Monday, March 6, 2017

DAMN Good Movies -- LOGAN

You guessed it, I'm back once again with another movie take, this time on the movie Logan, based on the classic Marvel Comics superhero Wolverine.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then please step back from your computer or whatever electronic device you're reading this on and stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well, bub...SNIKT!

After director James Mangold's 2013 movie The Wolverine was mostly well-received (apart from the third act), 20th Century Fox entered negotiations for a third solo Wolverine film starring Hugh Jackman.  Scott Frank returned to assist Mangold on the screenplay, and the film was eventually revealed to be a very loose adaptation of "Old Man Logan", a Wolverine comic book story by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven that focused on an older Wolverine in a desolate, alternate future where supervillains had been victorious.

In 2015, Michael Green took over the screenwriting duties, and with the addition of Patrick Stewart reprising his role as Professor Charles Xavier, the story started focusing on the relationship between Wolverine and Professor X.  The movie almost included the return of Liev Schreiber as Sabretooth, but the character ended up being cut from the final screenplay.  And with the eventual news that the film was going to be rated R, Wolverine fans began to hope that they might finally get to see the character cut loose.

The film opens in the year 2029, near the Texas/Mexico border, where an aged Logan is getting by as a limo driver who chauffeurs around drunk high schoolers going to prom and more drunk bachelorette parties.  In this future where mutants are on the brink of extinction due to a devastating virus, Logan lives a bleak existence with his mutant healing factor failing him, which allows his adamantium skeleton to poison his scarred and bushy-bearded body.  He hustles for prescription medication for a now-senile Charles Xavier, whom he takes care of with the help of another mutant, Caliban.  Xavier, we learn, is prone to seizures as a result of his failing mind, but very dangerous seizures that claimed the lives of several X-Men one year earlier.

Mangold makes the most of the film's setting, giving it a very Western feel without actually being a Western.  And Logan, as the film's old gunslinger, ends up being dragged back for one last ride.  One night, he's approached by Gabriela, a nurse for a genetic research corporation known as Transigen, who asks him to take her and a seemingly-mute 11-year-old girl named Laura to a place in North Dakota called Eden.  After being offered $25,000 as a down payment, Logan accepts the gig, only to find Gabriela murdered in her hotel room. The killers, Transigen's chief of security Donald Pierce and his gang of augmented cyborgs the Reavers, track Logan and Laura down at the abandoned smelting plant where Xavier is kept with Caliban, which leads to a thrilling escape as Logan, Laura and Xavier hit the road while poor Caliban is captured and force to use his powers to track them for Pierce and the Reavers.

As we head to Oklahoma City and dive into the film's Second Act, Logan learns through a phone video left behind by Gabriela that Laura was bred by Transigen using Logan's DNA sample, effectively making her his daughter and explaining her very Wolveriney attributes. He grows increasingly skeptical after seeing Eden and its coordinates in one of Laura's X-Men comic books, and Xavier ends up having another seizure after not taking his pills as instructed.  The Reavers track them down, but Xavier's seizure freezes everyone at the hotel in place, allowing Logan and Laura to take some of them off the board.

In scenes like this, Logan makes the most of its R rating, with Logan and Laura allowed to carve through bad guys like hot adamantium knives through butter.  The violence shown is brutal and powerful, as Wolverine is finally allowed to be depicted the way he always should have been in his solo films.  Jackman is more than up for the chance to cut loose at long last, but pint-sized Dafne Keen pretty much matches him step for step...and bloody cut for cut.

While the group takes refuge in a family's home, Xavier is mortally wounded by X-24, a Transigen clone of Logan in his prime, and ends up dying rather unceremoniously in the back of a pickup truck.  After Logan fights off X-24 so he and Laura can escape once again, he buries Xavier near the first lake he can find, and is soon forced to allow Laura to drive them the rest of the way to Eden.  He wakes up to find that Eden is a sanctuary run by the mutant Rictor and other young survivors of Transigen's breeding program.  

Once again, The Third Act proves a little troublesome for Mangold, but thankfully, nowhere near the level of The Wolverine.  The kids plan to make an eight-mile trek through the forest to the Canadian border, but of course, Pierce and the Reavers show up and capture them. Logan juices up on a serum to restore his strength and healing, which he uses to take out most of the Reavers in another brutal sequence.  The serum's effects wear off quickly, however, and the surviving Reavers bring him before Zander Rice, the head of Transigen. Rice reveals he was the one who engineered the virus that wiped out most of the mutants as revenge for Logan killing his father during his escape from the Weapon X program back in the day.  

Things gets a bit muddled, as Logan kills Rice and fights X-24 again, while Laura and the kids kill the remaining Reavers and take out Pierce.  Logan is fatally wounded by X-24, but Laura shoots him in the head with an adamantium bullet that Logan originally intended to use on himself.  Logan dies in Laura's arms, finally realizing what he really wanted was to be loved by family.  After burying Logan near a lake (apparently, lakes are necessary to bury someone), Laura turns his cross over so that it becomes an X, marking his passing as the last X-Man.  Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" sends us off, with no post-credits scene to reveal some silly twist that Logan isn't really dead.  The End.

Okay, time for some random thoughts about the various Logan characters:

WOLVERINE/JAMES "LOGAN" HOWLETT -- In his final (presumably) outing as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman gives his strongest performance yet.  He throws himself into his role as an older Logan, making him vulnerable and a far cry from the short-tempered X-Man in black leather we first met in 2000.  Jackman seems determined to give his favorite character the sendoff he deserves, which makes Wolverine's last ride even more powerful.

PROFESSOR X/CHARLES XAVIER -- Patrick Stewart, who may or may not be done with his character as well, reminds us once again of why he deserves to have the title "Sir" attached to his name.  As a senile Xavier in his '90s, Stewart is heartbreaking to watch as a feeble Professor X, but he still comes off as the dreamer he's always been while trying to convince Logan that Laura is an example of hope.

X-23/LAURA KINNEY -- Dafne Keen, holy shit, this kid.  Generally, you don't expect too much from child actors, apart from hoping they can at least delivery their lines well, so it's a welcome sight when those expectations are exceeded.  Keen's character Laura spends the first half of the film mostly scowling and raging, quite well in fact, until she suddenly turns into a Spanish-speaking motormouth that quickly shuts Logan down.  It's literally a killer performance, and makes Keen someone definitely to watch in future films.

DONALD PIERCE -- As the cyborg leader of the Reavers, Boyd Holbrook's Pierce with a Kentucky drawl is a big change from the aristocratic Hellfire Club member from the comics, but far more memorable.  He injects what could've been an unremarkable role with a true sense of menace, at least until his final scenes where he suddenly becomes someone the Transigen kids can gang up on and take out far too easily.

CALIBAN -- If you remember Tómas Lemarquis as Caliban in X-Men: Apocalypse (be honest, of course you don't remember him), you'll find Stephen Merchant's version much more interesting.  As an albino mutant allergic to sunlight, Caliban has a rather obviously vulnerability that Pierce easily exploits, but it's terrific to watch Merchant play Caliban as the snarky Alfred Pennyworth to Jackman's Batman.

ZANDER RICE -- After a brief flashback scene early in the film, Richard E. Grant doesn't turn up until the end of the film to explain why all the Transigen stuff went down.  With the motive simply being Rice wanting revenge for Wolverine killing his father, it feels almost merciful to the audience that Logan quickly shoots him in the head and moves on.

All in all, Logan is the Wolverine film we've always wanted.  Even better, it's the X-Men film we've always wanted.  It's been a long road since the first X-Men film in 2000, with a lot of ups and downs, but Logan raises the bar for superhero films to become something more than popcorn flicks that critics look down at with their snobbish noses.  To put it simply, this is Marvel's Dark Knight, another game changer that shouldn't be dismissed or easily overlooked come award season.

And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)

3. The Avengers (2012)
4. Batman Begins (2005)
5. Logan (2017)
6. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
7. Man of Steel (2013)
8. Doctor Strange (2016)
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
10. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
11. Spider-Man (2002)

12. Iron Man (2008)
13. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
14. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
15. Watchmen (2009)
16. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
17. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
18. X-Men: First Class (2011)
19. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
20. Deadpool (2016)

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