Friday, February 17, 2017

'Logan' (2017) Movie Review

It’s been 17 years since Hugh Jackman first strapped on the bushy sideburns and adamantium claws as fan-favorite mutant Wolverine in X-Men. Now, in 2017, with Logan—his (reportedly) final ride as the grizzled, ornery, cigar-chomping comic book antihero—we get the movie I’ve been waiting almost two decades for.

This is the version of the character I’ve wanted to see on the big screen since before these movies were even a mischievous glint in Fox’s eye. Jackman has been strong as Wolverine, making the role his own over the years, despite a handful of misfires as far as the movies go (the less said about X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better). But there’s always been something missing. And that something is generally violence.

Logan rectifies that oversight with gusto. The massive, relatively unexpected success of Deadpool last year paved the way for writer/director James Mangold to embrace Wolverine’s often shockingly vicious nature and the team makes full use of the R-rated freedom. This is the pulpy, brutal, mean-spirited take the source material has always deserved. Sure, at times you get the impression they’re swearing simply for the sake of swearing—which they most definitely are, cramming in every F-bomb imaginable—but they’re having a fine time. I expect a certain amount of giddiness in the autonomy to curse with abandon after not being able to for so many films.

And the darkness doesn’t end with the violence. Overall, Logan goes bleak and gets grim in every way possible. Loosely (very, very loosely) based on the “Old Man Logan” storyline (mostly just that he’s old and it’s the future), Logan picks up with the titular mutant in the year 2029, and times have not been good. No new mutants have been born in 25 years, and the few who still exist remain underground. Logan drives a limo for spoiled kids, drunk bridal parties, and arrogant businessmen along the U.S./Mexico border in El Paso in a glimpse of the future that feels troublingly prescient.

With his healing ability beginning to fail, Logan drinks away his free time, and along with albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), he cares for an aging Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). This is a rough patch for fans of the franchise, as well as anyone who’s ever had a loved one deal with creeping dementia and senility. Charles still has the most powerful brain in the world, only his control of it grows increasingly tenuous. Logan keeps him doped up because even momentary freak outs prove devastating. And Stewart is equally pummeling as the frustrated shadow of his former self.

While Logan certainly fits into the larger X-Men universe Fox and Bryan Singer crafted, this bleak, somber tone sets it apart. The sparse, barren frontier setting allows James Mangold to indulge his western proclivities—the story borrows heavily, and obviously, from Shane and the mythos of the aging gunslinger in the American West.

But even as grim and desolate as the narrative often becomes, it never wallows in hopelessness. Much of this derives from the addition of Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen). Vicious and near feral, the troubled young mutant, herself an echo of Logan, finds her way to the heroes. Pursued by the Reavers, a Blackwater-esque military company led by Boyd Holbrook’s Donald Pierce, much of Logan plays out like a road-trip movie with the core group on the run.

Themes of family, home, love, and hope run through Logan as the hero reluctantly searches for a purpose. There are even moments of peace and idyllic tranquility, as close to happiness as these characters can find. But don’t worry, the deep emotional bits frequently find themselves interrupted by chaotic action and violent outbursts.

Logan is not the family-friendly, bloodless PG-13 approach where even when people die it mostly happens of screen. Seriously, half of this movie takes place with Wolverine’s claws sticking out of some nameless goon’s skull. And if you’ve ever wanted to see a little girl dismember soldiers, straight-up murder dudes, and roll a severed head like a bowling ball, this is your movie. Despite the widespread use of special effects, Mangold stages the action in ways that ground and give it a visceral, gut-level edge.

After so many times playing the part, Logan offers Hugh Jackman the opportunity to add new wrinkles, both literal and metaphoric, and this feels like a logical end point for the character. Everyone he’s ever loved is dead. World-weary, teetering on suicidal, this is a broken man, hanging on more from habit than out of desire. Wolverine has always carried a sadness, and though his gruff charm still shines through, we see how it looks when the weight becomes too much to bear and crushes him.

Dafne Keen barely speaks—Laura doesn’t say a word for the first three-quarters of the movie—but leaves a definite impression. A wild, savage child raised in captivity, she grunts and roars and impressively holds her own in the abundant action sequences. But there’s also a child’s innocence and uncorrupted optimism below the untamed exterior that make her more than just a little girl who fucks shit up.

Patrick Stewart crushes the soul as the decaying shell of Professor X. Stephen Merchant’s Caliban has few nice moments, but largely falls by the wayside after the early acts. Boyd Holbrook clearly has fun playing the sinister military contractor laying on the thick, good-ole-boy charisma the same time as he sizes up his prey with vicious intent. Though he’s set up as the primary antagonist, he disappears in the middle, pushed to the side and relegated to generic, I’m-gonna-get-you villain role, which is a shame.

Clocking in at 145 minutes, there are times Logan goes just to go. It doesn’t necessarily drag and the pace never wavers, even in the quiet moments, and though it’s still imminently watchable, there’s a feeling that it pushes forward a little blind. My only real knock against the movie is that it’s just a few minutes longer than is absolutely necessary, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Brash and pulpy, desolate but hopeful, violent and touching, Logan is a fitting culmination of the Wolverine saga. It wraps up a narrative that unfolded across multiple films at the same time it shows Logan in a new light. Moving and brutal, action packed and a total blast, this is the place Wolverine needed to arrive. [Grade: A-]

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