Monday, March 6, 2017

In Theaters: LOGAN (2017)

(US - 2017)

Directed by James Mangold. Written by Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green. Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Elise Neal, Quincy Fouse, Rey Gallegos, Daniel Bernhardt, Jason Genao. (R, 137 mins)

I hit a wall with Marvel and DC movies about a year ago with the realization that I just didn't care about them anymore. LOGAN seems to be cognizant of that sentiment as it's a comic book movie like no other, one that seems designed for people who are tired of the same old comic book movies. It's a risky proposition for something so commercial to go so defiantly against expectations. An established, moneymaking franchise hasn't wandered this far in an unforeseen direction since UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING. For starters, LOGAN is the most graphically gory film of its type since the 2008 cult classic PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, almost playing at times like it comes from an alternate universe where Mel Gibson was hired to direct THE PASSION OF THE WOLVERINE. It's doubtful that this move into hard-R territory would've been possibly without the huge success of the smug and douchey DEADPOOL, but that's where the comparisons end. A deconstruction of its franchise's own mythology and a downbeat, mournful elegy of the dark side of heroism inspired by Mark Millar's Old Man Logan comics series, the ambitious LOGAN is cerebral and audacious, an outside-the-box attempt at exploring the psychology of a scant few lost and broken X-Men who are the last of their kind and know the end is near. It's visceral, bleak, and uncompromising, with director/co-writer James Mangold taking a more personal thematic approach to this than he did on 2013's little-loved THE WOLVERINE, which he took on as more of a gun-for-hire job after Darren Aronofsky quit during pre-production. The Logan of LOGAN is more in line with other Mangold protagonists like Sylvester Stallone's Freddy Heflin in COP LAND and Christian Bale's one-legged Civil War vet in 3:10 TO YUMA: sad, bitter, burned-out and beaten down by life, and generally just going through the motions until something comes along that inspires them to give a shit again.

LOGAN takes place in 2029, years after nearly all of the X-Men have died off and 25 years since the last mutant was born. James Howlett, aka Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a disheveled alcoholic dividing his time between driving a limo in El Paso and scoring seizure medication for Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who's holed up an an abandoned factory in the outskirts of a small Mexican town just south of the border. Now 90, Xavier is suffering from a degenerative brain disease that causes him to lose control of his telepathic powers without proper meds, which are getting more expensive by the day. The pair share their living space with albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), who takes care of housekeeping duties like Felix Unger to Logan's Oscar Madison. Logan is contacted by Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who wants him to drive young Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota where she's to meet some other young mutants and cross the border into Canada. Logan is incredulous, as no mutants have been born in nearly three decades, but when Gabriella is killed and he realizes that Laura is being targeted by a heavily-armed security force with cybernetic right arms led by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), he ends up on the run with Xavier and the child in tow. Pierce is employed by Transigen, a company ostensibly conducting pediatric cancer research at a medical facility in Mexico, but they're really breeding a new strain of mutant using the DNA of X-Men like Logan. Judging from her retractable knuckle blades, Xavier immediately concludes that Logan's DNA was used to father Laura. With Pierce abducting an ailing Caliban and forcing him to use his powers to track them down, Logan, Xavier, and Laura form a tentative three-generational family unit, with Xavier reminding the misanthropic Logan "This is what life looks like...people love each other...you should take notice."

The characters are the key component of LOGAN, but it doesn't skimp on the action. The trio has several run-ins with Pierce and his employer, chief villain and asshole geneticist Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), there's a terrific car chase, and there's a couple appearances by Wolverine clone X-24, also played by Jackman. The level of violence in LOGAN is sure to surprise even the most jaded moviegoers: between the two of them, Logan and Laura stab, skewer, slice, dice, decapitate, and disembowel everyone Transigen sends their way, tallying up a body count that makes John Wick look like a hesitant rookie. While it meets the action content requirement, LOGAN is about the people, and even though it functions as a standalone work, this is a film that couldn't have been made had Jackman and Stewart not had so much experience with these characters. They've inhabited these characters through multiple installments and the audience knows them so well over the last 17 years that the more serious approach carries significant emotional weight. Like Clint Eastwood's reformed killer William Munny in UNFORGIVEN, Jackman's Logan subverts expectations and serves as a genre commentary on itself (in addition to Logan being an outcast who has no place in the world, there's additional western motifs that Mangold drives home by showing Xavier and Laura watching SHANE on TV). Logan is dying from the slow poisoning caused by the adamantium that makes up his claws and runs through his body. He knows the end is near for him, Xavier, and Caliban and that when they die, the X-Men die with them, even if they live on in the "bullshit" comic books that Logan sees wherever he goes. The bond that he and Xavier form with Laura gives him a reason to live, a reason to do what's right before the lights go out on a life that's seen too much pain and death. Of course, doing so requires doling out more pain and death, and therein lies the conundrum. Jackman and Stewart are so good in LOGAN that they warrant legitimate Oscar consideration, though it'll never happen. They're matched by an impressive Keen in her movie debut. She has no dialogue for the first 3/4 of the film and instead relies on facial expressions and the most penetrating, "don't fuck with me" side-eye you'll ever see. This kid has an intimidating look to her that goes way past "resting bitchface." LOGAN is an instant classic of its kind, the most extreme superhero bloodbath since PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, the best serious genre offering since THE DARK KNIGHT, and a thoughtful and often profoundly moving drama that looks at the last days of dying legend. One of the best films of 2017.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review. Wouldn't compare Logan to Punisher: War Zone. Different type of movie.