When Wolverine first burst on to cinema screens in Fox’s ‘X-Men’ back in 2000, comic books were still mainly the preserve of teenage boys and far from the cinematic sure-things they are today.
Starring a then-unknown Hugh Jackman, who was cast three weeks after shooting began, the film was an expensive risk for Fox, but quickly proved a financial and critical success and the precursor for the type of pop-culture revolution rarely seen, even in Hollywood.
Despite controversy over his height and relative inexperience, Jackman also quickly established himself as the breakout star of the X-Men franchise and an enduring fan favourite. 17 years and nine films later, there’s arguably no one that better encapsulates the evolution of superhero movies from nerdy niche to undeniable cultural juggernaut.
Now ‘Logan’, the latest, and potentially final, film outing for Jackman’s iconic clawed mutant, ditches its predecessors’ M rating in favour of confronting violence and visceral action to set it apart from its comic book cousins. Directed by James Mangold (who also helmed 2013’s ‘The Wolverine’) and inspired by the acclaimed comic ‘Old Man Logan’, the film is art-house cinema transposed to the comic book world and a new touchstone for mature superhero storytelling.
Imbued with Mangold’s classic Western sensibilities, ‘Logan’ is a deeply personal story that deliberately does away with the most unfulfilling trend in modern comic book movies: a reliance on apocalyptic, end-of-the-world scenarios that substitute character development for mindless, mass-scale action set pieces.
Set in a near-future, post-X-Men dystopia, an aging Wolverine is charged with the care of an elderly, unstable Charles Xavier, far removed from the kind, worldly figure of the earlier X-Men films. The film cleverly trades on the audience goodwill for Wolverine and Professor X, developed over the history of the franchise, to present them as deeply flawed, and deeply human, shadows of their former selves.
It puts the inherent violence of a character like Wolverine front and centre of the story without ever revelling in it, instead using it to plumb the emotional depths of the character in stark and honest fashion. Wolverine has long been a fascinating contradiction in terms: misanthropic and raged, but with a fundamental sense of loyalty and compassion.
As a likely swansong for Hugh Jackman, ‘Logan’ gives him the freedom to explore the character’s many nuances in arguably the most assured performance of his career. It’s a fitting farewell and brings the character full circle, offering closure for a generation of fans who have grown up, or grown old, with Wolverine and the X-Men.
Ultimately, it’s a film that juggles emotional heft and narrative action with subtle precision, equally as at home as an indie drama as it is a superhero action flick. The recent black-and-white re-release of the film, titled ‘Logan Noir’, further sets it apart from the glossy, colourful aesthetic that dominates the current comic book movie landscape.
Coupled with the runaway success of the brashly comic ‘Deadpool’, ‘Logan’s’ own critical and commercial achievements bode well for a future in which comic book films are encouraged to push the boundaries on blockbuster filmmaking.
17 years after the original ‘X-Men’ brought superhero films into the mainstream, ‘Logan’ looks set to usher in a brave new world of its own.
Own Logan new to Blu-ray & DVD on June 7. Buy it First on Digital HD.