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Logan (2017)

DIRECTOR: James Mangold

CAST: Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle

REVIEW:

Even more so than Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Logan defies the labels of “comic book” or “superhero” movie.  Together with last year’s Deadpoolit’s a rare “comic book movie” to earn a well-deserved R rating, but their tones couldn’t be more different.  Profanity and graphic violence flow freely in both, but while Deadpool was a tongue-in-cheek romp, Logan (loosely taking some elements from the Old Man Logan comic miniseries) is a dead serious, rather bleak affair.  But while their tones are polar opposites, Deadpool and Logan both refuse to play by conventional superhero movie rules.  Logan also serves as the swan song for two of moviedom’s most iconic superheroes, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier (both of whom have reprised these characters off and on for the past seventeen years).  Small children should be left at home for this one, but for those to whom its grimness isn’t too jarring, Logan might be the most raw and uncompromising gut punch of any “comic book movie”.  Those who thought The Dark Knight was for grown-ups haven’t seen anything yet compared to where this movie dares to go.

Logan takes place in a vaguely dystopian 2029, where the X-Men are gone and no new mutants have been born in twenty-five years.  The former “Wolverine” Logan (Hugh Jackman) is still around, but his nearly two-hundred years are finally catching up with him.  He’s gray and tired and his powers are waning; his claws sometimes don’t come out all the way on cue, and they leave open wounds when they retract, and when he heals from wounds that would kill normal men, it’s not as fast or as complete as it used to be.  Logan is working as a limo driver out west near the Mexican border, where he is also caregiver for the elderly Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or something similar and is prone to telekinetic seizures  that make him a danger to himself and everyone around him.  Logan’s only companion is the albino tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant), and lives only to scrape together enough money to get himself and Charles onto a ship and live in the ultimate isolation in the middle of the ocean.  But one day, a freak new mutant, a young girl called Laura (Dafne Keen) falls into his lap, hunted by a team of mercenaries led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), who is working for scientist Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant).  Initially Logan wants nothing to do with her, but with Charles’ urging, he reluctantly ends up on a road trip transporting Laura to North Dakota, where a supposed safe haven called “Eden” exists just over the Canadian border.  And it seems Laura was genetically engineered from Logan’s DNA and is, essentially, his daughter.

Logan isn’t the first superhero movie with a dark tone, but it feels more adult than even Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, and far more than Zack Snyder’s shallow, juvenile understanding of the word in Batman v Superman.  With Logan, James Mangold, who both directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Frank and Michael Green and previously helmed 2013’s The Wolverine, shows he understands what Snyder does not, that “dark” and “serious” means more than aesthetics, but is also dependent on narrative and character.  There are moments of more-or-less conventional superhero action, but CGI is kept to a bare minimum, and Logan is less a superhero movie than a character study and a morality tale of mortality, loss, and redemption that happens to feature superhero characters.  Not only do Logan and Charles utter their share of F-bombs, but Mangold doesn’t hold back what happens when Logan’s or Laura’s adamantium blades meet human flesh and bone.  The graphic violence will be jarring to some used to tamer superhero flicks, while others who long for more adult treatment like this will find it a breath of fresh air.

For the most part, comic book superheroes never really get old.  They’re rebooted and recast (Spider-Man has gone from Tobey Maguire to Andrew Garfield to Tom Holland without escaping from high school) and any consequences are short-lived and easily retconned and wiped from existence.  Mangold isn’t interested in that here.  Logan isn’t long on backstory (a key tragedy is vaguely alluded to) and, given the X-Men series’ convoluted alternate timelines and loose continuity, it could be viewed as canon or a stand-alone, but mortality has caught up to Logan and Xavier in ways that pull no punches and are brutally uncompromising.  The two are the only series veterans onhand (Caliban had a small role in X-Men: Apocalypse, but he was played there by Tómas Lemarquis, while here by Stephen Merchant), but they are shadows of their old selves, and dusk is settling over them, even if they are not prepared to go quietly into the night.  Any resemblance to the Western Shane is purely intentional; the movie is prominently playing on television in one scene, and is quoted in the conclusion.

For Hugh Jackman (deliberately made up to look haggard and grizzled), this is a rare opportunity for an actor to give a swan song and a definitive finale to a character he has become synonymous with and has returned to off and on over the last seventeen years (when we first met him as Wolverine in 2000’s X-Men, he was an unknown in the States).  Jackman has grown with the character, and now, somewhat like Sylvester Stallone in Creed, he gives us an aging Logan in his final bout and passing the torch to a young newcomer.  There’s a “rage against the dying of the light” tone of finality to his performance here, even as he unleashes an old familiar can of feral whoop-ass.  In addition to playing the aging Logan, Jackman also does double duty, digitally de-aged, as X-24, an identical clone and a Terminator-esque killer.  Patrick Stewart (who reportedly lost approximately twenty pounds to accentuate Xavier’s frailty) gives us an Xavier who does things we’ve never seen him do before (repeating commercial taglines and children’s nursery rhymes while in the grip of dementia, and also dropping F-bombs) while also occasionally showing flashes of his old self.  Not even Professor X is immune to the ravages of old age, and Stewart tinges his performance with a poignant vulnerability.  Dafne Keen in her film debut is a surefire scene-stealer; it takes about half the movie for her to speak a word (though she gets an impactful monologue in the closing scene), but she compensates with a fierce expression and being an even more fearsome fighter than Logan himself.  Boyd Holbrook chomps into the role of the sleazy henchman with gusto, while Richard E. Grant’s Dr. Rice speaks softly and politely which, given his actions, makes him more creepy than his henchmen.

It’s tough to say how much fans of conventional superhero action will take to Logan.  Will its adult tone find an appreciative audience, or will its grimness be too jarring?  In any case, while it’s a questionable viewing choice for those seeking traditional lighter comic book action, and is decidedly not the most fun or uplifting viewing to be had in any genre, Logan is a powerful and ruthlessly uncompromising swan song for two of moviedom’s best-known comic book characters, and surpasses even The Dark Knight for the most adult-oriented superhero movie yet to arrive in theaters.

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