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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Logan

Pretty much everyone else has had their say on this so, despite not disagreeing at all with the general consensus, here's my own undoubtedly quite disorganized take on the X-Men movie none of us knew we wanted.


After the all around terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the thoroughly-lacking-in-its-own-convictions the Wolverine, Logan gives us a Wolverine movie that does the character justice - and then some.

Drawing more from existential westerns like Shane (which actually appears on screen during the movie) and Unforgiven than from the typical superhero narratives we have mostly seen on screen, Logan is a tough, brutal and moody meditation on a life of violence, shot through with an unconventional family drama and healthy helpings of action, humour and sci-fi weirdness.

The story itself is as simple as the title character needing to get a young mutant who is, for all intents and purposes, his daughter across country to the Canadian border where there is a hope of a new and better life for her and other young mutants like her, but entrenched in that stripped down narrative is complex characterization, a rich thematic canvas and, presciently, many a parallel to the United States' current political climate.

Keeping the basic road-trip structure, the western trappings and at least some of the larger themes of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's Old Man Logan comic book miniseries, Logan still mostly feels like a film with its own very particular vision; one that is presumably much closer to what director James Mangold was able to achieve with the second Wolverine film; a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster that was clearly mired in compromise, especially in its idiotic third act that betrayed everything that came before.

Thanks to the R-Rated success of Deadpool and Hugh Jackman apparently taking a substantial pay cut to ensure that his final outing as Wolverine has as much artistic freedom as humanly possible, Logan comes across as utterly uncompromised as it abandons the fun but vapid spectacle of even the best X-Men films of the past for something that is much more focused, much more contained, much more internal and, yes, much more adult.

Aside for Nolan's Dark Kight trilogy (which did at times feel ever so slightly embarrassed of its comic book roots), when mainstream superhero films from DC and Marvel have attempted a more "adult" take on their properties in the past we landed up with, at best, Deadpool, which may have had enough violence, profanity and sex to guarantee an R-rating but was gloriously adolescent at heart, or, at worst, miserable, vacuous nonsense like Batman v Superman. Logan, however, is "adult" in the best sense of the word.

Yes, there is plenty of brutal violence and more salty language than you can swing a Tarantino at but Logan is mostly adult by virtue of the ideas and themes it tackles and by the fact that even with the film's not insubstantial levels of impressive action scenes and much-needed humour, it's not afraid to take its time or to wallow in the murky moral world in which it finds itself. And yet, it's very much not "grim and gritty" as it still maintains a hopefulness and a sense of heroic goodness that the ghastly current crop of DC movies wouldn't be able to spot with a Hubble telescope.

For all that so much of the film's success so obviously lies in the hands of director and co-writer, James Mangold, though, it's undoubtedly the core of three wonderful actors that give it so human a touch. Hugh Jackman has always been wonderful as Wolverine but his work here leaves everything else he has done with the character in the shade as he inhabits every last inch of this conflicted, broken but ultimately decent (anti?) hero with real soul, compassion, and intelligence. If there's any justice in the world, he should seriously be considered for an Academy Award for his bravura performance here. It's that good.

And yet, for all that he could carry the entire film on his own shoulders, this isn't just the Hugh Jackman show. In terms of smaller roles, we get some very fine work from Stephen Merchant who is all but unrecognizable as Caliban, the gentle, vampire-like mutant whose makes far more impact than his limited time on screen might suggest. Even the villains, who are as hissable as they are instantly forgettable, may be the film's weakest link but even there, we get decent performances from Richard E. Grant and Boyd Holbrook.

Threatening to steal the show from Mr. Wolverine himself, though, are stunningly great work from Patrick Stewart, who gets to take his well-worn Professor Charles Xavier to new and unexpected places and turns in a career best performance on the way, and young newcomer Dafne Keen, whose largely wordless performance as Laura, AKA X-23, only adds further fuel to the question of just what the hell they're feeding kid actors these days that there have been so many truly exceptional performances from pre-adolescents over the last couple of years. It is, however, the interactions of this weird family unit that makes the individual performances even better.

Admittedly, there is always the fear that studios are going to take the wrong lesson from Logan - in much the same way that Warner Brothers took the wrong lessons from the Dark Knight trilogy - and apply its brooding, violent tone to superhero films that are ill-suited to it but that doesn't take away from how thoroughly excellent Logan is on its own terms. It's far from the first truly adult or format-breaking comic book movie out there, as some have ignorantly suggested (don't forget, films as diverse as a History of Violence, Scott Pilgrim vs the World and Ghost World are comic book movies too) but it feels like a line in the sand nonetheless.

If the irresistible charms of Deadpool or Guardians of the Galaxy opened the gates for the different kinds of films to be made from DC and Marvel's stable of superhero characters then one can only hope that Logan will take things even further. If not, we can at least take comfort in just how good Logan itself is.

 

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