Last of the Monster Kids

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

OSCARS 2018: Logan (2017)

It's rather astonishing that “Logan” exists at all. Eighteen years ago, a movie about the X-Men – one of comics' most popular superhero teams – was a risky proposition. Only after those films became record-breaking successes, ushering in the modern age of superhero movies, was Wolverine granted two (rather mediocre) spin-off adventures. Only after superheroes became the defining blockbuster style of our time did Fox decide to make an R-rated X-Men movie. And only after “Deadpool” was also a huge hit did they dare to give Wolverine the same leeway. That's a lot of variables. Yet “Logan” did get made, becoming a commercial success and a huge critical hit. Now the film is nominated for an Oscar, during a time when the Academy is still reluctant to nominate superhero movies for anything.

In the near future, America has become a mini-dystopia, where the rich are richer, the poor are poorer, corporations and the military run unchecked, and border walls surround the country. The X-Men are dead. Mutants are practically extinct. The only surviving members of the team are Logan, formally known as Wolverine, and Professor X. Logan is slowly being poisoned by the adamentium that coats his skeleton, his healing factor getting weaker every day. Charles Xavier's hyper-telepathic mind is falling to dementia. Into this enters Laura, a genetically engineered female clone of Wolverine. Logan is talked into rescuing the girl, pursued by the ruthless corporation that created her, taking her and Xavier on a cross-country trip to a fabled mutant sanctuary.

Making an R-rated Wolverine movie didn't just allow us to finally see the famous mutant use his signature claws (and his favorite swear word) without hasty censoring or clever editing. James Mangold's film has the “X-Men” franchise reaching for previously unseen ambitions. Freed from regular continuity, Mangold can get as dark as he wants. Presumably every other X-Men has been violently killed off-screen. These iconic characters, gods among regular men, are reduced to a very sad state indeed. Charles Xavier is a ranting mental patient who needs help going to the bathroom. Logan is sick, loosing his healing factor, and has erectile dysfunction of the claws. Seeing such exaggerated characters in such a pathetic, humanized condition is startling and powerful. “Logan” features the genre's excesses, like cyborgs, silly code names, and evil clones. It's also a surprisingly sad, melancholic movie, dealing with issues of obsolescence, mortality, and the cost of heroics. It's not just an entry in a big budget, popcorn muncher franchise. It's a serious motion picture about serious things, as well as sci-fi superheroes having crazy adventures.

Mangold is upfront about his influence. “Shane” is featured in the movie and quoted extensively. By setting the movie around Texas and the America mid-west, the western element becomes obvious. Though partially inspired by Mark Millar's “Old Man Logan” – thankfully minus the inbred hillbilly hulk clan – the movie draws more from something like “Unforgiven.” Logan is a mutant at the end of his rope. He's a suicidal alcoholic, torn apart by pain both physical and mental. He has many, many regrets and the weight of them is crushing. Laura isn't just a daughter of sorts, she's a chance for Logan to make a stand for something again, after too many years of running away and hiding. It's a story of a cynic, somewhat reluctantly, using the only thing he has to make one last difference.

Like I said, the novelty of seeing a Wolverine that can actually tear people apart and drop plenty of fuck-bombs isn't the only reason for “Logan” to exist. Yet it's certainly a contributing factor. The action in “Logan” is visceral and brutal. Logan shoves his claws through heads, faces, eyes, arms, and legs. Limbs are cleaved away. Heads are chopped off. Bodies are blown apart by bullets and buckshot. Logan goes into a full-on berserker rage at the end, decimating an army with his claws. It's pretty fucking gnarly. Mangold's film orchestrates some impressive action in general. A car chase, which takes place around a fence and a roaring train, is easily a stand-out sequence. X-23's acrobatic stunts also prove impressive. Mangold's direction is, in general, excellent. The black-and-white “Noir” version on the Blu-Ray further draws attention to how measured each image in the movie is.

The real heart of “Logan” resides in the trio of fantastic performances at its center. Hugh Jackman has played this character for nearly two decades. Here, he brings an incredible weight to the part. His weary, worn-out, but still driven by a sense of personal duty. It's by-far Jackman's best performance to date. Patrick Stewart, as a senile Professor X, is allowed to shed his ever-present gravitas. Instead, he gets to play an ailing old man, uncertain of his own body and mind but allowed to appreciate the finer things he still has. A dinner scene with Logan and a kindly family is an absolute delight. Lastly, newcomer Dafne Keen plays Laura, otherwise known as X-23. Keen is mostly silent, instead screaming with an animal fury. Amusingly, the film still allows this pint-sized killing machine to be a little girl, showing an affection for horses and gaudy sunglasses. Keen shows an incredible power in her tiny frame. The interplay between this trio grounds “Logan” further, truly making the audience care.

Considering Disney's recent buy-out of 20th Century Fox and the uncertain future of their “X-Men” films, “Logan” couldn't have come at a better time. It puts a definitive end on this chapter of the characters' history. (Though I certainly hope that rumored X-23 solo movie materializes.) Considering franchises are rarely allowed to truly end, that in-and-of-itself is an impressive feat. Working fantastically as a stand alone film, it also shows the places the superhero genre can be pushed by a daring filmmaker. It's a bloody film in its violence that's also raw in its emotions, bringing Wolverine's story to a suitably epic conclusion. [9/10]

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