And the win­ner is ... Jack­man’s

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

We’ve just had the Os­cars, with Bon­nie and Clyde in­no­cent of the crime for once, but here’s an early call for next year: Lo­gan, the stun­ning third — and per­haps fi­nal — in­stal­ment in the Wolver­ine movies that have made Aus­tralia’s Hugh Jack­man a Hollywood star (and helped him keep fit).

It wouldn’t be as great an up­set as Faye Du­n­away and War­ren Beatty an­nounc­ing the wrong Os­car win­ner this week, but even so Lo­gan in con­tention would be a mu­tant out­break in the Acad­emy Awards gene line, as no film based on a comic book has ever been nom­i­nated for best pic­ture.

Christo­pher Nolan’s brood­ing Bat­man movie The Dark Knight (2008) per­haps went clos­est in re­cent times, with eight Os­car nom­i­na­tions and a post­hu­mous best sup­port­ing ac­tor win for Heath Ledger as The Joker.

But it wasn’t nom­i­nated for best film or best di­rec­tor, de­spite be­ing ac­claimed by crit­ics and tak­ing $US2 bil­lion at the box of­fice.

Lo­gan is the 10th film in the X-Men se­ries, which is part of the Mar­vel comic book em­pire. The de­but was X-Men (2000), directed by Bryan Singer, who wanted Rus­sell Crowe for Wolver­ine. But the role went, even­tu­ally, to the un­known ac­tor friend Crowe rec­om­mended.

Jack­man’s pre­vi­ous film was the Queens­land-shot Pa­per­back Hero, about a truck driver who writes a novel. It made about $1 mil­lion; X-Men made al­most 300 times that.

Jack­man signed up for two Wolver­ine movies. He’s now been the char­ac­ter, with his bulging bi­ceps, lethal adaman­tium claws and trou­bled, pissed-off, com­pas­sion­ate mind, for 17 years.

Lo­gan is Wolver­ine’s com­mon name, though his real one is James Howlett. This film is the third of the X-Men se­ries in which he takes the lead, fol­low­ing X-Men Ori­gins: Wolver­ine (2009) and The Wolver­ine (2013).

From such an un­cer­tain be­gin­ning came a char­ac­ter Jack­man cares about. This film, MA15+ here, is rated R is the US (for the swear­ing and vi­o­lence), which was only made pos­si­ble by Jack­man tak­ing a pay cut.

He wanted to make the film he and di­rec­tor and co-screen­writer James Man­gold en­vis­aged, some­thing al­most the op­po­site of a su­per­hero thriller. To do so with stu­dio ap­proval they had to bring down the bud­get be­cause R-rated films don’t make as much at the box of­fice.

The ti­tle is sim­ple and bril­liant. This is a Wolver­ine we have not seen be­fore. This is Lo­gan, a fiftysome­thing man with a bat­tered black suit, a limp, blood­shot eyes, scruffy beard, lips fond of the f-word and the neck of a whisky bot­tle. He scrapes a living as a limo driver along the des­ti­tute US-Mex­ico bor­der.

The open­ing scene tells us this, while also re­mind­ing us of what came be­fore. Lo­gan stag­gers to­wards a gang of men who are mess­ing with his limo. “Oh f..k, steal­ing wheels,’’ he says, tired and ex­as­per­ated. “Shit, shit.’’

Lo­gan takes on the men. The claws come out. He wins, but he takes a beat­ing that wouldn’t have been think­able be­fore. “Je­sus, Wolver­ine,’’ an an­tag­o­nist says to him later, “see­ing you like this just breaks my damn heart.”

The land­scape, the char­ac­ters, the ac­tion are not of the su­per­hero world. We may be in the fu­ture, but it’s a dystopian one. This is a charac- ter-driven neo-west­ern. There are de­lib­er­ate ref­er­ences to this — Lo­gan watch­ing the 1953 west­ern Shane on TV; a nod to Clint East­wood’s Un­for­given — but the com­par­isons that spring to my mind are John Hill­coat’s The Road and Ge­orge Miller’s Mad Max films.

The year is 2029 and, we learn, it’s been 25 years since a mu­tant was born. Or­di­nary folk think of them the same way they think of tigers: ex­tinct. It seems the only ones left are Wolver­ine, who is car­ing for an in­firm Pro­fes­sor X (Pa­trick Stewart, in his best per­for­mance yet in the role), with the help of the al­bino Cal­iban (Stephen Mer­chant).

The three mu­tants are living in an iso­lated, ram­shackle fortress of sorts. It needs to be well bar­ri­caded to keep strangers out, and to keep Pro­fes­sor X, for­mer leader of the X-Men, in. The telepath with the world’s most dan­ger­ous brain is hav­ing seizures that ren­der him — and any­one nearby — al­most life­less. He needs psy­chotropic drugs, which Wolver­ine must source.

It’s clear Wolver­ine is not re­cov­er­ing from wounds as quickly as he used to. His re­gen­er­a­tion pow­ers are shal­lower and his life­long strug­gle be­tween mu­tancy and hu­man­ity is deeper. He looks like a man who could die.

There is hu­mour amid the de­spair. The ex­changes be­tween Wolver­ine and Pro­fes­sor X are arch. It’s a grumpy, hurt­ing mid­dle-aged man look­ing af­ter an iras­ci­ble, wheel­chair- bound nona­ge­nar­ian. “I al­ways know who you are,’’ Pro­fes­sor X says when Wolver­ine sug­gests he’s los­ing his mind. “It’s just that some­times I don’t recog­nise you.’’ He is not alone there.

In­deed, both of them are just about ex-Xs. The fun­ni­est mo­ment is when Wolver­ine dons a pair of read­ing glasses, la­bel still at­tached. The scene where Pro­fes­sor X needs the bath­room is also droll, as is Wolver­ine’s Fawlty Tow­ers re­ac­tion to his car.

This des­per­ate life changes — for the worse — with the ap­pear­ance of an 11- or 12-year-old girl named Laura. She is silent but looks not scared but brave. When she and Wolver­ine run into some bad dudes we soon find out why: she has claws just like him, and knows how to use them. (The vi­o­lence is fairly full-on: blades thrust into faces and so on.)

And so the Shane- like story be­gins. Wolver­ine must pro­tect this girl, who may have his genes, from the mil­i­tary-sci­en­tific com­plex that cre­ated her, Tran­si­gen. It seems Tran­si­gen was work­ing on weaponised mu­tants but aban­doned the plan and de­cided to kill off the young pro­to­types. Some of them es­caped and are now pur­sued by the cor­po­ra­tion’s head of se­cu­rity (Boyd Hol­brook), sci­en­tific chief (Richard E. Grant) and lots of heav­ily armed troops.

Laura is played by 11-year-old English-Span­ish ac­tress Dafne Keen and she is mes­meris­ing. From the first mo­ment you have no doubt she is ex­actly what she is, a mu­tant who can kill a man with a flick of the wrist, but she is also a lit­tle girl. I’d have her down for a best sup­port­ing ac­tress nom­i­na­tion, along­side Stewart for best sup­port­ing ac­tor.

Jack­man would be there too, if I was vot­ing. He is full of the loss of a man who is in a world that was never made for him. The ex­tended scene be­tween Wolver­ine and Laura, like a dad and daugh­ter stew­ing in the front seat of a car, is bril­liant. He has sug­gested this is his last turn as Wolver­ine. If so, he leaves at his peak as an ac­tor.

Man­gold made The Wolver­ine but he is best known for the Johnny-June Cash biopic Walk the Line, which won an Os­car. His west­ern cre­den­tials were well es­tab­lished with the fine 2007 re­make of 3:10 to Yuma, with Crowe and Chris­tian Bale.

In Lo­gan, he and cin­e­matog­ra­pher John Mathieson ( Gla­di­a­tor) bring an in­ten­sity to ev­ery scene un­til the re­mark­able con­clu­sion. I looked in my note book to see what I scrib­bled down in the cin­ema: THE END­ING IS HUGE.

Well, it is, and it will have fans of the X-Men se­ries ask­ing each other a lot of ques­tions when the lights come up.

Lo­gan is a fine ex­am­ple of the su­per­hero film where fan­tasy is tame and re­al­ity is wild.

“You know they are all bull­shit,” Wolver­ine barks af­ter glanc­ing through an X-Men comic (which are clev­erly in­tro­duced into the story). “In the real world peo­ple die.”

Pa­trick Stewart, above left, Hugh Jack­man and Dafne Keen, left, in scenes from Lo­gan

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