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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Review: Logan

Logan (2017): Written by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green, directed by James Mangold.  Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Richard Grant, Boyd Holbrook, and Stephen Merchant.  Running Time: 137 minutes. 

Rating: 3.5/4

            One of the easiest ways to make someone my (fairly young) age feel vastly older than our years is to remind them that it was nearly 20 years ago when Hugh Jackman first hit the big screen as the Wolverine in the very first X-Men movie.  In time this casting proved to be every bit as pitch-perfect as Patrick Stewart’s and Ian McKellan’s as Professor X and Magneto.  And since that moment, one of the running gags surrounding the franchise and its comically zig-zaggy fortunes has been the remarkable lengths to which each and every entry into the current canon has gone to include at least a cameo of Jackson, if not outright starring him. 

            His presence has certainly defined this phase of the X-Men world every bit as much as the character has, in turn, defined Jackson’s career, but alas, even the Marvel film universe can’t avoid the ravages of time, and we truly have reached the point where Jackman is simply too old to keep doing this shit.  Which means that this dark, grim, tightly-focused, and slightly-meta drama about facing up to aging and disappointment in a bleak, possibly hopeless dystopian future really is it; Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have come out for their final curtain call in roles that have defined them in the eyes of an entire generation of film goers.  And in a particularly poignant twist, it might just be the best X-Men movie they’ve ever done. 

            It’s 2029, and for reasons unknown, most of the old mutants have died and it’s been years since new ones were born, so everyone simply assumes they were a freak occurrence going the way of the Dodo.  Logan, clearly aging and dying in spite of the fact that his powers *should* make that impossible, scrapes by as a limo-driver-for-hire in Texas.  Most of his earnings go towards procuring medicines for Xavier, holed up across the border in Mexico with an albino caretaker.  Xavier is also rapidly dying, suffering from seizures that amplify his mental powers in frightening ways and make him a legitimate danger to everyone within a certain radius. 

            As far as Logan is concerned, they are the last of their kind, and fated to remain so, so he may as well try to make their passing as non-destructive as possible until Xavier is gone and he can blow his brains out with an adamantium bullet he’s been saving for just such an occasion.  This all goes up in smoke pretty quickly though, as a Mexican nurse brings them Laura, a young girl who possesses Logan’s power set (infinite regeneration, claws, and a vicious fighting style), begging their protection from the hired hit men of an unnamed corporate entity (led by a fantastic Boyd Holbrook as the film’s main antagonist) seeking to kill her. 

            In typical gruffly resigned manner, Logan takes the girl and Xavier North, seeking a location that may or may not be where the last of the mutants are gathering, including other children like Laura.  To say that they are seeking hope or some sort of salvation for the clear failure of what the X-Men should have been would be saying a bit too much, because this movie is not a pick-me-up, nor does it try to offer much hope.  It runs hard on themes of loss and failure haunting someone knowing they are near the end and that everything they did in their life may very well have been for nought.  Jackman’s Logan always hailed from the bitter side of pessimism, but even Xavier, famed eternal optimist, has been brought low emotionally by his failures and the ravages of his illnesses. 

            This is one of those comic book movies that almost isn’t a comic book movie- most of the dramatic weight and meaning to what Logan and Xavier say and do comes not from anything explicit on the film’s part, but rather from the assumed collective knowledge on our part that we are seeing the conclusion of a two-decade-long film partnership in its final chapter.  It’s an extremely rare set of circumstances to surround a movie like this, giving it a heft it otherwise wouldn’t have had, and often raising the film above its (admittedly fairly small) flaws. 

            And it certainly isn’t a perfect film- there are a few story shifts regarding the bad guys, what they do, and what they want that don’t entirely add up- but it commits so fully to its road-trip-dystopia atmosphere that it has a unique feel and character lacking in nearly every other recent entry into the comic book superhero genre.  It’s the first hard ‘R’ film to show us what people facing claws like that really would look like afterwards, but given how easily the movie could have banked on that to sell itself and excluded all else, like Fury Road it goes the needed extra step to ensure that every bit of fighting or action (and one very solid car chase) feels necessary to either the story or the development of a particular character. 

            While Jackman and Stewart give two of their best film performances ever, superhero movie or otherwise, we already knew they were awesome.  I suspect the truly lasting impact of this film will revolve around the revelation that is Dafne Keen as Laura.  Silent for nearly the entire film, she steals every shot she’s in it with her presence.  It’s easily a star-making turn for the actress and one that SHOULD guarantee a central part of her character in any future X-Men franchise.  It’s also rather depressing that a film featuring gifted children of color/minorities like the bilingual, Spanish Keen fleeing not to, but THROUGH the United States to reach safety from forces seeking to destroy them feels far more topical than it was probably meant to be when first conceived. 

            Logan might or might not go on to redefine what we expect superhero movies to be, but regardless of what comes next in the X-Men universe, if indeed anything does come next, it’s a powerful little film that does refreshing justice to the abilities of its cast and is definitely a must-see for anyone who grew up with this particular version of the X-Men.  With both this and John Wick 2 hitting theaters this early, the gauntlet has very much been thrown down for all other action movies set to come out in 2017, so to those next in line I say; your move. 

-Noah Franc 

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