Logan: Review

James Mangold’s Logan, the third and latest stand-alone Wolverine movie, is a strange contradiction: It’s both the most violent film in the series and the most sentimental one. When it’s not showering you in blood, it’s trying to make you spill tears. It’s much more comfortable with the former than the latter. The last time we saw Logan in a significant role was 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, where we got a backwards glance at our razor-clawed antihero’s time-traveling exploits during the ’70s. Here, we get a peek into the future…and it’s not a pretty picture.

The film opens in 2029, when Logan is hiding in plain sight as a grizzled, down-and-out limo driver. We see him punching the clock ferrying drunk girls to bachelorette parties and other menial assignments well below his super-powered skill set. He tugs on a pint bottle of booze and looks like the 2017 Mel Gibson, which is to say, exhausted. At least, until someone wrongs him and his shirt comes off and he reveals what is undeniably the film’s best special effect: Jackman’s impossibly pumped-up physique. At 48, he’s so ripped and inflated, he looks like a party-favor balloon animal. It turns out that the future is a dark time for mutants like Logan. There aren’t many of them left. And the ones who are still alive and kicking are in bad shape, like Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier, who’s frail and going mad with some sort of degenerative brain disease. Logan looks after him while keeping him hidden in the Mexican desert.

The two of them (along with Stephen Merchant’s beanpole albino, Caliban) are the last of a dying breed. Or so they think, until they learn of an evil scientist named Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) who’s breeding a new generation of pre-teen mutants in a lab as future killing machines. One of them, a feral-looking little girl moppet with adamantium claws not unlike Logan’s makes her way to our heroes, who have to protect her from Rice’s henchman (Boyd Holbrook, very good at being very bad) and get her to a mutant amnesty rendez-vous near the Canadian border. All of this is a complicated way of getting to a very familiar set-up: It’s a makeshift family-on-the-lam movie, with Xavier as the sickly, slightly daffy grandfather; Logan as the reluctant hero son; and Dafne Keen’s Laura as the endangered child they both need to protect in order to give their lives meaning and atone for past sins. It’s a formula that anyone who’s seen Sigourney Weaver and Newt in Aliens or Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong in Terminator 2 knows well— it’s a high-octane action flick with a protect-the-cub emotional subtext.

Logan is essentially a road movie, but it’s a dark one (and a very long one). More than ever, Jackman’s Logan seems like he’s at an existential dead-end, and he’s never exactly been a barrel of laughs to begin with. Mangold shoots the film in a grungy, south-of-the-border Peckinpah palette. There isn’t a lot of hope in the movie. The stakes aren’t grandiose, no one’s saving the world. They’re saving this one special—and very, very violent child (although there will turn out to be others like her). Since Laura’s mutant physical gifts are so identical to Logan’s, there’s a melancholy to their relationship. She’s the daughter he never slowed down enough to allow himself to have. The loner has to learn to put someone else first. It’s both as manipulative and hokey as that sounds, but occasionally it works well enough that you might find yourself getting choked up against your better judgment. B-

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Review: Wolverine Reaches the Last Chapter in Grim, Overbearing Logan

Comic-book movies are such big business now that Hollywood has moved on to the next step, the process of proving to audiences that pictures based on hugely beloved comic-book franchises not just fun—they’re good for you. Hundreds of culture writers have logged millions of words making the case that the mythology of the X-Men—or the Avengers, or Superman or Batman—is important because it’s boldly anti-fascist, or because it empowers those who, in real life, are often marginalized. Those people aren’t wrong—the ideas are definitely there in the material. The problem with hanging so much somber moral draping around comic-book mythology is that it presupposes that these stories are good because they’re good for us. A story’s darkness—or even just its alleged darkness—can be used as a cudgel against anyone who recoils from it: If you don’t respond to, say, stern, ashy images of largely dark-skinned children (read: immigrants) being hunted down in the forest, then you’re just willfully ignorant of the grim side of human nature.

The grim side of human nature is all over James Mangold’s Logan. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a good movie. Logan, set in 2029, has been billed as the third and final installment in Wolverine’s solo saga (following the 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine and 2013’s The Wolverine), and Hugh Jackman, as the adamantium-clawed title character, is looking mighty tired. He’s living somewhere near the Mexico border, driving a limo for a sort-of living, and he’s drinking too much. With the help of busy-body albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), Logan is caring for the aged and predictably cranky Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who suffers from a troubling degenerative brain disorder.

In this futureworld there are, supposedly, no more new mutants, and the old ones are dying out. That’s why Logan is startled when a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), with powers similar to his own, appears on the scene and, in her own fierce way, nestles under his protective arm. She’s desperate to get out of Mexico: She has read, in an X-Men comic, about a place called Eden, where kids like her are nurtured instead of persecuted, and she wants nothing more than to get there. Laura is a quiet, watchful kid, her eyes radiant with mistrust. But when she feels threatened, she becomes a mini wildcat, slashing and jabbing at her enemies—and at the world—with the claws that spontaneously shoot from her fists. For such a mite, she’s incredibly powerful: No wonder baddies like cranky cyborg Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook, gnawing away at the role with the persistence of squirrel trying to crack a recalcitrant nut), and Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant, running through every exercise in the purring-villain handbook) are doggedly hunting her down.

There’s bleak nihilism aplenty in Logan. It’s as if Mangold, in the production’s infant days—he also cowrote the script, with Michael Green and Scott Frank—had looked into a crystal ball and seen a crisp vision of the post-election despair that many Americans would be feeling in the early days of 2017. There’s no doubt that Logan, with its focus on persecuted outsiders, is tapping the national mood of at least half the country right now.
If only tapping were enough. Because no matter what Logan’s intentions are, it’s less an effective political statement than a movie out to punish the audience with its virtue. Shot by John Mathieson in businesslike apocalyptic tones of brownish-gray, Logan is designed, visually, to bring you down, way down. Superspoiler alert: Characters X-Men fans care about will die. But come on—you knew that was coming, didn’t you? In a world this aggressively gritty, it’s never a surprise when anyone kicks the bucket. The issue isn’t that they die, but that their deaths carry surprisingly little weight. Humanity’s lack of humanity is just business as usual. At one point Logan holds up the X-Men comic that Laura has been clinging to as a promise of hope, asserting, in his numbed despair, that it’s all just made-up stuff—it isn’t real. That’s not abrasive, self-aware honesty—it’s more like an advertisement for how abrasively self-aware this picture is.

Mangold works hard to make Logan feel solid and important. George Stevens’ archetypal western Shane, with its classic overtones of nobility and sacrifice, is not only referenced but waved around like a gilt incense holder. Terrible things happen to wonderful people, because this isn’t just a comic-book movie—it’s America.

The violence in Logan is grisly and overbearing, just in case you’d otherwise failed to get the memo on its tone of unforgiving gloom. This picture is explicitly for adults: The MPAA has given it an R rating for violence, brief nudity, and curse words, the usual stuff the MPAA obsesses over. But there’s nothing exhilarating or pulpy about Logan. The picture is mostly tedious and unpleasant, which is a shame for the sake of the performers.

Jackman works hard here, and his performance does away with vanity altogether: He looks appropriately thickened and heavy and tired—his face has the contours, and the character, of a battered hat. And Keen, as Laura, is wonderful. There’s a moody thoughtfulness about her, reminiscent of the young Natalie Wood.Yet this isn’t a performers’ movie—it's too hung up on its mission for that. The themes of Logan are ragingly topical, pointing in the direction of things that every decent American should care about right now. But themes aren’t feelings or attributes or actions; they’re almost not even ideas. They’re not the explosions that shake you to the core, like the thunder of unease you feel after you’ve watched a movie like Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, or that picture’s natural predecessor, Ingmar Bergman’s Shame. They’re just things you make movies about. The great political movies of our time are yet to be made, and they will come. Logan, by either luck or prescience or some combination of both, feels political, but it’s really just business as usual in the comic-book-movie game. It sounds the alarm about how dark the world really is, as if we were incapable of reading between the panels on our own.

'Logan' Review: Wolverine's Brooding Family Road Trip Provides a Fitting Finale

As its title suggests, Logan strips away the superhero bells and whistles, cast-of-thousands spectacle and labyrinthine twists of the X-Men franchise to focus on its most tormented mutant, aka Wolverine. Seamlessly melding Marvel mythology with Western mythology, James Mangold has crafted an affectingly stripped-down standalone feature, one that draws its strength from Hugh Jackman’s nuanced turn as a reluctant, all but dissipated hero. That he rises to the occasion when a child is placed in his care is the stuff of a well-worn narrative template, yet it finds a fair level of urgency in this telling.

For fans who are intimately versed in the franchise’s playbook (and the comic-book source material), this chapter should prove emotionally satisfying. For those who can’t recite the plotlines of all nine of the preceding X-Men films, the new feature’s noirish, end-of-an-era vibe is an involving hook. Muscular box-office action awaits the Fox release as it makes its way around the globe.

In his final turn in one of the defining roles of his career (although, given the plasticity of the Marvel Universe, never say never to resurrections), Jackman is essentially an ex-X-Man. The year is 2029, and the superhuman mutants are about to join tigers on the extinction list. As far as anyone knows, there have been no mutant births in a quarter-century, and those few who remain live in an abandoned smelting plant on the outskirts of El Paso. It’s the sort of industrial wasteland that instantly spells dystopia. Yet like all the elements of Francois Audouy’s production design, which include an Oklahoma City casino and a Great Plains farmhouse, the corroded edge-of-nowhere compound is evocative but not scene-stealing.

Those remaining few mutants number precisely three. X-Men leader Charles (a superb Patrick Stewart) is now a nonagenarian whose legendary telepathic powers are not always within his control; as with many a mere mortal, his geriatric brain doesn’t function as it once did, and the result is seizures of bone-rattling intensity for those around him. Tending to his care are Logan, now a hard-drinking limo driver whose unearthly aptitude for self-healing is on the wane, and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant with tracking abilities who handles domestic chores for the trio while sheltering himself from the daylight.

The lives of this last-of-their-kind collective are by no means easy or serene, but they can at least count on a certain routine. Then a young girl with a ferocious gaze, Laura (Dafne Keen), arrives on their rusty doorstep, along with a wad of cash and the desperate final request of her caretaker, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez, of Orange Is the New Black), that Logan get her to Canada ASAP. For reasons that a smartphone video will make clear, Canada would be a safe haven for a child who has more in common with Logan than he’d care to admit — a connection that Charles perceives even before she reveals her Wolverine-like metallic claws and puts them to lethal use.

Laura is being hunted by X-Men adversary Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his paramilitary cyborg Reavers on behalf of Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), who heads Transigen, the nefarious bioengineering program that created her. National borders are a key factor in this story, not only because of the asylum that Canada represents. In the tradition of Big Pharma corporate villainy, Rice has evaded American legal oversight and conducted his experiments on Laura and countless other children, and the women who bore them, in Mexico.

While Caliban is taken hostage, Logan, Laura and Charles hightail it out of El Paso, no easy feat when the Reavers are closing in on all sides and your escape vehicle is a boat-size limousine (another instance of excellent design work). With nods to Unforgiven and explicit references to Shane — and extended sequences of brutal violence involving those adamantium-blade claws — this newly formed trio’s trip from the Texas desert to the Dakotas taps into notions of middle America, both geographic and psychic.

There’s poignancy and humor, none of it overstated, when they have to play normal during an encounter with a ranch family (Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal and Quincy Fouse). Charles, at his most clear-eyed and openhearted, is the catalyst throughout the sequence, which begins with his telepathic calming of spooked horses after an accident on the highway, a scene that’s as lyrical as it is charged with emotion.

That scene echoes moments throughout the film that dramatize how much easier it can be to take care of others than oneself, and how the one can lead to the other. Though the screenplay — written by Scott Frank, Mangold and Michael Green — doesn’t avoid formula or sentimentality as it proceeds, it makes its themes matter through attention to the intensifying bonds within its central surrogate family.

Director of photography John Mathieson’s camerawork is keenly attuned to the story’s emotional textures, as is the fine score by Marco Beltrami, which incorporates brief churns of horror amid the melodic elegance. Throughout the film, Mathieson gives each frame a comics-based graphic impact, broody rather than cartoonish. (Another accomplished cinematographer, Phedon Papamichael, handled some of the additional unit work.)

Stewart is effortlessly compelling as a man whose attentiveness to the world around him runs deep, even as his own tethers to it are fraying. Keen, in her first big-screen role, makes the mostly silent Laura both kinetic and inwardly coiled, a quick-study observer of a world long denied her. And when called upon to give a vintage movie reference new resonance, she pulls it off with poetic vulnerability.

Even as the film’s energy drains in the later going, much like Logan’s healing powers, and long after the fight scenes have lapsed into overkill, Jackman makes his superhero the real deal. The actor, who reportedly conceived the basic thrust of the story, takes the ever-conflicted Logan/Wolverine to full-blooded depths, and the result is a far more cohesive and gripping film than his previous collaboration with Mangold, 2013’s The Wolverine.

It’s not just the valedictory aspect of the story. And only time will tell if we ever again see a Jackman-portrayed Wolverine. But with his limp, his scraggly beard and his reading glasses, this middle-aged version, caught between his humanity and the engineering that makes him an instrument of destruction, is the hero we need him to be. Ultimately, it’s not just Laura’s predicament that he understands, but his own.

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