Monday, March 13, 2017

Logan- Review

The last in line.
This can be a somewhat sobering and semi-surreal thought for sure, but one that essentially permeates everything in a sense. Time is the apex predator of all things, and is always moving towards the inevitable pounce upon its prey. People we love will be lost, fixtures in our lives will crumble, and eventually we, the individuals reading these very words, will one day no longer be here. Our efforts, our achievements, and even our very memories are but transient elements destined to be a faded forgotten fraction of a moment in the cosmos.

I've wrestled with this existential thought on many a solemn night for almost over tens years, but no matter how I try to turn it, or rationalize it in my mind, nothing can change the fact that we're all eventually victims of time at one point or another. The question has never been a matter of "if" only "when" and did you value the time that you had? This notion holds true, even in the realm of fiction, and especially for the likes of the immortal mutant Wolverine.

Created 45 years ago by Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and John Romita Sr. in 1974, Wolverine (a.k.a. Logan/James Howlett) has been a mainstay cornerstone within the genre of superhero comics. For many fans the world over, Wolverine exists as a veritable comicbook legend among his contemporary peers like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spiderman, consistently being listed as one of the greatest characters in superhero fiction of all time.

Be it his tragic past, his charmingly gruff demeanor, or his ruthless fighting prowess, viewers have their reasons for loving the character as much as they do, for as long as they have. I'll admit that even I am a bit of a Wolverine fan at heart, but despite his immense popularity, and his seemingly timeless nature (due to his uncanny ability to heal from any wound) Logan isn't completely immune to the affects of entropy. Time has finally come to claim Wolverine.

In the year 2029, mutankind is on the verge of total extinction. For reasons unknown mutants begin to no longer have children and the once prolific species quickly, and suddenly dies off. One of the few remaining X-Men, Logan (going by his birth name James Howlett) manages to survive the mysterious mutant plague, and maintains a low profile in southern Texas, by working as a chauffeur. Together with the mutant Calaban, Logan provides care for a senile and ailing Professor Charles Xavier, just south of the Mexican border.

Life is dismal and difficult for the trio, as Xavier suffers from memory loss and incredibly powerful/dangerous psychic seizures in his old age. After a particularly violent episode of seizures, Xavier claims to feel the presence of a new mutant somewhere in the world. Logan dismisses this as nothing more than the wandering thoughts of a frail and demented mind, until Gabriella (a nurse working for Transigen Corp.) seeks out his aid to escort an eleven year old mutant girl (Laura) north to Canada, to a supposed safe haven called "Eden."

Reluctantly taking the job, Logan gathers what little he can, and sets out for the Canadian border. Time isn't on his side though, as the ominous Transigen corporation seems dead-set on capturing Laura by any means necessary, and follows in hot pursuit. All the while, Logan is slowly succumbing to the affects of aging himself. The healing abilities that made him nearly invincible seem to be faltering, as his once mighty frame is now racked with scars and wounds. Does Logan have enough strength, humanity, and time left in his haggard soul to survive one last desperate mission? Can the last X-Man see to it that the young mutant Laura is safely delivered across into Eden?   

Before I go any further, I think I should let this one factoid gestate in the skull for a moment. It has been a whole seventeen years, nearly two entire decades, since Hugh Jackman first brandished those iconic adamantium claws of Wolverine. Despite the notably huge gap from back then til now, I can still vividly remember when I first saw Jackman in the initial X-Men trailer. I felt a literal chill run up my spine when he sublimely snikted! out those three classic claws, unveiling them for all the world to see. All that I could process at that moment was that it was real, X-Men as a live-action movie was finally happening. Cut to July 14th, of 2000, and as an early birthday present, I'm given tickets to go see X-Men opening weekend. As I went in to watch the first installment to what would become a full-blown film franchise, I could see there were tons of five year old children in the audience, all just as excited as me to witness this hallmark event. Those very same five year olds who watched that flick with me that night, are all now old enough to legally purchase alcohol, and are probably well into college.

What I'm trying to drive at here is that there's a lot of history and investment when it comes to the X-Men film series, let alone Jackman's storied run with the character of Wolverine. Despite the failures and missteps that have been taken in the past, it's undeniable that people have literally grown up, knowing/accepting Jackman as one of the most pervasive faces of superhero cinema for the majority of their young lives. Even for an older fan like me, Jackman and the X-Men films have (for lack of a better term) been a pillar to the comicbook movie empire that's been constructed over the better part of the last twenty years. It's quite frankly because of the critical and financial success of X-Men (as well as Blade in 1999) that comic-to-film adaptations even became a major priority for Hollywood during the early 2000's. 

Having to carry that heavily weighted history of essentially an entire genre on its back, and possessing the meta-context that Logan was set to be Hugh Jackman's final portrayal of what's been without a doubt his most recognized role (along with the indelible Patrick Stewart leaving the part of Xavier behind as well) I think it was a safe assumption on my end to make that everyone in the audience wanted/needed this last installment to be more than just your average comicbook movie. Logan needed to excel in every facet of its execution in order to please the long-time fans. It needed to be bold, to have heart, and to be a definitive statement on the character of Wolverine.

Did it do it? Did Logan manage to exceed expectations and reinvigorate the comicbook movie genre? I'll say that it did just that...mostly.

Gritty and bloody, but deeply character driven.
I without a doubt enjoyed Logan in its totality quite a bit, and I do honestly feel that it's a fairly solid send-off to a much vaunted actor's body of work that lasted well over his prime years, but the flick does unfortunately suffer from a few hiccups along the way to its conclusion.

But let's dive in to what Logan does right first. Up front, the biggest and best thing I can say about the picture is that it does manage to surpass a lot of the typical comic-based stylings we've come to expect these days. Don't get me wrong, I love a lot of the Marvel Studios Cinematic Universe films, but they're not exactly scoring home-runs with every one that comes out. There is a certain mediocrity to some of Marvel's movies, and I'd be remiss if I didn't call them out on it at least a little bit. We all know both Thor films weren't very well executed, and Doctor Strange was your bog-standard origin story we've seen far too often.

While I can agree with some critics in the regard that Logan lacks a complex plot, I personally feel the simplicity of the plot is gloriously deceptive of the meta-narrative depths of not only the genre, but the perception of comicbook characters as a whole. This is easily one of the best bits of doing a subversive study right in a story, while simultaneously embracing the defining tropes of genre film-making.  

Logan is for, all intents and purposes, what Unforgiven was for the wild-west genre, except for comicbook movies, and that's definitely not a bad thing. Much like how Unforgiven represented a send-off for Clint Eastwood's career in wild-west films, it also serves as an introspective dissertation on the wild-west genre. Logan does much the same, because if I had to be quite honest, Logan exists as not only a film marking the end of an era for the X-Men franchise going forward, it also exists as a semi-introspective meditation on the whole comic-film genre, and where it may be going in the very near future. Much like the world that's set up in Logan, the landscape of superhero cinema itself is potentially on the cusp of a major paradigm shift, or even an eventual/possible collapse. With pieces like Deadpool, Logan itself, and even the success of Marvel's own Daredevil netflix (and sister) series, we could be seeing changes with how these intellectual properties are approached creatively sooner rather than later.

What is that change you ask? That change could be a far more staunch focus on making comic adaptations Rated-R, or at least making a notable shift into the direction of tackling more mature tones/subject matters. Sure, the enormous, bombastic, action scenes that have come to define the genre are nice and all, but as time has worn on, I think fans are developing a more complex palette for stories. Logan provides a more character rich depiction than we're used to getting from this ilk, and all of the film's best parts work in service to its tone, which leads into why Logan had to be Rated-R. If this movie was moved to PG13, it just wouldn't have had the same impact with its tone.

Any semi-savvy film buffs can see that Logan wears its influences on its sleeve with pride, and James Mangold (reprising his position as director from his previous X-Men effort The Wolverine which I previously reviewed here) comes at the material of the story with a much more emotionally nuanced take on the characters and the world they inhabit. There is a tone and texture to Logan that we haven't really seen before (or at least often) in the slew of comic-based predecessors of the modern era (outside of Marvel's Daredevil) and the somewhat risky nature still associated with those sort of decisions actually lends itself well to the overall vibe of the feature. This movie manages to feel both fresh and distinguished among the ocean of its more risk-aversion peers, and while some may scoff at Logan, calling it nothing more than a unapologetic ripoff of the videogame The Last of Us, or proclaim that it's merely a shallow/cheap cash grab on a floundering film franchise, I'd say to those people that they didn't really watch the same movie I did.

Hugh Jackman turns in what is more than likely going to go down as one of his best performances of not only the Wolverine character, but perhaps of his career. Despite still cutting an impressive physique for the role, you can tell that Jackman is channeling all the hard years he's put into portraying the immortal mutant. There is a clear, yet still subtle injection of world-weary weight with every scene he's in, that plays into not only how exhausted Logan is in the story, but also how exhausted Jackman has become over the years from embodying Logan.

Unfortunately, I can't really pierce the depths of the character performances much more without fundamentally spoiling the film, so I'll simply state that the on-screen chemistry Jackman has with the likes of fellow leads in Patrick Stewart's Xavier, Steve Merchant's Calaban, or Dafnee Keen's Laura is palpable from start to finish. There is an authenticity to the character drama, and even when the interactions take on a more comedic nature (mostly to provide a small degree of levity) they're quick, with no performance ever feeling irrespective of Logan's overall tone. This is easily one of the most consistently well acted of the X-Men films, and it'll be a downright crying shame if the academy award shows out there (I'm looking at you Oscars) don't put their biases aside, and acknowledge the fantastic work on offer here.

One last snikted! One last time.

Visually, Logan is hands-down resplendent with some of the strongest cinematography the X-Men franchise has probably ever seen. The dry yellows and oranges of the desert shots, juxtaposed with the washed-out cool greens of the cold north sequences compliment beautifully. From the opening frame of Logan stepping out of his limo, into a parking lot saturated by inky blacks and neon pinks, one can easily tell that Logan's is different from its predecessors. While this is ultimately a comicbook movie at heart, this has all the hallmarks and visual language ques of a modern western. Solid camera work is something the X films have noticeably lacked for a long while now, and Logan even addresses that by keeping all of the action in frame and easy to follow. There is a notable lack of quick cuts, and an emphasis on longer takes, more than likely meant to ground the events, while also showcasing the strong performances from the cast. Thankfully this also means that by the time the blood-soaked climax hits, we get to see Wolverine doing his Wolverine thing in full cinematic glory.

Make no mistake, this is the violent depiction of Logan we've all been waiting for. While I highly appreciated the truly awesome cameo of Weapon X in X-Men: Apocalypse (and it's rage fueled magnificence) this film goes above and beyond full-bore with its brutality. Displaying some of the most nasty, yet righteous kills to Wolverine's name, every blow feels wet and meaty. Knowing that Logan's healing powers are dwindling makes even the act of Logan's claws coming out look extremely painful, and it makes for some excellent tension throughout the action beats. The only shame I would say is that we never got Jackman in a proper Wolverine costume doing this caliber of carnage.

Marco Beltrami reprises his role as composer for Logan, and once again he infuses the score with splendid spaghetti western overtones, albeit with a much more controlled hand. The twangs on a lone, almost out of tune acoustic guitar punctuates much of Logan's respective scenes, and emphasizes the haggard state of his character excellently. Thankfully Beltrami and Mangold both know when to dial back and just let the ambiance of a scene build with little to no music at all, making for when the tracks do kick in, they add style and flare.

Now while I have been showering Logan with tons of praise, I do feel that it suffers from two major issues and that is almost the entirety of the second act, and its lackluster villains. Without going too deep into spoilers, our crew ends up on a farm for a somewhat protracted amount of time that (while serving as a somewhat decent character building moment) ultimately goes on for far too long in my eyes. A family is introduced that ultimately goes nowhere and does little to add to the main cast of characters, let alone to the stakes of the narrative. While it does lead to one powerful scene in its wake, it unfortunately breaks up what was otherwise a nearly flawless experience. Had the sequence been shortened or perhaps even cut, I think we would have had a film that moved along at an otherwise fantastic pace. It's not a deal-breaker by any means, but it does stand as a noticeable blemish on an otherwise immaculately paced piece of work.

Despite the immense strength of the main cast, the villains (a.k.a. The Reavers working for the Transigen corp.) are severely underdeveloped, and lack any sense of presence beyond being fodder for a Wolverine slaughter. The head of Transigen is your typical evil dude who only wants to see mutant-kind destroyed, and comes off as painfully cliche' at points. Donald Pierce does have some charm to him, but has little screen-time to really unfurl his character and make him truly memorable. I don't want to say that any one performance is necessarily bad, but they are somewhat bland in the end.   

Overall, Logan is a must see for not only X-Men movie fans, but comicbook movie fans in general. This is more than likely going to go down as a veritable classic in the annals of superhero cinema, as it may be marking a touchstone for where the genre could be going in the very near future. As a send-off to Jackman's portrayal of the iconic Wolverine, I thinks it's one of the best good-byes we could honestly ask for, as the man gives one of the best performances of his whole career. After all the bloody conflicts are said and done, come the credits you may potentially find yourself fighting back some tears. Knowing that this is the end for such an influential character that has helped to lay the foundations of the comic-film smorgasbord we're enjoying today is a heavy sensation, but one that feels gratifying in its closure.

The only thing I can say now is thank you Hugh Jackman for all the years and all the memories. God speed with your future en devours sir!

Postive Factors

  • Perhaps one of the strongest solo outings for the Wolverine films. Emotionally textured, layered and nuanced.
  • Jackman gives one of the best performances he's ever done with the character. 
  • Supporting main cast is consistently solid, with excellent on-screen chemistry between the leads.
  • Fantastic cinematography that's both stylish and comprehensive.
  • Rated-R action that compliments the tone of the picture wonderfully. Some of Logan's most glorious kills are on feature.
  • Music is rustic and ambient, knowing exactly when to kick into high gear.
  • This is the end of an era, and stands as on hell of a good-bye from Jackman to the role of Wolverine.

Negative Factors

  • The entire second act feels like it could have been substantially cut down or removed altogether. Worse part of the movie.
  • Villains have little to no presence within the narrative and lack any substantial development or nuance.

Final Rating: Splenderiffic! (Blenderiffic! if you're into some gloriously gory Wolverine wreckage!)

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