Slash and Yearn
A bleak and gritty end to Hugh Jackman’s successful run as the stabbiest of muttonchopped heroes, Logan is by far the best of the standalone Wolverine films, and one of the more daring and artistically refreshing recent superhero movies.
To start, it’s 2029, and Logan is anything less than super. Mutants seem to be a phenomenon of the past. Logan, looking weathered and beaten by that greatest of all archenemies, time, suffers from diminished healing powers and is holed up in a rusty, abandoned plant on the US – Mexican border. He’s earning some spare cash as a limo driver and drinking himself into forgetful oblivion, but not without making an occasional drug score to take back to the dying (and possibly brain-diseased) Professor X (Patrick Stewart, ever iconic), and roughing up a gang of car thieves, though he takes quite a beating from them before dispatching them; poor Logan’s claws can’t get it up like they used to.
It’s wonderful to see Stewart and Jackman mugging together, even if it touches a bit too closely upon “Sunshine Boys” curmudgery. The near-death professor may or may not still be the most powerful mutant alive (depending on his drug dosage), as his increasing seizures are creating, for lack of a better term, “airquakes,” in which humans and all but superhuman strength are rendered inert until Xavier gets a shot of his meds. Their banter makes it clear that the mutants of the glory days are all gone, though very unclear on exactly how that came to pass.
Jackman sinks comfortably back into his iconic role and seems to genuinely relish the swan song, as does Patrick Stewart. Their odd-couple pairing makes you miss some of the other X-Men, but only a little, as you realize that these two were the only ones that really mattered. In the annals of superhero roles, the two most memorable characterizations must be Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark and Jackman’s Logan (though I’d throw in a fair argument for a surprisingly nuanced run from Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, and Christian Bale’s more thoughtful Bruce Wayne scenes).
Logan is coerced into protecting and escorting a young girl with amazingly similar powers to his own, and finds himself, the girl Laura (a marvelously feral, engaging performance from newcomer Dafne Keen), and Xavier fleeing for some fabled Eden for mutants in the Dakotas, hunted by the most bland evil-government-forces militia ever, commanded by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and over-lorded by the evil Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant, somewhat restrained). The movie shifts from apocalyptic grit to road-trip dark humor, with a diversion in the American Heartland and a farm family to supposedly engrain (get it, grain?) in us what they are still fighting for, though that doesn’t go particularly well for anyone. Once the destination is reached, the movie makes another jarring shift in tone that might well set up future storylines, because the world needs another X-Men trilogy (well, 20th Century Fox clearly does).
A very interesting meta-plot device is slipped into the narrative of these meta-humans, as Logan finds the girl has been reading X-Men comics (the actual ones, not made up ones) and may or may not have derived her hopes for her future on those stories. It’s an interesting “break the fourth wall” development that doesn’t help or hinder the story, but provides thoughtful self-aware amusement nonetheless.
What’s most disparaging about this world, and its self-awareness, is that there’s absolutely no evidence that the existence and struggle of mutants or the X-Men made much of a difference. It drips with nihilistic cynicism until the jarring reveal of some possible future hope for mutants. The world has moved on, it has not faced extinction (take that, Magneto!), so there’s that…but mutants seem all but forgotten. It’s only been 20 or 30 years since X-Men must have made headlines, and no one save for an elderly doctor even recognizes them. Cinematographer John Mathieson, a Ridley Scott alum, uses muted tones (keeping with the “mute” theme here) washed in coppers and bronzes and ochres to reflect some kind of Dust Bowl Americana. Director James Mangold, displaying his firmest hand yet on the Logan mythos, does seem to set up a future series possibility, with the L’il X-Men. If there’s a chief complaint, it’s a ham-handed, strained attempt to draw parallels with the classic Western, Shane. Note to Hollywood: please keep Shane, High Noon and The Searchers references to a minimum.
Logan is not necessarily the hero we need right now, but we may well need Jackman to keep playing him (what’s up with all those Logan/Deadpool team up rumors? Sign us up). His badass ferocity has kept the X-Men franchise alive, and when Fox finally wises up (like those realists over at Sony, with Spider-Man) and collaborates with Disney’s Marvel universe, we really, really need to see this guy cutting it up with Iron Man and Dr. Strange.
KID FACTOR: Very, very stabby, slashy movie, even the young girl can’t help herself. No role models here, and the language is a bit south of drunk sailor. Rated R for good reason.
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