A film review by Craig J. Koban March 11, 2017

LOGAN jjjj
 

2017, R, 137 mins.

 

Hugh Jackman as Logan / Wolverine  /  Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier / Professor X  /  Dafne Keen as Laura Kinney / X-23  /  Boyd Holbrook as Donald Pierce  /  Stephen Merchant as Caliban  /  Richard E. Grant as Dr. Zander Rice

Directed by James Mangold  /  Written by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green

 

 

LOGAN is apparently the last film outing for the adamantium clawed Canadian anti-hero...at least the version played by Hugh Jackman, who has inhabited the iconic Marvel Comics character on the silver screen for nearly 20 years.  

If this third WOLVERINE film is indeed the swan song for the Australian actor, then we perhaps could not have asked for a better one.  LOGAN is the best possible X-MEN centric film we'll likely ever get.  LOGAN strips away all of the super hero genre fat and bloat that has permeated far too many recent examplesy.  Like Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy, LOGAN is deconstructing comic book movies by grounding them in an emotionally heavy narrative with stakes that feel real...at least as much as a film with mutants allows for. 

LOGAN is more a western than it is a super hero film, and it borrows heavily from classical westerns like SHANE (more on that it a bit) as well as UNFORGIVEN.  Similar to Clint Eastwood's Oscar winning 1992 western, LOGAN deals with a world void of hope in which once violent and powerful men - now cruising beyond middle age and retired from a life of bloodshed - are forced to return to the oppressive environment that they have been trying to avoid for years.  At a relative scant $97 million (peanuts for most lavish budgeted super hero efforts), LOGAN feels refreshingly lean and spare.  It doesn't exist for ostentatious visual effects eye candy and action set pieces (although, it does contain both), nor does it feature some seemingly unstoppable megalomaniacal super villain out to destroy the world.  The conflicts in LOGAN seem smaller, but more relatable and the film contains characters that command our attention and allow for us to identify with them.  It's the insular approach that this film takes in all facets that makes this third entry in the WOLVERINE trilogy feel so invigoratingly segregated - yet still a part of - the films that preceded it.   

 

 

That, and we've never seen Logan so pathetically downtrodden and weak in an X-MEN film as we do here.  Set in a dystopian 2029 America when most mutants on the planet have mysteriously disappeared and are all but extinct, Logan is a sad sack shell of the mutant that he used to be.  Alcoholic, suicidal, largely disheveled, and seeing his healing abilities slowly dissipating, he has long since put his super hero exploits aside and now works an extremely low level and demeaning job as a limo driver for small scale clients (like, for example, drunken bachelorette parties).  When he's not working he's buying cheap black market medication to care for his old friend Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who's now a decrepit and severely senile 90-year-old man that suffers from extreme seizures if not treated (the film rather pointedly shows us what happens when a psychic as all-powerful as Xavier has an episode). 

Aided by their albino mutant colleague and friend Caliban (an unrecognizable and very decent Stephen Merchant), Logan and Charles seclude themselves in hiding in Mexico, hoping to keep their guarded existence a well kept secret.  Fate, as it always does, steps in to confront them in the form of a young Latino girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who has escaped medical captivity and appears to have been ruthlessly subjected to the same ungodly experiments that Logan went through decades ago (she's essentially a pint sized version of him in every way, with all of his peak powers and adamantium infused body).  Realizing that this girl is special, Charles pleads with Logan to do the right thing and escort her to a secret safe haven in Canada that apparently harbors young mutants like her.  In pure western anti-hero fashion, Logan wishes to have nothing to do with Laura, but when a deranged scientist (Richard E. Grant) and his muscle (Boyd Holbrook) show up and will stop at nothing to re-kidnap her, Logan begrudgingly agrees to take the young girl in and journey her off north of the border. 

Director James Mangold once again returns to helm this newest Wolverine outing (he previously directed 2013's very underrated THE WOLVERINE), and right from the very get-go LOGAN sets itself exceedingly far apart from the other X-MEN films as a very hard R rated super hero outing.  This is a savagely barbaric movie at times, which includes Logan (and frequently the pre-pubescent Laura) inflicting pain on their adversaries by hacking, stabbing, and dismembering every possible part of the human anatomy.  LOGAN more than earns its rating within its first few moments, but the raw carnage on display (which sometimes can become a bit obtrusively numbing) does serve a purpose here.  Firstly. LOGAN is trying to go against the grain of previous sanitized super hero films that have been chiefly neutered by the PG-13 rating.  Secondly, the rampant bloodshed in LOGAN is not sensationalistic...it's used for the purposes of reiterating the nihilistic times that Logan resides in.  This is not a bright and cheery super hero film; it's one that's depressingly bleak and filled with moral uncertainty and despair.  LOGAN, as a result, is appropriately extreme with its graphic violence. 

The more adult rating also allows for our once fairly squeaky clean heroes to talk rough, rugged, and altogether dirty.  Logan spews out multiple iterations of the f-word with reckless aplomb at times, and, hell, even Charles lashes a few out when he feels at his most desperate (granted, hearing the typically urbane former professor tell Logan to "go fuck himself" is difficult to process and acclimatize oneself to early on).  Again, Mangold and company are not using violence and language here for the purposes of cheap titillation.  LOGAN has a lot more up its sleeves, especially for how it thoughtfully explores the contemplative themes of what happens to super heroes when they age and when they're, well, simply not super anymore.  The bickering odd couple chemistry between Jackman and Stewart here is at an all time series high, which becomes unexpectedly more poignant as the film progresses.  It's also based on mutual reciprocal need - Logan needs Charles to be his constant moral barometer and Charles needs him to physically tend to his ailing health.  Yes, the pair do talk like drunken sailors to each other at times that's initially shocking, but it serves the cause of reducing super hero archetypes down to their most pure and relatable forms.  Logan and Charles are unfathomably powerful mutants, but they've never come across as more authentically rendered human beings with massive faults as they do here. 

Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine so many times over the course of the last seventeen years that it's easy to forget just how damn good he is in the role.  He arguably gives his finest outing as the character in LOGAN, and this time has the challenge of not playing up to the character's limitless physical invulnerability, but rather his emotional vulnerability.  Much like how Eastwood played gunslingers in the latter part of his western career, Jackman infuses a grizzled and beleaguered humanity into Logan that we've not seen before, and it's a searing performance laced with deep rooted anxieties, fears, and regrets.  He's magnificently flanked by Stewart, who really is allowed to make grand usage of his thespian chops this go around to evoke a frail Charles that has beaten down by life.  And then there's Dafne Keen, who has the most thankless task in credibly making Laura a ferociously strong figure of interest in the film in a mostly non-verbal performance early on.  She has a captivatingly stern faced and caged intensity that displays a vast maturity beyond her years. 

It's only somewhat disappointing that the main villains here are somewhat one-note, like Boyd Holbrook's despicably determined bounty hunter with a mechanical hand that has a great look, but not much else going on beyond that.  That, and LOGAN is perhaps a bit too long for its own good at nearly two and a half hours, and despite a sensationally impactful climax that will surely leave audiences both awestruck and a bit teary eyed by the time the end credits roll by, I nevertheless felt a bit exhausted by the whole affair.  I guess those are just minor nitpicks that don't really distract from the whole, because LOGAN is a real complete package as far as super hero films go, seeing as it gives us all of the visceral action that we've come to expect from this series while simultaneously crafting a surprisingly sentimental and moving story that brings Logan's cinematic storyline to a deeply satisfying sense of closure.  It's also an exceedingly rare comic book blockbuster that grippingly transcends its over-saturated genre by being the trendsetting hypodermic needle to the heart that it needs.  LOGAN proves that you can joyously celebrate the comic book movie genre while not being a slave to its overused and repetitive conventions. 

There's a great and quietly strong moment in LOGAN that speaks volumes to the film's approach.  Charles and Laura are watching the western SHANE, which pitch perfectly echoes the type of film that LOGAN is trying to be.  As the aging gunslinger tells the tearful lad in SHANE's climax, "There's no living with a killing.  There's no going back from it.  Right or wrong...it's a brand...a brand that sticks."  Like the aging hero in George Stevens 1953 classic, Logan can't escape his violent past, as it has a way of creeping up on in when he least wants it to.  

That's precisely why LOGAN is probably one of the finest westerns featuring mutants ever conceived and executed. 

 

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