures that also affect others due to his unstable telepathic powers. A mysterious child called Laura (Dafne Keen) appears and suddenly Logan is (reluctantly) embarking on a road trip across America to help her.

Part of Logan’s strength lies in its distancing from Marvel itself and the nine previous X-Men films, many of which have been formulaic and predictable. Essentially a road trip movie set in a dystopian future, it is replete with action scenes but also includes character development. Based on the graphic novel Old Man Logan, the film is gritty, dark and extremely violent, with frequent bloody action scenes in which the sheer level of gore and close-ups of Wolverine’s Adamantium claws decapitating limbs are likely to be too much for some viewers. It is notably the first X-Men film to be rated R in the U.S., probably owing to fact that Logan (and other characters) says “f*ck” in what feels like most scenes: “F*ck!”, “f*ck you”, “f*ck off” and “what the f*ck?” being some of the most common phrases (admittedly used for comic effect at times). Accompanying this darker overall tone are the noticeably muted colours and dusty, outdoor scenes often taking place during sunset, dusk or at night, contributing to a film-noir-esque aesthetic that is well-suited to the film and its thematic content. It is also clearly influenced by (and pays homage to) the old Hollywood filmmaking styles and themes of classic westerns, with 1953 film Shane featuring briefly.

Whilst Logan is occasionally self-referential to other characters and previous plotlines, it does so in a self-conscious way that emphasises the loneliness and regrets of its characters rather than simply providing gratifying but meaningless fan service. At one point, Logan himself refers directly to the X-Men comics (which have apparently remained popular in 2029) but dismisses them as glamorous, fictionalised versions of events which he remembers with more pain than fondness; he flicks through a comic and tells Laura “only about a quarter of this is true…”. Thematically the film is strong, replacing end-of-the-world scenarios based around young, new characters (e.g. X-Men: Apocalypse) with a more personal narrative focused on fewer characters that deals with the strained relationships, the pain of regret, old age and the physical and mental deterioration that comes with it.

Despite the dark tone of the film and the world it depicts there are some strange, funny moments that bring much-needed levity and warming, heartfelt moments between Xavier, Logan and Laura that counter its overall bleak brutality. The main cast give convincing performances, with Hugh Jackman and Dafne Keen particularly impressive in their roles and when interacting with each other. Unfortunately the film peaks slightly too early and begins to drag towards the (arguably predictable) end. Nevertheless, whilst the last 30 minutes are drawn-out and somewhat contrived, Logan ultimately delivers a satisfying conclusion with an ending that is as bittersweet and emotional as it is climactic.

Logan is in cinemas now across the UK. Image source: Juarezhoy.com