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Logan

Year: 2017
Production Co: Donner's Company
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: James Mangold
Producer: Simon Kinberg/Lauren Schuler Donner
Writer: Scott Frank/Michael Green/James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E Grant, Eriq La Salle

What do the recent unauthorised Star Trek outing Star Trek: Renegades and mommy porn phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey have in common? They both had their genesis in fan fiction, taking characters and tropes from established universes and telling stories with very different tones than those of the official canons.

But where neither Renegades nor 50 Shades were on a par with the properties that spawned them (50 Shades was originally Twilight fanfic), Logan is the best example of an X-Men story you didn't know was possible. It's not only better than any other movie about the titular hero, it beats most of the X-men franchise altogether.

The script (by director James Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green) contains a premise you'd think had come from a devoted Wolverine fan who dared to go places you just know the brass at 20th Century Fox wouldn't, unrestrained by the demands of a PG rating and the merchandising cash-ins on gadgets and action figures.

Where the rest of the genre is about carefully laid down templates of quips, pizzazz and toy tie-ins, Logan is about the grit, grime and moral grey areas other superhero movies crow about but seldom realise.

It's 2029, and Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a broken man. He makes a living as a scuzzy limo driver in border towns between the US and Mexico, returning home to an abandoned industrial plant in the middle of nowhere where he and his albino sidekick Caliban (Stephen Merchant) tend to the old, sickly and possibly deranged Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).

The former Professor X spends his days heavily medicated, his living quarters set up in a collapsed tank that locks his psychic powers off from the rest of the world, protecting it against the damage he might unwittingly do with one of his seizures (as one character ponders, what are the consequences of the world's most powerful mind in a sick brain?).

The X-Men are long gone, the proud history of the School for the Gifted a memory, Logan and Charles scratching a living out of the squalid desert and believing the mutant heyday is long over.

It certainly is for Logan, his adamantium skeleton now poisoning him, changing him into the crumpled, pain-wracked creature you've seen on the poster. If he even wants to fully extend his claws now he has to grip one with his other hand and pull it painfully out, slicing into his skin.

So when mysterious former nurse Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) comes to beg for his help, Logan – untroubled with a sense of duty towards his fellow man at the best of times – isn't the least bit interested. Only the promise of payment for a mission can draw him to a dingy motel late one night to meet her.

Instead, he finds Gabriela murdered, a video on her phone detailing an apparent secret plot by a shadowy corporation harvesting mutant genes to breed a race of super-soldiers. Along with other staff, Gabriela has smuggled the children bred for the program out of the facility and into hiding, intending to deliver them to a fabled mutant paradise where they'll be safe.

It explains the smooth talking weirdo with the robotic hand and air of threat – Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) – who's already visited Logan to warn him of vague consequences if he doesn't help track Gabriela down.

But when Logan gets back to his rusty home, intending to keep the money and forget everything, two things spurn him into action. First is the little girl who was in Gabriela's care, Laura (Dafne Keen), who's hidden in his trunk and who Charles insists represents a new dawn of mutant-dom. Second is the line of black SUVs bearing down on their hideout, looking none too friendly.

Logan assumes they're after Charles, getting Caliban to lock the old man down while he tries to distract the heavily armed mercenaries who show up with Pierce. But one of the brawniest and scariest among them goes inside to discover Laura quietly eating a bowl of cereal, and when she just as coolly walks out with his severed head in her arms a minute later, she's revealed to be much more than anyone thought.

It's only because of Laura's own adamantium claws, rage on a par with Logan's in his heyday and jaw-dropping ability in a fight that she, Logan and Charles get away, Pierce and his forces one step behind to recover the company's prized asset.

While Charles insists Eden (as the mutant stronghold is called) is real, Logan thinks it's rubbish made up for comic books – a dog-eared X-Men comic actually appears, a talisman to indicate that this is a whole new Marvel universe we're dealing with.

But with little other option they set out, Logan getting sicker and weaker all the time, Charles barely holding on and occasionally lapsing into fits that paralyse entire city blocks, and Laura sitting silently beside them, awaiting her fate.

Aside from just being a great movie, Logan is an example of a movie perfectly pitched. The name of the film and even the typeface it's written in on the poster and other marketing is a strong statement – this isn't about the X-Men or even about Wolverine. It's about a man whose superpowers have faded and who ages, tires, bleeds and whose hopes and dreams get just as crusted over by disappointment as the rest of us.

He takes care of erstwhile father Charles out of an honest but oblique sense of duty, but he's long since given up on fairytales of mutants being welcome or prosperous in the human world (as depicted in the comic book he holds with such scorn). Where Wolverine was a wise-cracking guy in a colourful jumpsuit, Logan is a faded man with little left to hope for, waiting to get old and die. It's about age rather than claws, fatigue rather than fights, and resignation where there was once rage.

Both Jackman and Stewart can play these characters standing on their heads, and to play the broken version of themselves decades hence is an acting challenge both shine at and seem to relish.

But it's 12-year-old Dafne Keen as Laura that's just as magnetic on screen. Sometimes she's blithely unaware and innocent, noodling around a convenience store eating chips, and sometimes she stares balefully like a coiled snake waiting for an aggressor to come just a step too close. But when she unleashes her fury and power it's such effective fight choreography it's almost scary. Seeing her go postal on a younger Wolverine clone deployed by the design-a-soldier program isn't something you'll forget in a hurry.

So as you might have guessed, just because Logan is centred on old men and their bitterness doesn't mean it doesn't have any action. Not only are there several buttock-clenching fight and chase scenes, many of them are superior to anything else you've seen in the X-Men franchise.

The staging and design of the fights elevate the action, and Logan finally goes somewhere that always made perfect sense for a character with razor sharp claws for knuckles but which the PG-rated X-Men universe never dared; blood.

Heads and limbs are lopped off and sent flying with gay abandon, claws plunge upwards through chins to explode through eyes, stomachs are opened to spill out and blood showers out with every hammerblow-like strike.

Between the gore and the language, it's indeed the R-rated version of Wolverine you've heard about, and while Marvel churns out the same formula over and over again like they're off a production line and Warner Brothers/DC flounders trying to do the same, this film and Deadpool are lightning strikes – almost perfect subversions of the entire genre. In the face of an onslaught of generic thrills from other studios, Fox are suddenly doing superhero movies very, very right.

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