★★★★☆: 'Logan', no country for old X-Men

Hugh Jackman bows out of the franchise that made him a star by delivering the best film yet

★★★★☆: 'Logan', no country for old X-Men

Dafne Keen and Hugh Jackman star in 'Logan' [20th Century Fox]

Perhaps the single most fitting thing about Logan is how well the film wears its superhero fatigue. The genre, arguably kickstarted into a billion-dollar box-office behemoth almost two decades ago by X-Men, feels very tired these days, so it’s rather apt that this film, reported far and wide as Hugh Jackman’s swansong, is all about being old and not quite what you once were.

Admittedly, they could have done a bit more to actually age up Jackman’s Logan, also known as Wolverine. Some salt-and-pepper highlights and a pair of specs don’t quite mask the bulging muscles still bursting forth from underneath the actor’s frayed and blood-stained shirt. Some wrinkles might have helped, with Jackman’s physical appearance belying the characterisation the film is aiming at. It’s a small quibble, but it’s indicative of the trappings the film loses itself to, an almost brilliant superhero film that has to settle on being the best X-Men franchise feature ever.

Directed by James Mangold, whose capable hands saw 2013’s The Wolverine vastly improve upon the dire X-Men Origins: Wolverine from 2009, has produced something very intriguing here. When asked what his influences were, along with the Mark Millar comic Old Man Logan, Mangold name-checked an eclectic list of features, including indie-darling Little Miss Sunshine, creaking bones bruiser The Wrestler, and western Shane, which is directly referenced in the film itself. The fingerprints of all of those are all over Logan, but the film emerges as something entirely of itself, the most intimate use o X-Men characters to date, while also upping the ante on Deadpool’s violence and  potty mouthyness.

The year is 2029 and Logan is now a booze-swigging chauffeur for hire along the Mexican frontier in Texas. Keeping a low profile, though still happy to unsheathe the adamantium claws grafted to his bones, Logan regularly crosses the border to the isolated hideout of Prof Charles Xavier, now in his 90s and losing his grasp on reality – a real problem for someone with the power to control the minds of those around him. Trouble, as it is wont to do, finds Logan when a mysterious young girl arrives on the scene, showcasing some very familiar mutant powers, not to mention dislike for authority figures out to get her.

Where Logan truly succeeds is reducing the action to these central three characters. Chased by the necessary villain Boyd Holbrook, making the most of the extremely limited scope of his role, the film cleverly dispatches with everyone else seen smiling at the rebooted ending of Days of Future Past. Without Storm or Cyclops to lead the team, Wolverine is seen as a pitiable figure, constantly torn between a desire to do the right thing while fighting against the savagery inside him. Jackman has always been the MVP throughout the franchise, and here he is the best he’s ever been. Brutal and heartbreaking, with excellent comic timing and palpable sense that despite his body not quite being what it once was, there’s still enough mettle in Wolverine to be dangerous.

Fans of the comic books will be glad that Logan finally unleashes the berserker-rage ripper who colourfully splashed his way across panels and pages. Between slicing off limbs to dropping F-bombs, the film plays well to an audience that grew up watching Logan go from bloodless cage fighter to blood-dripping badass. The scuttlebutt says that Jackman insisted the film up its violence to meet the Deadpool benchmark, with Fox demanding he take a pay cut in the process. Should that be the case, Jackman can at least rest assured that his creative influence has resulted in a film worthy of his departure.

But it isn’t perfect. While a number of nuanced futuristic touches are very clever and subtle, a poorly handled escalation of the big baddy is straight out of the X-Men playbook, needlessly thinking that bigger and louder is better. It isn’t, pulling focus for the neatly crafted drama in the build-up.

The script, now limping, heads straight for a denouement so daft and scattershot that it seemingly ignores all of the story groundwork laid out beforehand, though packs enough of an emotional wallop to remind you that Jackman could well be a loss from which this franchise cannot heal.

Verdict: As close to perfect as an X-Men movie can get, the film is mean, bloody, breathtaking, and just slips out of everyone’s grasp

Logan (16/141mins) previews on March 1st, with a general release on March 3rd

For more movie reviews on Newstalk.com, please click here.