Written by Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Directed by James Mangold
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant
20th Century Fox
Release date: March 3, 2017
For some it’s Batman, for other’s Spider-Man. For me, it’s always been Wolverine. For more than two-thirds of my life, the crazed Canadian with berserker rage, healing powers, and adamantium-coated claws has been MY hero. I’m a die-hard fan of the University of Michigan for no other reason than their team name. I am constantly drawn to anti-hero characters in both film and literature. And I have a penchant for growing scruffy beards and calling people “bub”… okay, that last part is a stretch, I called my grandmother “Bub.” I am such a Wolverine fan, that I convinced myself that X-Men Origins: Wolverine was good the first time I saw it. Talk about denial! Last night, I took my son and nephew to see Logan, a late show on an opening Friday. Me, there like a fanboy wearing my Wolverine #1 comic book t-shirt. All I can say is that when your expectations for a film are at a fever pitch, and the film not only lives up to, but surpasses them, it is a truly special feeling.
Logan is directed by James Mangold, who helped right the wrongs of Origins with the subtly great follow-up The Wolverine (2013). Though that film had a fairly hokey climax, Mangold’s treatment of the character was as good as has ever been. That brings us to title star Hugh Jackman. I was 18 in the summer of 2000 when my dreams came true and X-Men hit theaters, and I, like everyone else on Earth, collectively asked, “Who the hell is Hugh Jackman?” The answer is simple: 17 years later, Jackman is Logan/Wolverine for 9th and supposedly final time. There may not be another actor in film history more synonymous with a character than Jackman and Wolverine and that’s a bold statement, but think about it. He has essentially mastered this character throughout three separate trilogies! And finally, after 17 long years, Mangold and Jackman remove all shackles. This is the R-rated Logan every fan of the comics, cartoon series, and films has been waiting for. And trust me, you do NOT have to wait long to see why.
I would be remiss if I did not bring up a pre-credit scene… that’s right, pre, not post-credit. I will not spoil the fun here, but it is great, although totally different in tone from the film that begins after. The film opens in the late 2020s and right away you know you are in for something brutally different. Logan wakes up staggering drunk in his limo as it’s being tirejacked. This does not end well for the prospective thieves and before you can fully process what’s going on, adamantium claws are shredding limbs from bodies, digging deep into skulls, and spraying blood everywhere. Holy EXPLETIVE!!! Oh yeah, there’s a lot of those, too.
Soon Logan is visited by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) from the Alkali Transigen company. Fans familiar with the comics/cartoon will recall Alkali Lake. There are plenty of in-jokes, references to prior films, and meta-humor for the hardcore fans. Alkali Transigen is not searching for Logan, but rather a woman who tried to contact him and this puts Logan and those close to him in jeopardy. Those include Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant who can track other mutants’ locations, and of course, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is confined to a fallen water tank and drugged to ensure his powers don’t go out of control.
The film does a terrific job at not paint by numbering everything but rather giving you enough details to understand why these characters are where they are and how they got there. We learn that by this time, mutants are near extinct, although both Caliban and Xavier sense something… or someone. The woman, Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) contacts Logan again about her little girl Laura (Dafne Keen) and soon enough Logan, Laura, and Xavier are together being hunted by Pierce and mercenaries from Transigen.
There is a detailed exposition scene involving a cell phone video to connect the dots that I found unnecessary and almost annoying. That was the only time I felt that way during the film. But once the three leads are in the car and on their way, for me, this is where the Logan really started and became the genre-bending revelation that the previews promised.
For long stretches of the film, there are lulls in the action and I for one loved these scenes. Stewart and Jackman have perfect chemistry at this point, and Dafne Keen, the film’s young star, somehow matches Jackman’s intensity and ferocity during the action sequences, and possesses the ability to command the screen with her eyes and tell stories without saying more than a few words. In these scenes you forget you’re watching a Marvel Comics, X-Men blockbuster. There are elements of a road movie, and dramatic family film. In one scene, Logan’s clan encounters and is befriended by a midwestern family, and Logan introduces his companions as his daughter and his dad Chuck. One minute you’re watching a Kill Bill-esque bloodbath, the next Little Miss Sunshine.
Mangold balances the action set pieces and their amazing fight choreography and visceral graphic effects with long scenes of quiet character depth. My son and nephew, both 13, said they felt some of those scenes “were too long and a little boring,” but at the end those are scenes I remembered most fondly. In another scene, Charles lays on a hotel room bed watching Shane (1953), describing it and his feelings for it to Laura. This is a wonderful moment when, at the end, you realize how similar the films really are. And if the lulls in the action get you down, do not fret, the last 15-plus minutes are some of the finest quality badassery I have ever seen.
Logan is not a great superhero movie, rather a purely astonishing film. It takes a genre so baked into a cookie-cutter money-making formula and completely changes the mold. It is a raw, real emotional story; one of loss, heartbreak, and the pressures of expectations. Jackman in his NINTH outing as this character shines brighter than ever by doing less than ever. He is for much of the film as broken a man as Casey Affleck was in his Oscar-winning performance in Manchester by the Sea. Then suddenly he claws some armed assassin’s head off and you remember, “Oh wait, this is a Wolverine movie!”
James Mangold has made some excellent films across multiple genres in his career, such as the crime noir Copland (1997), the psychological drama Girl, Interrupted (1999), Oscar-winning Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line (2005), gritty western 3:10 to Yuma (2007), and the aforementioned superhero actioner The Wolverine (2013). I feel he took all that worked from each genre to craft Logan and by the end the same audience that was giddily screeching at the gore and bloodshed was sniffling and wiping their teary eyes. For lifelong Wolverine fans like myself, I cannot fathom anyone being disappointed. Beyond that, films like Logan are proof that greatness in moviemaking can still be found in a sold-out multiplex on a Friday night, and is not just relegated to the tiny arthouse theaters. See Logan now.
A caveat: Logan is Rated R, contains enough 4-letter words to make Scorsese jealous, and serious violence on a level not seen in comic book films before. Conversely, a film like Logan is good for adolescents who are getting used to more adult themes, even in their superhero films. Logan is in theaters everywhere now.
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