They say there are really only a half dozen plotlines. Everything else in film (and literature?) is an exemplification of these templates. Old wine, new bottles.
And so it is here. For all the blood-spattering, when we get down to it this is really just another tale of crime and punishment, of righting the wrongs of a society gone mad at the core.
Such thoughts were going through my mind when the three main characters in this X-Men spin-off signed into a hotel room for a brief respite from the demonic villains on their tail a third of the way through.
What film comes on the television when they do so? George Stevens’ classic western Shane. Just at the point where Elisha Cook Junior is gunned down by Jack Palance. Afterwards the Wyoming homesteaders say the Our Father over his grave.
This inclusion is no accident on the part of director James Mangold. Because in this, the third and final outing for the mutant hero played by Hugh Jackman, he’s created a Shane for the modern era.
It’s also why, at the end, we get wild child Laura (Dafne Keen), the young girl Jackman is entrusted to protect, delivering Shane’s farewell speech to Brandon de Wilde about the impossibility of him shedding his gunfighter past. Because, “like a brand, it sticks”.
It sticks to Jackman, too. Like Shane, he’s an angel of death. But while Shane is a benign saviour, Jackman is more akin to an Old Testament demagogue dispensing fire and brimstone. He softens towards the end when he’s called upon to engage in the token filial bonding with Keen but this is largely tokenistic.
What nods there are towards genuine gentleness in the film are reserved for Patrick Stewart, the cheery professor who exudes a strong Beckettian edge in the arid desert outpost he inhabits with Logan – and the jabbering outcast Caliban – along the Mexican border.
It’s 2029 but the Trump wall still hasn’t been built. This means that their enemies (Boyd Holbrook, Richard E. Grant & Co.) can ambush them any time they like. They’re mainly searching for Laura, whose ill-fated mother cottoned on to Grant’s warped genetic scheme to turn mutants into killing machines.
It’s all a bit like Mad Max in Armageddon. Jackman acts – and looks – like Mel Gibson crossed with Johnny Depp from Edward Scissorhands, mowing down anyone in his path by swiping them with the blades that emanate from his knuckles (at least until he comes up against his doppelganger).
The violence is sickening at times, and all the more sickening when we see it being perpetrated by an 11-year-old. But what a great little actress Ms Keen shows herself to be, especially in the film’s later stages when she swaps her snarls for tears.
It’s too crude to approximate towards epic status though its 135-minute running time suggests certain pretensions in this regard.