I cried for the first time ever, watching a superhero movie.
Judging by the reaction of the audience around me, I was in good company. So let me set the stage. Here in the US, this is the first “R” rated superhero movie (apart form last year’s Deadpool). Since 2000 we’ve grown up watching Bryan Singer make superhero movies like westerns: the bad guy always loses and the good guy gets the girl. For me, two of my favourite actors, Patrick Stewart and Huge Action have been a cornerstone of that Marvel Universe. To have a movie featuring just these two characters has been a long time coming and is very welcome for that reason.
We are in 2029 although it looks very like 2017 to me. Given the movie was probably filmed in late 2015, early 2016 it is remarkably prescient. Our heroes live south of the US border in Mexico and Logan crosses the border daily for work. We see images of long queues of immigrants trying to get into the US and immigrants being deported. Trump anyone? It gets even closer to the political bone when the central plot of the movie is to get a young girl to Canada, to refuge and to the safety of her friends. Canada is portrayed as a safe haven for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of America's teeming shore…..you get where I’m going with the analogy.
We join our heroes as Logan, now an alcoholic, broken man and Professor Xavier, a dementia-ridden patient are struggling day to day to make ends meet. No more School for the Gifted, no more X-men jets, no snazzy suits: it’s a down and dirty gritty existence. Sure the plot is a well-trodden one. Broken heroes have to rise up and become heroes one last time to save a little girl and her friends. This time though we are in a world of close-ups: Logan’s grey-haired wrinkled face and Xavier’s kidney-spotted head. These are real people, struggling to survive and figure out what happened, how have they fallen so far.
The film introduces Dafne Keen as Laura, a new kind of genetically created mutant. If you’ve seen the trailer you know I’m not giving anything away. Speaking of the trailer for this film; the use of “Hurt” by Johnny Cash both in the film and over the end credits is one of the best uses of modern music in a trailer or movie ever. The song and the movie echo the pain of each other in a symbiotic way that enhances both. Given director James Mangold’s knowledge of Wolverine, having directed "The Wolverine" and Johnny Cash, having directed “Walk the Line” - it all begins to make sense. His style allows us to get to know our characters.
Dafne Keen is a joy to behold. She moves from innocent child to ferocious mutant with believable skill. Even more because she is mute for most of the film, not speaking and communicating through her facial expressions. So she has to communicate her thoughts and emotions through her body language and her face. It is a hard skill and she makes it look easy.
There are twists and turns in the movie, some Darth Vader-esque revelations but these are well sign-posted. In the end these are not intended to shock or for the audience to scream “Aha! I knew it!”. Rather the subtlety of these twists ensures the spotlight never moves from our two main protagonists, our two heroes, our two friends - all that is left of the X-Men. It is a super hero movie like no other superhero movie and it is all the better for it. Director James Mangold allows the characters room to breathe. Yes, there is plenty of action and some of the action sequences take your breath away however Mangold’s style ensures you are always brought back to our characters and the bond they share.
The bad guys get what’s coming to them and our heroes get to save the day, if not themselves. There is a measure of redemption, but not a whole lot.
I loved it and you will cry too.